Category Archives: Swim Events

SLSC Plunge Championship Practice

Tomorrow is the most hotly contested event in the South London Swimming Club calendar – The Plunge Championships, and today I accompanied some of SLSC’s elite swimmers in their training and preparation…

Plunge diving is a tradition that dates back to the 1904 Olympics. Basically you dive in and see how far you can float – no kicking or underwater swimming allowed.

The biggest issue I found was with keeping my goggles on.

However other swimmers were able to dive without even using their goggle straps #eliteplungeskills


Whilst traditionally plunge diving is a solo event, today we achieved what we believe to be a world first: A 4 Person Plunge…


As these pics demonstrate, tomorrows race is likely to be the toughest yet in SLSC club history, with race marshals needing to be vigilant of any attempts by competitors to gain unfair advantage…

Unconfirmed reports that Dan A may have been edging forward at the bottom of the pool…

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

Many more inspirational stories, advice and adventures can be found on our Blog, and Facebook page and please don’t hesitate to get in touch via Twitter or We want to share your stories, so we can support you and inspire others!


Swim4miles. A Lotus Rises meets Coach, Boat Pilot and Loch Lomond expert Chris Sifleet

Chris Sifleet is an open water swimming coach based in Balloch near Loch Lomond. Chris was a County pool swimmer and transitioned to open water many years ago at age 13 and has completed solo swims of the English Channel 1976 and 1979 and two-way Windermere, Bala Lake, Torbay, Mewstone Rock to Torquay (first person), Weymouth to Lullworth cove and return (first woman) and many more. She now helps swimmers achieve their ambitions be that one mile or 21.6 miles in Loch Lomond and soon various locations across Scotland. She and her firm Swim4miles are partnering with the IISA Great Britain Ice Swimming Championships being held in Loch Lomond on Saturday 11th February, and along with her group and individual tuition is hosting a swim camp in Banff Scotland in September involving sea swims, castles and a ceilidh!

Why did you become a swim coach?

Well I had been out of swimming for several years through illness, but always maintained an interest and reflected very much on what swimming had done for me. For example, it increased my confidence and fitness and introduced me to lifelong friends that I am in touch with to this day – Who would not want any of that?

So I decided to share my experiences and love of swimming and help people achieve their aims and ambitions and try and instill in others the belief that anything is possible. I passed my level 1 and 2 open water coaching qualification and started coaching three years ago. I formed Swim4miles, took my piloting qualifications and moved to Balloch Loch Lomond where I run a bed and breakfast, so I can offer the whole package – swim, sleep and socialise!

Emma Lister on her 6 hour qualifier in Loch Lomond. Photo copyright Chris Sifleet

What does Scotland and Loch Lomond offer to open water swimmers?

21.6 miles of beautiful scenery and a very challenging swim. The challenges are the weather; particularly wind directions. It can be very variable – sometimes it’s behind you, but at some point it will be in your face! There is also the temperature. In a good year it might be 16 to 18c, and in a poor year it can be as low as 13c. Because the bottom of the Loch undulates and there are many small rivers flowing off the hills the temperature can go up and down, which is why acclimatisation is very important. If you don’t want to swim the whole thing then there are various routes across and around the islands, which I map out on an individual basis.

A swimmer enjoying the loch! Photo Copyright Chris Sifleet

Please describe some of your recent coaching successes.

I was very proud this year to coach the Arran Troonautics. A mainly female team with one chap swimming 16 miles from the Isle of Arran to Troon on the Scottish mainland, in aid of the Jo Walters Trust and the RNLI. There were two relay teams: ‘Clyde’, the non wetsuited team who gained recognition from the BLDSA; and ‘Firth’, the wetsuited team who were on a separate boat. There were a variety of abilities, so I had a busy time formulating training plans for the beginners as well as the more experienced swimmers. They all completed the swim and raised twenty five thousand pounds for charity.

