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No training? No worries! Six ways to make the most of an event when you’re unfit

During the lockdowns of 2020 and early 2021, my swimming training and fitness evaporated. In 2019, before the covid pandemic, I averaged 20km of swimming per week. In January 2021, it was 859m per week, and that was only through a series of five-minute dips swooshing down the Thames with the current. There was no way to do any serious swimming training.

But when swimming events came back on the agenda in the summer of 2021, I did them anyway, despite the lack of preparation.

The reason for sharing this story now is I often hear people say things like, “I’m not fit enough to do an event,” or “I didn’t have time to do the training I should have done.”

Understandably, this makes them feel nervous about entering events.

But you don’t need to be super fit to do a swimming event. After the pandemic, I wasn’t fast and I my arms and shoulders ached more than they used to on the longer distances but I could still do them. In addition, knowing I was unfit removed the competitive pressure I sometimes put on myself and I enjoyed the swims as much as ever.

So, if you’re still wavering about signing up for an event because of worries about your fitness, whether it’s your first mile or a marathon swim, stop procrastinating and sign up. As long as you can keep moving your arms, you’ll get through it.

And being unfit gives you the perfect excuse to have more fun and make the most of everything an event offers you.

I’m not suggesting you neglect training and practice. Do what you can between now and the event, but don’t worry that it’s not enough. Instead, reset your expectations. Measure your performance based on what you were able to do, not on what you could have done or think you should have done. You may surprise yourself that you enjoy events just as much when you’re unfit.

Six ways to make the most of an open water swimming event when you’re unfit

  1. Plan to enjoy the occasion. Pack a picnic to eat by the water after your swim. Schedule time to take the scenic route home.
  2. During the swim, remind yourself how lucky we are to be able to do events, for so many reasons.
  3. Look around more than you usually do. Swim some head-up breaststroke if you like. Bring a waterproof camera and make it a sightseeing swim.
  4. Choose your pace to maximise your enjoyment of the swim rather than minimise how long it takes you to do it.
  5. Don’t look at the results. Don’t let a couple of numbers next to your name change your subjective experience of the swim.
  6. Focus on the joy of swimming, and the pleasure of staying relaxed throughout, rather than any scrambling or scrapping for a fast time.

Find an event

If you want to meet the Outdoor Swimmer team this summer, we’ll be at the Outdoor Swimmer Henley Swim Festival in July.

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I created Outdoor Swimmer in 2011 (initially as H2Open Magazine) as an outlet for my passion for swimming outdoors. I've been a swimmer and outdoor swimmer for as long as I remember. Swimming has made a huge difference to my life and I want to share its joys and benefits with as many people as possible. I am also the author of Swim Wild & Free: A Practical Guide to Swimming Outdoors 365 a Year and I provide one-to-one support to swimmers through Swim Mentoring.