Beginner swim training
COACH,  FEATURES,  Readers' Swims

Treading Water pt 1: the start of my training for an open water event

For her first ever open water event, digital journalist and beginner swimmer Abi has signed up to a 4-mile swim in the River Arun with spinal cord injury charity Aspire in September. She shares the start of her swim training with us.

I started working as digital journalist for Outdoor Swimmer in August 2022. Prior to this, my experience as an outdoor swimmer was more of the dipping and frolicking kind, and usually within the spring and summer months. Joining a team of swimmers who it do all year round and take part in all sorts of events and challenges was daunting to say the least.

The thing is, the more I settled into my role, the more I found the idea of open water events rather tantalising. I started to wonder what the fuss was all about.

Dipping a toe in

When I found out a local swim coach (Swim With Ray) was hosting a ‘Lakeside to 2.5km’ swim training course last summer, it seemed like to the perfect stepping stone into the open water event world. The training was over 10 weeks, once a week in a nearby lake. After weeks of struggling with front crawl breathing and feeling desperately slow with head-up breaststroke, I decided to give head-down breaststroke a go. For me it felt streamlined and easy, so I stuck with it for the rest of my training and used the stroke for most of my 2.5K swim on the final day.

Achieving the 2.5K was a massive confidence booster, and prompted me to explore the prospect of entering swimming events in 2024. OS founder Simon Griffiths mentioned the River Arun Swim, organised by spinal cord injury charity Aspire, and it sounded ideal.

The challenge is a 4-mile swim along the River Arun in Sussex with a group of up to 20 swimmers. It is a tidally assisted river, which means it will feel much easier than swimming the same distance in a lake or pool. According to Aspire, this makes the River Arun Swim the perfect open water challenge for first timers, ie… ME!

While the fact that it’s a tidally-assisted swim sounds nice (and the swim ends in Arundel, which I’ve always wanted to visit), I’m daunted by the distance and the fact that I’m a slow swimmer (there’s a 2-hour window for completing the swim). However, the event isn’t until 22 September, so I’ve got a good nine months to prepare.

The start of training

With Christmas gorging and laziness out the way, I started my training this week with a one-hour session in my local indoor pool. My sole target for this session was to acclimatise to lane swimming in a public pool, and to see how I’d get on with front crawl. Luckily the pool wasn’t too busy and I ended up having a lane to myself.

To my surprise, my front crawl was… ok! Whenever I’ve tried it outdoors I’ve gotten puffed out and had to stop after a few strokes, but something just seemed to click in the pool. I swam very slowly, using bilateral breathing (breathing every third stroke) and managed to swim continuously in the 25m-pool for an hour. I lost count of the lengths I did, unfortunately.

Next few weeks of training

Simon (who happens to be a swim coach) has advised that for the next few weeks I continue swimming slowly with front crawl and get used to bilateral breathing, then after a few sessions we’ll start adding some structure to my 1-hour sessions and focus on speeding up my stroke.

Aspire would like to know how long it currently takes me to swim 1km (that would be 40 lengths in my pool), so I’ll time that at my next session.

Unfortunately, being a working mum and juggling other commitments, I’m only able to commit to one 1-hour pool training session a week, but hopefully alongside my regular running and Pilates exercises, plus my weekly cold-water dips, this should suffice?! We shall have to see…

Issues to work on

Anyone else get trapped wind after a front crawl training session or is that just me? Perhaps my inhale is a bit gaspy and I’m taking too much air in. Also a couple of my toes keep cramping – perhaps I tend to flex my toes when I kick, and this is what causes the cramping?

I’m also finding my swimming goggles a bit leaky, so Simon’s sending me another pair in the post. They’re AquaSphere Kayenne Titanium Mirrored Goggles – he reviewed them recently and I’m looking forward to trying them out!

Would you like to join Abi for a 4-mile swim, raising money for Aspire? There are still places left! Find out more: To donate to Abi’s fundraising page for Aspire, visit

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Abi writes swimming news stories and features for the Outdoor Swimmer website and manages the social media channels. She loves to swim, run, hike and SUP close to her home in Herefordshire. While she’s a keen wild swimmer, Abi is new to the world of open water events and recently completed her first open water mile. She has previously written for The Guardian, BBC Countryfile Magazine, BBC History Magazine and Ernest Journal.