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The Henley Swim Festival Blogs 2019: Emily (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, Emily, who was the youngest swimmer in the 4-mile challenge, tells us how she got on.

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

How did Emily get on?

Read Part 1 of Emily’s journey to taking on the 4-mile challenge at the Outdoor Swimmer Henley Swim Festival

Read Part 2 of Emily’s journey to taking on the 4-mile challenge at the Outdoor Swimmer Henley Swim Festival

Me again!

Last weekend, the 14th of July… I DID IT!!!

I arrived at Henley the night before and camped over. This allowed me to explore Henley and see the river before the big day as well as seeing the amazing firework display put on by the Henley Festival which was lovely to watch from the campsite.

I woke up at seven on the day of the race and ate a bowl of porridge. We then went to register. As I was doing the mile four times, I was given a gold hat, which was great. After registering, we had around 15 minutes to get ready and I was starting to run out of time. I ran back to the tent to get changed into my wetsuit which you cannot do quickly, in case you rip it. However, I got it on in time and ran to the meeting point. From here, I walked to the mile to the start line along with my fellow swimmers and it was only now that I had time to get nervous!

Four miles is 6.4km. I’ve never swum that far before but two weeks previously, I swam a 5km race where I was the third woman to finish. This made me feel more confident for this swim. Also, at the Henley Swim, I would have a break between each mile – but don’t forget I had to walk four miles to get to the start each time.

Before the race started, everything seemed to go wrong. Firstly, my hat ripped – yes, my gold hat! – so I was given a bright pink hat which was completely different to everyone else’s. Then, I put the sticker that’s supposed to go on my bag around my wrist and then my wrist was too small for the timing chip so I had to get someone to take it off and put on a new one. But, at least I had got all the problems out of the way before I started. When looking round at my competitors, I was quick to notice that I was the youngest one there. However, there was another girl who looked around my age (she was 19), so I started talking to her and she was super friendly. I said to my Dad at the beginning, “she’s going to win it” and she did!! (out of the females).

At Henley

We were told the water temperature was around 20 degrees Celsius, which isn’t bad. The first time getting in was actually the easiest and then after that the water just seemed to get colder each time. When I start, I always pull the front of my wetsuit down to let water in and this wasn’t very enjoyable as it felt so cold.

Throughout the day, there were six waves for the mile, and I swam in four of them. In each wave there were quite a few people, I would say over 100 but I’m not sure. Despite the large number of swimmers, the girl I was talking to and myself always ended up being at the front. I liked this because it meant I wasn’t getting kicked, which was something that doesn’t appeal to me.

Although the start can be a bit intense as the majority of people set off really fast, I love swimming with other people. I just think it’s so much more interesting than swimming by yourself and it really allows you to push yourself as hard as you can.

However, having completed the first mile, I was exhausted and concerned for the next one. On the second mile, I went in with a completely different mindset. For the first mile, I was so worried about where I was going to come and my time, that I wasn’t enjoying it as much as my normal swims. For the second mile, I went in with the goal to enjoy myself and swim for myself. This mile felt much quicker than the first one and I really enjoyed it and my time wasn’t that much slower despite being tired. The third mile was my favourite and I felt really strong. The last mile was very tiring and my shoulder and legs were starting to ache. Despite this, I’m still glad that I did four miles as I really pushed myself to the maximum. Overall, I came first in my age category, fifth out of 35 women and tenth out of 63 men and women.

In conclusion, the day was absolutely incredible and I loved every second of it. The majority of people I spoke to were friendly and smiley and the people working there were so lovely. I also bought a hoodie saying ‘Henley open water swim’ which is so soft and thick and I love it so much. The whole event is great for the family as it has stalls and the town is only a few minutes walk away. I can’t wait to do it again next year! Thank you so much Outdoor Swimmer for helping me get the most out of this event and to Simon whose advice helped so much. I would have never got a spare pair of goggles and it really gave me the courage to swim the 5km two weeks prior as Simon said to practise longer distances. It was great meeting him!

Simon says:

It was great meeting you too and congratulations. I’m really impressed to see how well you dealt with all the things that went wrong for you at the start – that could easily have thrown you off but you didn’t let them stop you. I have to admit that I also put my luggage tag around my wrist originally! I should take my own advice and read the swimmers’ briefing notes carefully. I had a look at your times and although you slowed down a little in miles 3 and 4, it wasn’t by that much. It’s hard enough to judge your pace for a single mile, so I think you did really well to be that consistent over four miles. The woman who finished just ahead of you actually slowed down a lot more than you.

Good news that you loved the whole event and want to come back again next year. If you can be consistent with your training over the next 12 months, I’m sure you will go even faster.

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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.