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Stepping up to 5k

Floss Flint prepares for her first half marathon distance open water swim  

On a gorgeous Monday evening, I nervously made my way over to the Serpentine in Hyde Park for my first open water skills lesson with Swim For Tri. I have completed a couple of open water swims over the past few years and, earlier this year, had set myself the challenge of a 5k open water event in July.

Having been part of a local swim club as a child my relationship with water seemed to fizzle out after I left home and it was not until I broke my ankle in 2013 that I rediscovered the joy of swimming. Itching to do some sort of activity again the day my cast came off, I hopped into my local pool and tentatively began swimming again. It soon became part of my daily routine and before I knew it I was happily swimming about four times a week and had an ankle on the mend. With my new-found inspiration for swimming, I decided to train for my first open water swim later that year, a 1.5km in Poole, Dorset. I absolutely loved it, but haven’t dared to swim further in open water since. Instead, I have just been pounding up and down a pool without aiming for anything specific.

Fast forward a few years and I now work for Macmillan Cancer Support and am surrounded by inspiring people taking on their own personal challenges so I have decided it is time for me to take on a challenge of my own. In 2015 I completed my first long swim, a 5km All Out Swim in the chilly Tooting Bec Lido. But now it is time to get out of the safety of a pool and take to the open water. 

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Floss, during her lido swim

It goes without saying that my Swim For Tri lesson with Gui taught me many valuable lessons. Swimming in open water is so different to the pool and I knew I had a lot to learn going into the skills lesson, not least that the Body Glide that came with my wetsuit is there to be used. (I did not use it and had a very sore neck as a result!) The session started with the basics, how to get your wetsuit on, warming up out of the water – something I shamefully never do – and how to let in water and squash all of the air bubbles out of your wetsuit for a better fit.

Once in the water our first task was to demonstrate that we can swim in a straight line – easier said than done! When you are used to the tiled floor of a bright clear pool, plunging your face into the murky waters of the Serpentine took a bit of getting used to. The purpose of this exercise was to make us realise that you can swim straight for longer than you think and therefore do not need to sight every few strokes. I was surprised to realise there was not rule as to how often you should sight, so we swum about a bit getting used to sighting and, most importantly, not trying to breathe at the same time. We then moved onto drafting practice. I was surprised to find I did not really mind swimming along with someone glued to my legs. Next up were the deep-water starts – my least favourite part. Like many I would feel much happier doing the entire 5km swim on my own without others flailing arms and legs in my face. Alas this is not the reality. The rest of the session was combining the starts, sighting and drafting and getting used to swimming while stuck together in a pack of swimmers.

In addition to skills we learnt some useful tips such as the importance of tinted or polarised goggles when the sun is out and how you shouldn’t get lazy and assume the person in front of you knows where they are going. It was quite a lot of information to take on at once, but I definitely left the session feeling more clued up than beforehand.

The following week I returned for a fitness session, which was the perfect opportunity to put my skills into practice. By the end of the session we had swum more than 3km and I had begun to feel a little more confident when swimming closer to others in the water.

Now armed with my body glide, polarised goggles and a whole host of techniques that I will do my best not to forget on the race day, it is time to get in the final few training sessions before my 5km open water challenge. I am looking forward to it. I think!

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Outdoor Swimmer is the magazine for outdoor swimmers by outdoor swimmers. We write about fabulous wild swimming locations, amazing swim challenges, swim training advice and swimming gear reviews.