Troonautics swimming from Arran to Troon. Photo copyright Chris Sifleet

I also coached a lady who had done very little swimming and wanted to undertake a swim challenge in aid of MIND. We worked towards her swimming the three miles across Loch Lomond, which she did. We started off with stroke analysis and then I gave her a program of swims so she could swim the distance. She wore a shortie wetsuit and to help her acclimatise I recommended that she blow up a paddling pool in her back garden, fill it with cold water and sit in it for as long as she could stand through the winter! She was so proud of herself and that smile will stay with me for life! She raised seven hundred pounds for MIND.

How does the role of a boat pilot differ from that of being a coach?

I am responsible for the administration and safe running for the whole swim. I have my own boat so it is my responsibility to get the swimmer plus the boat to the start, and ensure that before and after care is dealt with efficiently. I am a qualified pilot and I have a co-pilot with me. I also have a medic and encourage the swimmer to bring along someone who knows them well. I can be responsible for feeding them etc if they have come alone.

Swim Camp! Photo copyright Chris Sifleet

I need to make sure during the swim that the swimmer is not becoming hypothermic and I will pull a swimmer out of the water if I feel their health and wellbeing is compromised – We live to fight another day! It is a long sit on the boat, as it can take in excess of 15 hours to swim the length of loch Lomond, however the minutes at the finish of the swim when the swimmer gets out, realises what they have achieved and smiles, makes it all worthwhile!

Coaching the Sunday Morning Swim Group. Photo copyright Chris Sifleet

What are you looking forward to most about working on the IISA Great Britain Ice Swimming Championships?

Very excited about this event. We have ‘tartanised’ it as much as possible and have a piper, highland dances and a Scottish Ceilidh in the evening. There are events where swimmers can challenge themselves and the temperature is likely to be a tad chilly. I am the one person cheering when it looks like snow! I am looking forward to introducing this wonderful Loch to people who have never been here before and hopefully renewing old acquaintances and making new friends.

Loch Lomond. Copyright Chris Sifleet


A Lotus Rises is dedicated to women who inspire and are inspired by a love of open water: We celebrate their successes in the water, inspire others to embark on swimming adventures and raise awareness of the social and environmental issues that are entwined with our love of water.

You can get involved via the BlogFacebook, Instagram, Twitter @ALotus_Rises and We want to share your stories, so we can support you and inspire others!

The name ‘A Lotus Rises’, comes from the Chinese proverb 芙蓉出水,“Out of the Water a Lotus Rises,” used to described strong beautiful women in water and overcoming challenges and coming into bloom.

The BIG Chill Swim! Event review by Helen Gilburt

With a backdrop of snow tipped mountains, there’s nowhere in England quite like Lake Windermere for a swimming gala. So like 100’s of others, last weekend I travelled to Low Wood Bay to take part in the Big Chill Swim. For anyone who has never been to a winter swim event or been put off by taking part in a ‘gala’ the Big Chill Swim is a prime demonstration of how eclectic and inclusive cold water swimming is. My first year I signed up for the 60m and 120m events but 3 events on, I’ve been building up and along with 2 shorter distances I was finally entered into the British 1 kilometre Championships.

The Big Chill Swim, water a bracing 7.3 degrees: Photo Credit Helen Gilbert

The event kicked off on Saturday with the 450m endurance event. Yet again I asked myself – why does everything I enter have to start first thing in the morning?! Despite all the training, I always feel awash with nerves. It’s only when you get into the final briefing and take your allotted seat, when the opportunity for ‘just one more wee’ has finally passed that it’s time to go with the flow. For our group that meant a lot of banter and laughter enhanced with someone explaining to the younger age category sat opposite ours that “this is what you’ll look like in 5 years time!”

I can’t say it was a disaster (I took 3rd place in my age category) but it certainly wasn’t what I visualised. Perhaps the tell-tale sign that yet again the adrenaline had got the better of me and I’d gone off too fast was that 3 lengths in out of 15 all I could think about was how out of breath I was.

Between swims you often have quite a bit of time, but swimming is only part of what Big Chill Swim is. Like other events, I often travel on my own. This can seem a bit daunting at first but the common bond of winter swimming means there’s always someone to chat with. And if you’re not embroiled sharing stories with one of the many teams in attendance, there’s always the relay. Teams of 4, each member racing 30m for me is one of the highlights of the event. Not for the speed per se but the diversity and creativity of the fancy dress at play. You’ve heard of 4 lords a leaping, but can you imagine 4 turkeys swimming… not to mention the obligatory mankinis.

