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What to expect on your first open water swimming race


Posted by Cags R under Swimming on 22 February 2013 at 12:00 AM

You swim for fitness, wellbeing and competitive reasons indoors throughout the year, so why is the thought of your first swim out in the open water so scary?

Open Water Swimming: Henley MileOpen water swimming has grown in popularity after being introduced as an Olympic event during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, being arguably the most accessible form of swimming and sometimes providing a greater adrenaline rush. So, if you are looking to get into open water swimming, check out our useful tips to help you get started.  

Perhaps the main source of intimidation is the reputation of open water swimming and some of the dangers associated with it. Even the most avid swimmers are used to swim training inside the pool and away from open water, which is one of the reasons why your first open water swim can seem such a daunting experience. 

It is important to adjust to the open water style gradually and to not take too much on at once. In recent years the popularity of open water swimming has increased as it’s a tougher challenge to indoor. Here are a few things to bear in mind before dipping into your nearest lake or sea;

  1. Never swim alone: This is very important regarding your personal safety. It is essential to swim with either one or a group of friends just in case of an emergency. Not only must you battle the physical elements (fog, changing currents), but you should also consider the human elements like boats. It is always safer to be around someone if you get into trouble.

  2. Adjust to cold water: When the water you are in is cold (below 66 degrees Fahrenheit) then you should be prepared to wear a wetsuit. Additionally a swim cap and earplug will help to keep your head warm. To begin with it is advisable to stay in the water for between 10 and 20 minutes and then as you become more experienced you can have longer stints in the water.

  3. Navigation: It is easy to swim straight in a pool as you have guided lines under the water. However, it’s all down to you in the open water. One of the most important skills for open water is called Sighting. This is where you lift your head up every 8 strokes to make sure you are staying on course. In addition, it is useful to combine this with your breathing above surface to create some consistency in your open water stroke.

  4. Get Warm: After your swim you should drink some warm fluids and wear layers after you have removed your wetsuit. 

Get involved with the Henley Mile:

The good news is there are plenty of events to help get you immersed in open water swimming and Henley Swim events have proved a great initiation to open water swimming in recent years. The Henley Mile, on Sunday 14th July, can be regarded as one of the greatest challenges you could participate in as an open water swimmer, but by following this guide and actively following the tips, participating in this event in the near future is definitely an achievable goal. 

Henley Mile Swim

This endurance swim held over the Henley Royal Regatta course along the River Thames, challenges enthusiastic swimmers against the stream on this one mile boomed course, and is perfect for experienced open water swimmers who are looking for their next open water challenge. Wetsuits are optional. The event caters for all ages, with different categories from Junior (14 – 18) Open, Masters and even Traditional, for those who would prefer to swim without a wetsuit. 

In addition, their non-competitive Sporting category is ideal for swimming enthusiasts who are looking to take part in their first open water swim, as they will be able to swim the course in their own time, without the pressure of being part of a race.

This family event, which is held throughout the day, also features The Henley Half Mile & Henley Splash (200m) for 8 to 14 year olds, so it’s a great event to bring along family and friends, do your swim, enjoy the stunning race surroundings and have a great day out.

In addition to this event, Henley also offers a number of events to get you started, catering for first time open water swimmers to the most experienced. Please follow the additional links below for more information on this summer’s events.

If you would like to enter the Henley Mile then you can receive 15% off the entry fee using code TRIBEHM if you register before the 28th February

Open water swimming is a great opportunity to raise money for charity:

Take for example the well-known UK celebrity David Walliams (Little Britain, Dinner for Schmucks), who has trained for and taken part in open water swims along the Gibraltar Strait from Spain to Morocco and across the English channel, all in the name of Sports Relief, a well-established UK fundraising effort. Not renowned for his athletic qualities or ability in the water, he is a prime example of how even the most elementary swimmer, with the right training and attitude can tackle the challenge of open water swimming on a larger scale, as well as raise money for a good cause. His efforts have raised well over £2 million for home and overseas aid. 

Many charities offer people the chance to complete open water swimming challenges to raise money for them. Charities including Cancer Research, Great Ormond Street Hospital and Water Aid to name just a few.

Open water swim race: the Henley Mile Swim

As you grow in confidence, taking part in long distance events for charity is not only self-fulfilling but also contributes to a worthy cause.

Open water swimming is often feared but its substantial rise to prominence in recent years highlights how much fun and the unique challenge which swimming in open water can provide. Hopefully this trend will continue as more people put on their wetsuits and leave a pool environment behind in favour of the freedom that open water can provide.

Need more inspiration? Why not consider the following useful articles: 

  • Encourage

    encouraged this.



    I am afraid to say the whole idea of open water swimming has always intimidated me, even though I am a competent swimmer in the pool.

    Brenda D encouraged this.


    Give it a go Jane! Maybe take a trip to Fraser Island, lovely lakes out there!

    Brenda D and Ashley C encouraged this.


    I don't even get my face wet in the shower, so swimming is not a sport for me!


    Oh how I wish there was the Henly Mile in Ireland!!!!! I'd like to swim taking my time with no race pressure. Thanks Cags!!!!!

    Alan C and Ashley C encouraged this.


    I live in a state that has many lakes and rivers. We grew up swimming in the open (fresh) water. My mom took us to swimming lessons when we were about 3 or 4. We have fond memories of swimming out to the island and back at relatives lake homes. Thanks for posting Cags it really triggered some good memories. We spent a lot of hours swimming.

    Ashley C and Brenda D encouraged this.

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