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The Henley Swim Festival Blogs 2019: Ali (Part 3)

The Outdoor Swimmer Henley Swim Festival 2019 took place on 14 July. It was a fabulous day of river fun celebrating the best of a British summer Sunday by and in the water. In advance of this year’s event, we followed the preparations of three swimmers as they got ready to take on one of the Festival challenges, and offered them advice to make the best of the day. In this final blog, Ali Turner reveals whether or not he took our advice and tells us how his swim went.

The Outdoor Swimmer Henley Swim Festival 2020 is scheduled for 12 July –find out more and sign up now.

Festivals and Fireworks and a good swim, despite the minimalist approach to training

There is something wonderfully isolating about open water swimming. And maybe it’s the easy transition from the absolute beauty of Henley’s riverside, to the calm, clear serenity of the river itself, that I found myself writing this blog in my head as I swam!

My main area of creative thinking was the idea of preparation. If you haven’t read my previous blogs, I’ll update you only to say that my prep was non-existent, and I’ve quickly type-cast myself as representing that small minority of athletes that turn up unprepared and undercooked. However, what I would say is that the advice from Outdoor Swimmer served me well.

For me, swimming is all about rhythm, and once I found mine, I have enough open water swimming experience to know that if you get your head down, and keep going, you’ll make it in the end. It also helps that the people around you are so welcoming, friendly, easy and generally able to take the pressure off, and ensure your focus is on putting one arm ahead of the other … and kicking.

It also helped that it was a beautiful day and the temperature was a cosy 20 degrees C. Again, getting settled is a lot easier when you don’t get that first heart stopping chill as you fill your wetsuit with river water!

In terms of the swim itself, one of the things I tried to focus on was making sure there was a clear run in front of me. It’s a busy river and a popular race, so it takes a while for the fast ones to get ahead and the slower ones to find their (our) pace. It also means a bit of over-taking, so my top tip was to get myself out of it and just swim my own race. Good for self-esteem as well as rhythm.

My second top tip though is practice. I was pleased with my time but know that with more practice and training I would have made a better fist of it. This is a very non-judgemental event, and no one cares where you come or how fast you go, but out of respect for the other swimmers, I do kind of wish I had arrived with a little more in the tank!

Outside of all of that though, it was incredibly fun to be a part of. Family Turner was out in force and my son George, 10 – who did prepare – also competed with a lot more success, whilst my daughter Heidi, 7, enjoyed the lido, the big jump, the craft and the pulled pork burritos throughout the day.

It’s nice to see a swim turn into a festival as well; family Turner camped, which meant our swim was all part of a weekend in one of the most beautiful parts of the country. Because it co-located with the Henley Festival proper, we also got treated to fireworks on the Saturday, which in itself was magical.

For all these reasons, I’d urge anyone with an interest in swimming, water, family fun days out or pulled pork burritos, to get involved next year. In my experience these events grow and grow and get better and better; next year will be a real treat.

Simon says:

Well done on your swim and it’s great to hear you had a fabulous experience. While you didn’t manage to do the training you wanted to do, you did take our second piece of advice, which was not to go all out in the final days before the swim, so at least you avoided injury or exhaustion. It was good to see you approached the swim with expectations that matched the reality of your (lack of) preparation, stayed calm, focused on what you could do and therefore were able to enjoy the experience. We’ve seen swimmers in similar circumstances becoming anxious, misjudging their pacing, holding on to unrealistic expectations and thereby not having the same brilliant experience that you did. Congratulations to your children too. I suspect if you continue with your current training regime, the two of them will be swimming faster than you before you know it.

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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.