1. Book a session with a coach
Unlike a swimming pool, there are a number of elements unique to outdoor events, such as mass starts, sighting and drafting. Booking a session with a qualified outdoor coach will help introduce these skills and refine them before the race day.
Straight Line Swimming has a helpful coach finder with individuals all around the UK, including additional information to ensure you find a coach suited for what you're looking for.
2. Invest in a decent race suit
When swimming, particularly long-distance or when speed is a priority, a good suit can make all the difference. Not only can a good wetsuit keep you warmer when swimming long distances, but it also provides extra buoyancy. Yonda's Non-Sleeve Ghost II wetsuit in women's (£189 from £399) and men's (£199 from £399) uses a ‘10k collar’ on the neck, a single layer collar which has been tested by long-distance swimmers and said to reduce irritation.
If you're looking to branch out into triathlons, Yonda's Ghost 3 Racesuit (£139) in women's and men's, is a great entry-level option. Just always make sure to check the rules on what suits are allowed before entering into a race.
3. Get goggles that work in the outdoors
Racing outdoors means contending with varying elements, including sun, wind, fog and rain. Goggles specifically made for the outdoors are designed to deal with changing weather, ensuring that your visibility is as good as it can be on the day.
HUUB's Vision Swim Goggles (£34.99) are fitted with UV protection, and a great all-round for those new to open water who will also use them in the pool.
4. Sport Lube!
Even with a top-of-the-range wetsuit, it is likely that some chafing will occur when sighting or due to body position. In order to stay as comfortable as possible, sport lube is the best option to protect the areas where rubbing is most likely to occur, such as on the neck. Its use also allows for quicker transitions when taking part in triathlons or swim-runs.
You may find some swimmers going old-school, using products such as vaseline, but this can break down the neoprene on wetsuits over time. HUUB's Sport LUUB (£9.99) not only is designed to combat rubbing from friction and moisture, but also generally relieves chafed, chapped and cracked skin.
5. Enjoy yourself!
Races can be stressful affairs, but simple planning can help you enjoy the day as much as possible. Arriving early gives time to hear any safety or course briefing, find where you can leave your kit, and an opportunity to stay hydrated and stretch before the swim.
Above all, swim events are fun, challenging and addictive - once you've had your first one you'll definitely be signing up to another.