Open Water & Pool Coaching Videos

Top Tips for Swimming in Your First Event

You've signed up and what seemed to be a good idea at the time suddenly becomes very daunting. Hopefully these tips help you.

About the Event

Firstly most events are about the taking part. They are not races! Please don't think you have to be fast. Most swimmers are not fast and some are very slow. You will find that everyone is supportive, no matter what your speed is. There is something about the swimming community. I haven't come across an event where anyone was anything other than friendly and helpful.  They are always well organised and your safety is paramount. There are always plenty of volunteers around to answer any questions and put you at your ease. If you need them, use them, they are more than happy to help.

Before the Event

The first thing you need to sort out is your wetsuit, if you are wearing one. Make sure you buy or hire one in plenty of time for you to practice swimming in it. You will be more buoyant and this may affect your stroke. Being able to use it for a few weeks before the event, will improve your confidence. There are also neoprene hats, socks and gloves available if you suffer from the cold, but first make sure that these are allowed at your event. I always recommend shoes as you don't know what is underneath your feet in rivers, lakes and even the shore line. Again check if there are any rules about wearing them.

Most events do not have hard and fast rules about what to wear but always check. A wetsuit is usually mandatory.

Make sure you swim in your goggles beforehand too. Try not to turn up to the event with new goggles that you haven't tried out before. You should already have had a few swims in all of your kit, so that you feel comfortable. 

Try to familiarise yourself with the venue before event day. If possible visit and swim at the venue. If this is not possible you can familiarise yourself by searching on social media and YouTube. Previous entrants will have videos and photographs and you can visualise the venue before you get there. It helps to know how you will be getting into the water and how you will get out.

Join a swimming group and swim with other open water swimmers in the lead up to the event. Join groups on Facebook and ask questions. Find a swim buddy who is doing the same event. It's always nice to be swimming with someone else, especially if this is your first event.

Work out how long it will take to reach the venue and plan your route. Book your accommodation if you are staying in the area.

Look into where you can leave your kit bag. If the event is in a river, or in the sea, will your bags be taken to the finish or will you be taken to the start? 

Take family and friends to support you and plan a celebration for afterwards

Packing your Kit Bag

Make sure you have everything you need in your kit bag. For the swim, you will need your swimsuit, wetsuit, your goggles, your hat, socks and gloves if needed. Any medications you may have to swim with like an inhaler, tablets. Lube for anti-chafing and ear plugs. 

For after your swim, you will need a towel, warm clothes, woolly hat and a dryrobe if you have one. If refreshments are not provided, take a bottle of water or a flask of coffee and something to eat. Cake is usually the order of the day! Also take some sanitiser and wipes as there is usually no shower facilities for after your swim. You should sanitise your hands before eating if you have been swimming in open water.

On the Day

Arrive in plenty of time. You will probably need to register. You will be given a hat with a number on it, either before or at the event. That number will also be written on your hand. It may also be on your kit bag. You may also have been sent a timing chip beforehand, make sure you take it along to the event as some events charge for these if you don't return them at the end of the event.

It's always a good idea to take family and friends as they are also handy for looking after your personal items as well as supporting you.

Seek out the changing area and the bag drop if there is one. Familiarise yourself with the start area. Get into your swimming attire and keep yourself warm. 

At some events there will be an acclimatisation area and if there is one, always go in and acclimatise to the water temperature for 5 minutes or so. 

At the start there may be some limbering up exercises, so join in. It will keep you warm and warm up those muscles. You will be nervous, but don't worry. Everyone around you will be feeling the same.

If its a mass start, where everyone is starting at the same time, stay at the back of the pack, this way you will be starting with others of similar ability and confidence. 

                                                               Photo by Jess Rose

Try not to get caught up in the wave of people speeding off. It's so easy to get caught up in the atmosphere and think it's a race. Remember these events are not races, they are about finishing. So set off pacing yourself. If there are other waves entering the water after you, you might find they catch you up. Just move to the side of the pack, where you are less likely to be hurt. The front of every wave is filled with the fastest swimmers, so don't be alarmed if people start coming at you from behind. Just move to the side.

Along the way you will see kayakers, paddle boarders, jet ski's and rib boats. These are all people looking out for your safety. If you feel that you need assistance, just raise your hand and someone will be with you.

On longer courses you may come across feeding stations. If swimming in a river like the Dart, there are rafts in the river for you to stop at. If you are swimming so many laps around a lake, there may be a place for you to stop and take on some water and sugary foods. If you want to take your own things to eat and drink, this is sometimes possible, but check beforehand and if allowed make sure it is packed in a highly visible container that you can find easily. These kinds of events are usually 10km or more.

There may be buoys along the course and you may have to turn at these. These areas tend to get congested. Again swim wide if you are concerned.

When you reach the finish, there will very likely be people to help you out of the water. You may feel a bit wobbly after being in the prone position swimming your heart out! hold on to them, when they offer support and don't let go until you feel steady. At this moment you will be feeling very, very proud of your achievement. You usually get a medal, T Shirt or some souvenir of your swim. 

Smile and be Proud...You did IT!!!

                       ©Solent Swim School 2021           


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