For many Saturday was completed with a buffet and barn dance at the fabulous Low Wood Hotel, but for me it was a burger and bed in preparation for the 1k event. Yes, as you’ve guessed, yet another early morning. Big Chill Swim is associated with the International Winter Swimming Association attracting participants from across the world. With two ladies from Finland, one from the US and one from Chile – our race was certainly a demonstration of that.

So what will I be taking from this year’s event? A gold, silver and bronze in 3 separate events and entry to the Big Chill Swim 1k club, learning how to sauna the Finnish way (on your back with your feet and hands in the air) but most importantly a growing group of friends to hang out with at next year’s event.

Champion! Photo Credit: Helen Gilbert


A Lotus Rises is dedicated to women who inspire and are inspired by a love of open water: We celebrate their successes in the water, inspire others to embark on swimming adventures and raise awareness of the social and environmental issues that are entwined with our love of water.

You can get involved via the BlogFacebook, Instagram, Twitter @ALotus_Rises and We want to share your stories, so we can support you and inspire others!

The name ‘A Lotus Rises’, comes from the Chinese proverb 芙蓉出水,“Out of the Water a Lotus Rises,” used to described strong beautiful women in water and overcoming challenges and coming into bloom.

Love SwimRun

Domestic travel in the UK is set to get pretty exciting in summer 2016. SwimTrek taught us that “Ferries are for wimps,” and now SwimRun is helping us re-think land based travel too.

As Britain prepares for a SwimRun invasion, A Lotus Rises spoke to Chloe Rafferty, founder of Love SwimRun a new 16k event incorporating 12.5k of running and 3.5k of swimming in Snowdonia National Park  to find out what SwimRun exactly is and about her dream to make it as accessible as possible.

Love SwimRun (Credit Chloe Rafferty)

What is SwimRun?

SwimRun is a fast growing endurance sport in which you run and swim between two predefined points along a set course of cross country runs and open water swims without stopping in between. SwimRun is quite similar to the sport aquathlon, where participants undertake a swim and then transition to a run. However, in SwimRun participants switch between running and swimming many times during a single race, running in their wetsuits and swimming in their trainers.

Swim! Credit Chloe Rafferty

The sport was conceived in 2006 when Ötillö (meaning ‘Island to island’) was held for the first time in Sweden. The concept of SwimRun was the result of a beer fuelled challenge between a group of friends – to race across the Stockholm archipelago, running over the islands and swimming between them. The race has become an annual event and this year Ötillö celebrated it’s 10th anniversary!

Ross Dolder Photography_Pic1
Run! Credit Ross Dolder Photography

SwimRun is gaining momentum and there are now SwimRun races all over the world, however, only this year has the sport reached the UK. There have been just a handful of events so far in Scotland and the Lake District and Love SwimRun is bringing the SwimRun craze to North Wales!

What inspired you to set up LoveSwimRun?

I discovered the concept of SwimRun early this year and loved it instantly. For me it offers the same great journey that I get from trail running with an extra element of adventure. I love the contrast between the swimming and running and the feeling of freedom that comes from seamlessly changing from one to the other. The stress of triathlon transitions has never appealed to me and I like the way you need very little gear – basically just your wetsuit, goggles, trainers and off you go! 

Soon after I entered a SwimRun event in Scotland (8km swimming and 23km running). You had to be a team of two to do it and I really struggled to find someone mad enough to want to do it with me! Eventually an old colleague agreed but we were unable to train together due to distance and when it came to the event we found we are not evenly matched. He really struggled and in the end we had to drop out about 2/3rds of the way around. I totally understood as it was so hard, but I was also frustrated and disappointed.

On the way back home to Wales I thought it was such a shame that all the SwimRun events taking place were so epic! I decided that I wanted to share my love of SwimRun and putting on a more accessible event was the way to do it! 

I wanted to make it easy for people to have a go and to find some else to have a go with! We are also offering solo entries for those people that can’t find a partner or just don’t want the pressure of having to keep up with a partner. 

