Long distance breaststroke swimming


Simon Griffiths reflects on long distance breaststroke, one of open water swimming's longest but now largely forgotten traditions, after he received a letter from from a reader who had recently completed a race using the stroke.

Sometime between Christmas and New Year, I received a wonderful email from Claire Dummer, one of our readers, saying how much she loved Outdoor Swimmer and especially learning about other people’s swimming stories. She explained she was relatively new to open water swimming and told me her own swimming story.

Claire’s first exposure to open water swimming was in 2016 when she did Swim Serpentine, which she swam breaststroke, in 56 minutes. She did no training before hand and thought no more about open water swimming until January 2019, when she took on a 28-day alcohol-free challenge with OYNB (One Year No Beer). As part of that, she was encouraged to set herself a physical challenge. As a Water Babies teacher, she already spent her days in the water but until then hadn’t taken advantage of that to swim herself. She decided to set herself another open water swimming challenge, signed up to swim a mile at the Outdoor Swimmer Henley Swim Festival, and determined that this time she would do it properly.

She says: “When I first started training in February, I swam a mile but was in agony in my arms due to my technique yet I persevered. My mindset was changing with the OYNB programme and I could feel the mind getting stronger, so the body had to follow. I trained hard between February and July and did my Henley swim, despite my poor breaststroke technique, in 42 minutes. I saw the finish line and cried coming up to it and past it. I loved the fresh water taste in my mouth and not chlorine.”

Img 4072

Claire completed the Outdoor Swimmer Henley Swim Festival swim in 42 minutes using breaststroke

Delighted by her achievement, she then signed up to have another go at Swim Serpentine, to see if she could beat her previous time. Recognising her swimming technique could be improved, she sought instruction from Stuart Hacker at Swim Cube.

“I was now swimming up to 4km per week, had lost 1.5 stone (9.5kg) and, due to giving up alcohol, had found a love of swimming,” she says. “There was no way I could drink alcohol again as it would stop my swimming.”

Her efforts paid off and, still swimming breaststroke, Claire was 10 minutes faster at Swim Serpentine in 2019 than in 2016.

“After I completed the Serpentine, Stuart said that I was capable of more so I’ve signed up to Coniston in 2020. The plan after that is to swim Ullswater and then Windermere and I’m thinking about the Chanel when I turn 50 in 4 years!”

The other thing is, Claire plans to do all of this on breaststroke. She’s tried front crawl but is simply not a fan. She wondered if other people do long distance swims on breaststroke (I assured her they do) and why we didn’t publish more articles about breaststroke swimming! I hastily dug out the few we had from our archives and sent them to Claire but the criticism was fair; we don’t publish many. We should address that. Breaststroke has a long tradition in open water swimming and the British Long Distance Swimming Association still gives separate prizes for breaststroke swimmers. You also get better views.

Claire signed off her email with: “Thanks for reading because this is what your magazine inspires people like me to do: change their lives and get out there and feel alive.”

But it’s not Outdoor Swimmer that inspires people, it’s the stories from people like Claire that we are privileged to publish. So, please join me in wishing Claire all the best for her swimming journey and keep sending us your swimming stories so that we can share them and inspire even more people.

01 Cover January

Issue 45 January 2021

  • The Northumbrian adventurer blazing his own watery (and icy!) trail
  • Keri-anne Payne on how to train like an Olympian in 2021
  • History, nature writing and the Troubles
  • Sarah Thomas looks at the icy thrill of ice miles

Swim Wild and Free

Sign up to our newsletter and receive a free five-part series on the fundamentals of freestyle by Olympic silver medallist Keri-anne Payne.