Open Water Swimming – my first (4)attempts!

I like to use Swimming within my training structure as a nice low impact workout to help keep my joints strong. I broke my ankle a couple of years ago and find swimming helped to strengthen.

I also find that swimming is relaxing and therapeutic! I have built my swimming up and ‘self taught’ myself to breathe with my face in the water (whilst doing the front crawl stroke). As it is self taught, there are probably some faults in my technique/improvements that can be made, for example, I breathe every 2 strokes which is quite often to be breathing and also only out of one side – bilateral breathing every 3/5 is perhaps more efficient. I have tried to breathe out of both sides but found it difficult so have taken the easy option since.

Recently, I swam 2 miles, which is 128 lengths of a 25 meter pool, this took me about an hour and 10 minutes I believe and was the furthest I had swam in one go. I broke the distance up into smaller sections and got to the 128 eventually! I find after this sort of distance I am hungry pretty quickly after the swim – swimming is  a great full body, non weight baring workout.

Although I use Swimming in my training program regularly -at least once per week, Open Water Swimming is not something which I had really thought about. Having said this, I have always been inspired by Triathlons and Ironman events.

Anyway, my brother Joe is getting married next year and we had discussed (along with another mate) an Ironman event in May 2018, before going on his Stag do – this is something my brother is very keen to do, whereas in all honesty I probably won’t commit to it just yet. His schedule allows him more full days off to train than my schedule allows – in a few years I think I will commit to an Ironman, perhaps a half Ironman at some point in the nearer future!

Joe’s recently booked a half Ironman for September of this year and put a message out to our ‘Ironman WhatsApp group’ (which has a couple of mates Chris Dan and Steve in the group as well) about an Open Water resevoir which was opening for the summer season. This was in East Grinstead so local to me – they run sessions on a Saturday morning (630-830) and Tuesday evening (430-830).

So I committed and decided to join the guys for the training – it can’t be that hard right, after all I’ve done a couple of miles in a pool (albeit broken up with a couple of stops!)

The requirements to swim in the Resevroir are a wetsuit and a cap so I brought these and we (Joe Chris and I) arranged to meet at 6am on the Saturday morning to drive down.

We got there and signed up for the season membership plus £6 a time to swim, changed and headed for the jetty which is a few minute walk. We got down there and had some small talk with Aldo, the life guard (who was in a coat, wooly hat, warm trousers) and looked quite comfortable with a flask of Coffee.

He told us that the bouys (Sic?) are set out for a 300 meter lap and that the water was ‘beautiful, crystal clear’. This was because there was a machine that had been put in the lake at the end of the previous year to improve the water clarity.

When I asked the best way to go in, wade in or jump off of the jetty (my initial thought was to jump), as you warm up quicker surely?! Anyway, he agreed and said to jump in, you will quickly get used to it, I’m normally straight into the sea etc and warm up quickly, he said that the water temp was around 14 degrees.

So I headed to the end of the jetty and jumped in – guess what… It was cold!! I think I was in shock for a good minute with not much control of my breathing! Chris said that he wished he had a camera for my reaction, priceless! It took me a good 10 minutes of swimming to relax a little and get into it.

The actual swim was a lot tougher than in a pool, even little things like the distance from one buoy to the next can seem like miles but you have to keep plodding away and you get there eventually!

I found my goggles a little frustrating as they were not holding out well with the water clarity, either that or the water was not as ‘crystal clear’ as Aldo had said! The first session I managed 2 laps and  it was a great feeling having done the 2 laps and I felt really good for it.

week 1 weirwood

Week 2 and we headed back, this time we had an addition, Dan joined us – we got down to the jetty for about 645 and Aldo was there, coffee flask in hand, hat on, at this point it was a bit drizzly, not the best weather.