Credit Chloe Rafferty

How, if at all, does your love of sport help with running your own business?

I run a few businesses, Love SwimRun being one of them. Obviously my passion for SwimRun drives me to work hard on promoting our SwimRun events but my love of running, swimming and mountain biking are what keep me going through every working day!

I work at home and mostly on the computer so I’m always looking forward to my reward of getting outside! I’m so lucky working for myself that I can pretty much go out whenever I want so if the sun comes out – off I go! On the other hand, this can be a bit of a problem as sometimes I spend longer outside than at my desk!…

Why has SwimRun grown in popularity? What are your hopes for the SwimRun future?

I think SwimRun has big appeal right now as it’s new and a bit different! Otillo has been in the media lately and its very aspirational to watch the videos and read about it. Outdoor swimming has grown massively in popularity over the last few year and this also taps into that. Again, I think it has a more natural feeling than the regimented rules of triathlon – you can use your ingenuity and you are working with the environment rather than battling against it. It’s the adventure and the challenge but there is also a feeling of unity with the other competitors, it’s a very friendly sport!

I very much hope that SwimRun has a future in the UK, but as it grows in popularity I hope that it can retain the unique qualities above. Our Love SwimRun races will always remain small compared to a lot of other commercial driven events. We want to make our events sustainable for the environment and the local area and community. We always want them to be fun, friendly and have a personal feel. 

out swim1 (1)

Do you have to wear a wetsuit and if so, is it different from a normal openwater swim wetsuit? 

Wetsuits are compulsory for most SwimRun races in the UK. This is for safety reasons. Wetsuits make you a lot more buoyant so you’ll float easily if you have to stop swimming for any reason. Obviously they also keep you much warmer. The swims can be long and are often in big bodies of water that rarely reach much above 15 degrees so unless you are a hardened cold water swimmer you are likely to suffer! We are working on another shorter event where wetsuits would be optional though… keep an eye on the website for news about this hopefully coming soon!

Until recently customising triathlon/open-water wetsuits was what everyone did but last year (2014) the first SwimRun specific wetsuits became available. These have zips at the front to make them easier to take on and off while running, integrated pockets, thinner fabric on the arms and hips to make them easier to run in and a host of other features. All very nice, but also very expensive if you are just starting out! I don’t have one, I just wear a shortie triathlon suit.

If you have a full suit the next step would be to SwimRun customise it by cutting the arms and legs off to make it a shortie, but don’t commit to that until you are sure you want to keep SwimRunning!  There’s more info about that at

Do you run in the wetsuit and swim in your shoes? 

Yes you run in your wetsuit! On longer runs you can undo it and take the top half off to help you breath and keep cool. A lot of people swim in their trainers but you can carry them instead by clipping to your waist or towing them on a float, but then you have the faff of taking them off/putting them on at each transition. I just like to wear my shoes and swim normally – it feels weird to start with but you get used to it. 


And what about trainers – are blisters a problem if you’re not wearing socks?

Trail running shoes are best as they have a snug fit and good grip on wet slippery surfaces. Designs that drain well and won’t absorb a lot of water are essential. You can even drill holes in them to help! You do wear socks, it would be very uncomfortable without. I find a good quality, quick drying (synthetic) pair of ankle socks are best. I have never had a blister. If you do short distances and build up your feet get used to it.

What other kit do you need? Do you have to carry it all and if so where do you put it?

There is a lot of expensive kit that you could buy and use for SwimRun (you can read all about this on our website but, personally I am very much about keeping it simple. Whatever kit you choose to use, remember you have to manage it at each transition and carry it all on the runs! You can use a small bag/hydration pack (if you can swim with it), shove it down your wetsuit or wear a nylon waist loop and use light weight karabinas to clip things to it.

Along with the wetsuit and trainers you’ll definitely need a bright coloured swimming cap and goggles. Other common but unessential equipment are hand paddles, pull buoys, fins and a tow line if you swim as a pair. If you swim alone or even with friend in a big body of water it’s a good idea to use a tow float – this a bright float that you tether around you waist that makes you much more visible and you that can hold onto it if you need to rest. Some have bags you can store stuff in to take with you. It’s also a good idea to carry a phone in a waterproof case, a whistle to attract help should you need it and some spare food. This safety gear is the same kit you’d think about if you were just open water swimming.

