This time of year is perfect for planning your 2019 sporting events and challenges, and when the summer months finally arrive, there is no better place to be than in the open water. So, here's our Marathon Swims beginner's guide to open water events. Whether you're a total beginner, newbie or you are just dipping your toe in with a Google search, hopefully these simple hints and tips will help encourage you to enter an event and get out into the open water this year.
Where should I swim?
This question is a good place to start, as there are differences in open water and understanding these difference could be a key factor in your overall enjoyment of the event. The term open water refers to lakes, sea and river swims.
As a beginner, we recommend you to initially focus on confined open water such as lakes and reservoirs. Events in these areas will generally be safer for the less confident or less experienced swimmers. The reason for this is the potential for current, tides and waves to all have an affect on the swimming experience. Sea and river swimming events are fantastic, but probably best to work up to these events when more experienced. That said, if a swimming event is in the river and the swim is "with the flow" then this could help you achieve the distance more easily.
What about water quality?
Another good question. The quality of the water can influence your enjoyment of the event. Our advice is to look online and see for recent comments from other swimmers. You can also investigate the source of the water - As a general rule spring-fed lakes and reservoirs are likely to be cleaner and less likely to be polluted. The reason for this is that river-fed lakes can more easily be polluted by outside influences, especially after heavy rain.
Which distance should I choose?
This is a bit on an obvious question, but we think it does need to be considered. Obviously, as an open water beginner, a lesser distance is likely to be recommended as a first-time event. However, this may be your first open water swimming event, but you may be a strong swimmer. You may also factor in how far you will be travelling to the event and how long you have to train for it. Just because you are a first timer, does not mean you always have to opt for the lesser distances. Many events have distances ranging from 250m to half a mile, as their shortest options.
Also, do consider the team event options in many open water swimming events. Having a team member(s) can help with motivation and make the whole experience more enjoyable.
What kit do I need?
Most open water swims allow wetsuit and non wetsuit swimmers, but please do check before entering. There also can be rules in places that either make wearing wetsuits a choice, mandatory or prohibited. This generally is determined by the temperature of the water. However, seeing as we're in the UK, the likelihood of enjoying a 20 degree plus water temperature wet-suit-illegal-swim is less likely.
You don't need to buy your wetsuit, many events have a rent-a-wet suit service on offer, which is a great way of limiting the overall cost of taking part in the event. Before you drag out your old surfing wetsuit from the garage, please be aware that swimming wetsuits are made differently - generally with more manoervrability in the arms/shoulders.
The wetsuit does not stop you getting wet, but it does help trap some water close to your body and enables you to warm that water up with your own body heat. This means you may feel the cold water when you initially get into the water but you will soon become acclimatised as your body warms up the water around you, enabling you to stay warmer for longer.
Where is the best advice for open water swimming?
That's an easy one, our fantastic partner, Outdoor Swimmer magazine is the magazine for outdoor swimmers, by outdoor swimmers. Checkout their website and special offers now and you'll be ready for your first open water event with information, advice and tips from the experts!
Finally, which event should I enter?
A great question to finish on. This will naturally depend on your diary, location, propensity to travel and preference for water type, but here's four great events to consider for the beginner open water swimmer:
Great East Swim - 22 June 2019:
Hosted at the beautiful Alton Water in Suffolk in a reservoir with clear and clean water. This event has been going since 2009 and now has a 250m, half mile and mile swims - as well as longer distances up to the marathon 10k.
Swim Serpentine - 21 September 2019:
The location of the Marathon 10k swim of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. This is a fantastic venue in the centre of London in Hyde Park. This year the event celebrates its 4th event - which now has distances of Half mile and one mile, as well as a 2 mile and Super six (a combination of multiple one and two mile events throughout the day).
Dock to Dock - 13 July 2019:
Dock to Dock has also been going for 4 years and hosted at London's Royal Docks (next to Excel). This great event has a 1.5k option for those not wanting to take on the full marathon 10k or half marathon 5k. Good water quality and the team host regular training swims at the venue all year round. This is the second biggest marathon swimming event in the capital - after *clears throat* us :o)
Castle Swim Series - various:
The Castle Triathlon series also hosts swim-only challenges throughout their events calendar. Locations are UK-wide and in France. You can swim 1 mile and upwards to the marathon 10k in some stunning locations and great places for your family and friends to enjoy while they are supporting you.
Whichever event you enter - enjoy the experience, have fun and get your friends involved.
For more information - check out Outdoor Swimmer's own beginner's guide to open water