Aldo told us that the lap had been extended, this time it was 400 meters, as opposed to 300 meters. When I mentioned about the problems I had with my goggles and water clarity, he said that he doesn’t use goggles and is fine which I’m a little sceptical about after the ”jumping off the jetty is the best way in” thing! The water temperature had increased and was a very tropical 14 and a bit degrees..!


This time, we decided to wade in instead of jumping from the jetty and this, for me was a lot easier and manageable gradually getting the body used to the water was nicer. Once the full body is under, it still takes a good 30 seconds to get the breathing right and start to relax, plus half a lap to warm the body a little.

This week I did 2 laps of the 400 meter circuit, I think the others did 3 laps each, I was happy with 2, 800 meters in total. I gave up on my goggles this week as they weren’t holding out – so I broke the 2 laps up into differing swimming strokes: Breast stroke, front crawl (face out of water) and back stroke.

With these swims, as they are so early, I tend to do them fasted and have  a big dinner the night before so I’m pretty hungry directly after the swim. After the swim, we chilled by the lake, had some food. It was comical to see a keen swimmer head down to the jetty with just a pair of shorts and a towel (no wetsuit) – he was told that he could not go in without a wetsuit which, hopefully he managed to get and try again!

The 3rd week, Chris, Dan and Joe were all unable to make it, I arranged to meet another mate Dom at the Weirwood. This time, the water was closer to 15 degrees and as I waded in, it certainly felt a lot warmer than the first week. Although Dom has done open water swimming before, it was his first session of the year, he is training for an Ironman later on this year.

I managed 4 laps which works out to be a mile (1600meters/1.6km) and double the distance of the previous week. The weather was nice this week and once I had warmed up, I really enjoyed the swim, I think confidence is something which comes with open water practice and once you get a bit more comfortable in the water, it’s a good feeling. Dom managed 5 laps in the time I did 4, he has a strong front crawl stroke, not bad for the first session of the year. I think I was in the lake for around 50 minutes on week 3.

Weirwood lake

On the 4th session, 27th May, I had some new equipment to work with, a wetsuit and some ‘Anti Fog’ goggles from Speedo. 

This week, it was myself, Chris, Dan and Joe heading down and arrived at Weirwood, starting the swim around 0645. As I waded in to the water, I really noticed the difference in temperature, although it was only a couple of degrees warmer than the first week it made a big difference. I think also the fact that I was starting to get used to the open water swimming also helped.

The 4th session was my best yet, I managed to use front crawl with my face in the water a lot, the anti fog goggles from Speedo were great. It took me a good lap to get warm and then start to put my face in the water (initially the forehead feels freezing but you soon get used to it).

I managed 4 laps, so about a mile and this felt my strongest yet – the front crawl is the most efficient stroke and when you are able to relax and breathe well the laps fly by!

I also understood what Aldo meant when he said about the water clarity – you can just about see your arm as you pull the water from the front of you! Joe managed 4 laps, Chris and Dan managed 5 laps, so 2km.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my new fitness challenge in open water swimming and have certainly noticed my swimming strength has improved massively. My body has also gotten used to the water which is half the battle – if you can train yourself to relax as much as possible when you get in the water, you will be winning..

Would I recommend Open Water Swimming? Definately, I’ve loved the last few weeks and look forward to progressing further with my swimming in the coming weeks! 

I would like to go for a Triathlon at some point this year, dependent on event availability.

An Ironman? One day perhaps!







  1. Great read as always Ben, Adam has done a few triathlons and he found his first open water swimming experience very different to the pool, he struggled with distance and direction with no sides of a pool to direct you. He has swum at Mercers Lake, just outside of Redhill, if you have at look at Tri Surrey, they run sessions there on Sunday mornings. Good luck with the training, perhaps start with a sprint tri and see how that goes, Adam and Libby have both done that. I’m sure you will enjoy the challenge x

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Pauleen, I think I’m starting to get used to the water now and enjoyed yesterday! I’m going to maybe look at a sprint later this year, hope you’re having a nice weekend 😀


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