Ross Dolder Photography_pic3
Credit Ross Dolder Photography

Do you need to be able to map read to navigate the course?

Most courses are well marked and marshalled – each race is different. You won’t need to be able able to map read at all for Love SwimRun events.

How do you train for a SwimRun event (e.g. adjusting from swim to run so quickly)? Particularly if you’re not based near lakes and trails.

The only way to train for it is to do it. It’s harder than you’d think to get straight out of the water and start running in a wetsuit – it’s such a different exercise your breathing is all over the place! I have to be honest, I don’t know how you’d train for it if you didn’t have access to open water – I am not sure the lifeguards at the pool would you like you wearing trainers and running around the changing rooms!

There are places you can swim outdoors all over the UK, be they man-made lakes or old quarries.  I am sure there would be somewhere not too far away. Check the Outdoor Swimming Society website and look for outdoor swimming groups on Facebook for ideas and advice. When I can’t do much SwimRunning, during the coldest part of the winter, I just concentrate on swimming in the pool (drills, speed sets and endurance/distance training – joining a swimming club is great!) and keep my running up outdoors. If you can keep this up and then get to some openwater at the weekend to just concentrate on the transitions I think you’ll be fine. 

What advice do you have for any openwater swimmers transitioning to SwimRun?

Start off with some easy sessions/short distances and build up, especially with the running to avoid injuries. Experiment with different gear until you find what is right for you – try using what you’ve got first or adapting things from stuff you have at home before spending lots of expensive gear. For example you can make a pull buoy from two plastic bottles! Watch any Ötillö video to see some amazing homemade gear!

Stay safe – swim with someone else, swim close to the shore or have someone spot you from the shore. Read up on . I will be running some free ‘Social SwimRuns’ in early summer to give people a chance to practise and try gear out. I’ll announce info about these in the spring – keep and eye on the website, Facebook and Twitter

At a Lotus Rises, we’re working with the International Institute for Swim Cake Studies (IISCS) on a groundbreaking study to discover the best cake for optimum swim performance. What, in your opinion, is the best cake for SwimRun?

Any cake that isn’t ‘sponge’! You need to absorb as little water as possible! Seriously, it’s good to take some food with you for energy – any individually wrapped (waterproof) flapjacks or seed bars are great! 

A Lotus Rises is dedicated to women who love open water, from your first splash, through to wild swims and marathon swimming.

Many more inspirational stories, advice and adventures can be found on our Blog, and Facebook page and please don’t hesitate to get in touch via Twitter or We want to share your stories, so we can support you and inspire others!

Overcoming a Fear of Open Water, by triathlete and open water swimmer Helen Dickens

We each have a unique relationship with the water. In this guest blog, Helen Dickens describes her swimming journey from someone who was bereaved by drowning and scared to put her face in the water to triathlete, open water swimmer and chasing turtles in the ocean.


When the PR people for London 2012 coined the phrase “inspire a generation” I don’t think that at 37 I was their target audience. But it was whilst watching the Olympic women’s triathlon in Hyde park that I decided that I was going to complete a triathlon.

I was already cycling a lot and had run competitively at school so I “just” had to nail the open water swim. I felt that my breast stroke Granny- style (head out the water, keeping hair dry) was not going to cut it. Actually my granny is another swimming inspiration – 91 and still swimming in the sea .

Helen celebrating her first Olympic Distance Triathlon (and a PB)!
Helen celebrating her first Olympic Distance Triathlon (and a PB)!

Making some investments

I booked a series of 121 sessions with a swim coach, which is possibly the best £100 I have ever spent. By the end of August 2012 I could swim 100m of front crawl but it was baffling how I could cycle for miles quite happily but swimming left me completely exhausted!

An open water induction session was also invaluable, covering basics such as getting your wetsuit on, safety, deep water starts and drafting.   I found it immensely rewarding to be able to cross a beautiful piece of water, which felt so much more challenging than covering the same distance in a swimming pool.   I loved swimming outside and compare the difference between pool swimming and open water to the difference between being on an exercise bike and cycling in the open countryside.

