Suits vs Skins. The Henley Mile. #ThisGirlCan and We All Did

On Sunday I took on the toughest competitor I know: Myself.

Part of the Henley Mile swim events, Suits versus Skins is a one-mile straight-line swim up the river: First in a wetsuit and then in skins. It’s basically the swimming equivalent of a personal Rocky IV.

#ThisGirlCan: Suit

#ThisGirlCan: Suit

#ThisGirlCan : Skins

#ThisGirlCan : Skins

Wetsuit or non, I love open water and this was a fun opportunity to see what kind of difference a wetsuit makes to my swimming.

Over the last few months I have spent A LOT of time at the physio and working on my technique, so these swims were also  a fun way to check in on my progress.

Add to that, the build up to this year’s Henley Mile has been particularly motivating, because as part of the #ThisGirlCan movement we have been able to follow  the inspiring journeys of eight women, for whom the Henley Mile was their first swim event.

If you’re wondering about whether to try open water or not, take a look at their blogs. Brilliant.

Swimming features prominently in the This Girl Can campaign

Swimming features prominently in the This Girl Can campaign

Competitor Analysis

I took a moment to assess my competition…

Incredible serious and aspiring open water swimmer. Lake Zurich Marathon Relay 2013

Suits vs Skins: The Competition

A competitor that loves openwater, could get in and get on a swimming mission, but also has the potential to get panicked by the whole concept of a race and get in a hyperventilating water fluster.

There was also a high chance I might end up just floating down the river, having been distracted by the blue skies and green pastures of regatta country and chatting to ducks…

This was going to be tough.

Race Strategy

Walking up to the start, once again my butterflies were dancing.

I generally swim without a wetsuit, but will happily admit to enjoying being back in neoprene. And not just any neoprene… I was wearing my new Speedo Women’s Elite 2015 wetsuit.

It felt fantastic. All the support, glide and buoyancy of a wetsuit, yet once in the water it didn’t feel like I was wearing one.

Walking to the start

Walking to the start

I also know that unless you have good technique, you can’t optimize the benefits of a great wetsuit.

I switched off any thoughts of ‘All the gear and no idea’ and backed myself – ‘How exciting to be swimming in such a great piece of swim kit. I can’t wait to see what I can do!’

I also decided not to wear a watch. When I do that, I worry about the clock, rather than enjoying how my body feels in the water.

I just wanted to swim. So that’s what I did…

Suit vs Skins Part 1

Suit vs Skins Part 1


Our pod was a spectrum of experience and speed and felt all the better for it. “I’m so pleased we’re here doing this all together”, said one woman to her friends, and wishes of “Have a good swim” passed down the start line. All of that helped put my butterflies at ease – thank you fellow open wave women!

Open wave start line encouragement in action

Open wave start line encouragement in action

Reciting: ’11 o’clock ; 1 o’clock’, meant I maintained my hand entry position, and, as I progressed through the water I went through a checklist of all the elements of my stroke, noting how I was engaging my catch,  using the rotation of my body to support my breath, and enjoying the different feel that a wetsuit gives in the water.

Checking through the different elements of my stroke kept me focused on technique, and distracted me from the fact that I was working pretty hard – My lungs were disappointed to discover that the half way mark was just that, and not a sign for the finish!

24 minutes and 27 seconds later I crossed the line. I know this for sure, because I went back and checked it on the results computer three times, and then spent the best part of an hour staring at the print out confirming that it did have my name on it.  In recent weeks a couple of people at swim training had commented that I was getting faster – I had guessed I might hit a 30 minute mile wetsuit pace –  I was stunned!

Pep Talk

The H2Open swim show ran alongside the Henley Mile swims with info on all things swimming including, technique and coaching advice, holidays, and kit.

In the break between suit and skins, I went to a talk by Cassie Patten about her journey to  Olympic Bronze at  Beijing 2008 and beyond.

We can all face Olympic challenges of one kind or another and her story is a powerful tale of talent, commitment, judgment calls and perspective, that translates to life both in and out of the water.

I was in a post swim stupor, so couldn’t articulate the many questions I wanted to ask. However, it’s fair to say it was the best pep talk one could wish for – thank you Cassie!

Then just like an Olympic athlete, me and my mate Ann popped to the local pub for some eggs on toast.

Happily we were back just in time to watch everyone jump into the river for the Henley splash and see the junior races where parents and kids could swim together.

At different points the commentators gave the mic over to kids on the riverbank so the cheers of support for their mums could echo across the Chiltern hills – lovely!


Re –fuelled, but if I am being honest, ever so slightly knackered, it was back to the start for the skins swim. This time in the wind, rain and a bikini; the kind of weather that reminds you that you’re alive, and makes skins swimming that extra bit wild and wonderful.

Wind, rain and skins - Perfect!

Wind, rain and skins – Perfect!

It was pretty inspiring to hear the swim chat of the young women in this pod. All really excited about open water and talking proudly about the swims they had completed.

Swim psyche was high and I kept well back from the front row. The start signal was given, and I glanced up to watch the future of openwater swimming speed off into the distance. My goodness they were fast!

The future of openwater swimming

The future of openwater swimming

Towards the end there was a  swimmer on my right and we silently agreed to help each other maintain pace and push through to the finish. We thanked each other at the end – Really cool!


The Finish!

I was knackered, but delighted to discover I finished my skins swim in 27. 42 – another personal best and great to know all that pool practice is starting to pay off!


  1. In the battle of suits versus skins, I concluded that I love swimming.
  2. In the Alice versus Alice face off, Alice won.
  3. #ThisGirlCan and we all did, demonstrating once again, that no matter what, we are all first in our own category.

芙蓉出水 (fúróng chūshuǐ) Out of the water a lotus rises.

 And finally…

Thank you Henley Swim and H2Open for putting together such a fun and informative event for novice and experienced swimmers of all ages.

Thank you Speedo for my lovely new wetsuit. And thank you to Dan, Keeley and all the team at Swimfortri for getting me back in the water that I love,  helping me stay there and achieve PBs I didn’t know were possible!

By Alice Gartland

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At A Lotus Rises we’re celebrating  women in open water, from your first splash, through to wild swims and marathon swimming.

You can get involved via the BlogFacebookTwitter and We want to share your stories, so we can support you and inspire others!






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