The last investment was a wetsuit, which I got at a discount in the Wiggle end of season sale.

The tart of Helen's first openwater swim at the Tri20 Lake
The tart of Helen’s first openwater swim at the Tri20 Lake

Facing my fear

In the changing rooms at my lake there is often someone new stressing about their first open water swim and being reassured by the regulars. (I always wonder whether these conversations happen in the male changing rooms?).

When I started open water swimming I also had some fears to conquer – my dad drowned whilst wild swimming in 2008 and I had a lot of drowning nightmares after his death.   At the time of his inquest my research showed that it was very rare for someone who had planned to go swimming and entered the water sober to drown. Most incidents happen with people falling in, injuring themselves falling in, being intoxicated or rushing in to rescue someone or something.   Whilst this did not explain why this had happened to my dad it was reassuring to know that this was not a frequent occurrance.

It took me three visits before I could get round the 750m loop at my lake without having a moment freaking out.

I was determined to master open water swimming and the dream of being able to do a triathlon and the money that I had already invested were strong motivators to keep going.   I made a deal with myself that I could stop at any point and do breaststroke but only swim 10 strokes before I started crawl again. This gave me some time to get calm but also prevented me from faffing about indefinitely – This is also my top tip for the newbies stressing in the changing rooms.  As breast stroke is tricky in a wetsuit, it quickly became easier and more enjoyable to do longer stretches of crawl until I was able to get all the way around the loop without stopping.

As my confidence and strength as a swimmer has grown I don’t feel that panic or concern anymore and I always feel safe at organised open water events where they have flotillas of kayaks looking out for you.

Celebrating her first open water swim at the Tri20 lake
Helen celebrating her first open water swim at the Tri20 lake

Milestones and Progress

I have found that with swimming you get out what you put in and there has been a steady and rewarding progression.   I don’t have such a satisfying relationship with running where I get injured easily or my cycling which is highly erratic and seasonal. I put it down to consistent training –pools enable a structured approach where plans are not scuppered by rain or wind!

My first swimming milestone was covering 400m as part of a pool triathlon in March 2013. That summer I completed a 1500m open water swim event and an open water sprint triathlon.   In 2014 I stepped up to Olympic distance triathlon, came third in a local aquathlon (swim + run) and also reached my ultimate swimming goal the iron man distance of 3.8K.

Whilst it was enormously satisfying to cover this iconic distance I did find the last 750m really hard mentally as much as physically.     Afterwards I could hardly stand and needed reviving with hot tea and jaffa cakes and there was the dawning realisation that I would never be an iron man [We’ll wait and see Helen!]

Enjoying tea and jaffa cakes after The Big Dog swim
Enjoying tea and jaffa cakes after The Big Dog swim

My swimming home

I am lucky to live very near to the Tri2O open water lake where I did my first open water swim and who run great events.   The boys that run the lake are always very encouraging and friendly and the other swimmers are also usually very chatty. I was really apprehensive before my 3.8K and being in an environment that was so familiar to me and with such supportive people there on the day made all the difference.

My best swims

This year I started a new job, which involves a lot of travel and I have had to scale back my training and dial down my goals to match. I have focused on one discipline – swimming and stepped back to sprint distance triathlon.

As it was not going to be a year for PBs in time or distance I focused on events that were challenging but different.   I took part in the historic Boulters to bray swim which is an early morning 2.8K downstream in the Thames. It was my first swim in a river and I loved the scenery and the achievement of going from A to B instead of round in circles. It was a perfect distance for me – I finished in 56 minutes and had reached the point of being ready to get out before total exhaustion set in. This was fortunate as the tea was a short walk away, upstream to race HQ.  I enjoyed it so much I entered another Thames swim, the Henley Club to Pub .

Helen at home in the Lycean sea!
Helen at home in the Lycean sea!

This year is also memorable for one of my best swimming experiences: in the crystal clear waters off the Lycian coast in Turkey.    All those early morning swim drills really paid off when I was chasing turtles across the bay. It was a great feeling to know that I was strong enough to swim out into deep water for some distance and see such amazing animals in their natural environment.

Thank you for sharing your inspiring swimming journey with us Helen!

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!

Wham! The Brownsea Island Swim 2015

The RLSS Poole Lifeguard Brownsea Island swim is the stuff of openwater swimming legend. Places get snapped up very quickly for the 6.5k round island swim*  (in less than an hour I think), so it’s a privilege to be able to take part.

Add to that, last year injury meant I had very reluctantly given up my place. To say I was psyched to be at the start line in 2015 was a bit of an understatement.

Arriving on Brownsea in the morning sunshine
Arriving on Brownsea in the morning sunshine
Arriving on Brownsea in the  morning sunshine
Arriving on Brownsea in the morning sunshine

As usual I was part of a team of elite endurance athletes, fully focused on being first in our own categories

Alice, Fiona and Lou. Focused on being First in Our Own Category.

After registration at Sandbanks swimmers get the boat over to Brownsea Island, which is owned by the National Trust and is, as you would anticipate, really beautiful. It’s also where the Scout Movement was founded and there are red squirrels and there’s a castle. It’s pretty cool.

As is the organisation of this swim – it does actually run like clockwork – truly impressive.

Brownsea Castle: Credit Lou Barber
Brownsea Castle: Credit Lou Barber

Clothes off, cossies and sunscreen on, we headed down to the beach and were ready for the start. The race briefing included the detail that the water temperature was 15.6 degrees.

Although I have swum non-wetsuit all year, knowing I would be spending at least 2 hours swimming, that little nugget of information did provide a little shot of adrenalin. Knowing that my mate Barbara was doing this as her Channel Relay qualifier also added a bit of perspective…

Thankfully as an elite endurance athlete I knew exactly what to do. I set my brain and body setting to “tropical” and for the first half of the swim  enjoyed a soundtrack of Wham! Club Tropicana – hanging out with George, Andrew, Pepsi and Shirley worked a treat – so tropical – not a chill in sight!

And what a beautiful swim! That’s the thing. I think this swim really poses a dilemma – it is so lovely, it seems a shame to have your head down all the time trying to beat the clock.

I stopped a few times to float and take in my surroundings. And when my head was down, it was really quite wonderful too. I could see crabs scurrying across the sea bed, little fish darting around and at one point found myself swimming  over an underwater forest – a real adventure!

Add to that it all got rather choppy on the second half of the swim – the swimming equivalent of skiing a mogul field – really exciting!

We did it! Credit David  Beater Photography
We did it! Credit David Beater Photography

Brownsea castle seemed so far away yet suddenly the finish buoys arrived and we were transitioned expertly through the funnel (complete with pre photo sea beard check – thanks Ali!) and onto the beach collect our bags and enjoy some delicious soup.

I think this pic of my friend Fiona sums up what a joy it was …

Swimming Joy!
Swimming Joy!

Thank you to the organisers and volunteers for a really special day!

芙蓉出水 Out of the Water Lotus Rises. And we all did.

Mission accomplished!
Mission accomplished! Congratulations Barbara – How exciting!!!

*There’s also the option to swim halfway

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!

How far would you swim for a beer?

1.5km apparently…

At A Lotus Rises, we’re not afraid to put ourselves on the frontline to answer the very toughest questions in the world of open water swimming.

The Henley Club to Pub is 1.5k swim from Henley Rowing Club to the Angel on The Bridge pub. For the first 400m swimmers head upstream, then turn right around two buoys, taking them across to the other side of a little island and then downstream to the pub.


It’s a swim that has everything: Personal challenge, sustenance and kitchen utensils…

At the finish swimmers are rewarded with a bottle of commemorative ‘Two Bells’ beer, brewed especially for the event. The swimming medals are designed as bottle openers and you can pick up a Club to Pub coaster too – a stylish addition to any home décor.

The rewards of the Henley Club to Pub!
The rewards of the Henley Club to Pub!
Victoria Pendleton's favourite swimmer Helen Jenkins
Super swimming lotus Helen Dickins celebrates with a  well earned bottle of Two Bells!

There’s also a BBQ and DJ and you get to walk back to the rowing club in your swimming cossy whilst swilling beer. Standard procedure for a Saturday night out in Henley I am sure.

Enjoying a saturday night out in Henley

A real mix of swimmers took part – I met two young women for whom this was their first open water swim – and in skins – respect!

The race briefing was clear and also gave a helpful nudge for us all to consider the etiquette of a swim race start. I was particularly impressed with mine – having bumped into my mate Helen who I haven’t seen for 12 months, we managed to tread water and hug at the start line: Pretty sure that’s in chapter 42 of the advanced openwater swimming skills manual.

Helen swimming the Thames!
Helen swimming the Thames!

This swim is great fun and definitely worth repeating, only next time with  a greater emphasis on dancing at the finish.

Constructive feedback for the event organisers? The burger buns were a bit crumbly and probably need to be lightly toasted or replaced with a firmer alternative… You’re welcome.

Tom and Terry evaluating the Club to Pub burgers
Tom and Terry evaluating the Club to Pub burgers

Big thanks to Tom and Terry from Sussex Aardvarcks for inviting me to join their team!

Once more, 芙蓉出水 (fúróng chūshuǐ) Out of the water a Lotus Rises and this time we all won a beer, bottle opener and a coaster!

TEAM! Serious and focused on the objective ahead
TEAM! Serious and focused on the objective ahead



A last minute 5km

I wanted to up my mileage a bit this week and made a last minute decision to head to Eton Dorney for the Votwo Long Swim 5k. Also didn’t want to miss the chance to race my coach!

TEAM! Great performances all around!

I beat Dan to the start pen, and was just ahead when we walked into the water… I then didn’t see him again until the finish, where he was cheering us all on having had a three course dinner, hair cut, shave, and sent some emails. You get the picture … Next time!

5k First place cake and wine! Well done Dan!
5k First place cake and wine! Well done Dan!

Key stats for the day:

  • Races: 2.5k. 3.8k, 5k and 10k.
  • Entry fee: £23, £25, £30, £35 (plus £2 on the day registration)
  • Non wetsuit friendly? Yes!
  • Conditions: Windy chop on the way up, speedy on the way down the lake. Clouds and sunshine.


  • Race briefing? Excellent. Witty, detailed and clear.
  • Toilets. Not bad! Slightly distressed by half eaten sandwich next to me in one cubicle.
  • Sustenance? Yes. Food stations had gatorade & coke. Always good to have water as an option though. Impressive array of cakes at finish. In fact the most cake I have ever seen at an event like this. Well done.
  • Atmosphere: Friendly. Votwo steward helped with my sunscreen and really friendly at the food station. Too friendly actually and  I ended up chatting for about 5 minutes (it’s tough being a serious endurance athelete…).


  • Swim performance. A new 5k PB! Could have been even better if it hadn’t been for chatting too long at the food station and being in a meditative state so forgetting to pay attention to sighting when crossing the lake. Also got tangled in some weeds.
  • Thing to remember for next time? My underwear.
  • Prizes? Yes. A medal for everyone and first place got wine and more cake!
  • Overall: Kind of swim event that can be a great challenge in its own right, or just a fun addition to training.






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

Get in touch:

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!






Beaujolais, Sea Beards and Swimming. The EDOWSC Seahorse Swim 2015

I love the sea and I love horses, so the Seahorse Swim sounded perfect to me.

A choice of 3.8k or 2k, wetsuit or non; the event is run by the East Dorset Open Water Swimming Club at the beautiful Knoll Beach in Dorset.

Old Harry Rocks. The View from Mid Beach, Studland
Old Harry Rocks. The View from Mid Beach, Studland

It was a great excuse to escape London for the weekend and in light of the beautiful weather, I made a last minute decision to dash down to Dorset on the Friday night with just some M&S nibbles a bottle of Beaujolais and my tent for survival.

View from my tent!
Friday night view from my tent!

I made it just in time to watch the sun go down and drank just enough Beaujolais to really enjoy the incredible thunderstorm that passed wildly over us during the night.

Beaujoulais and a brew. Extreme endurance open water swimming at its best.
Beaujolais and a brew. Always be prepared

The Acton Field campsite at Langton Mantravers was home: one field, one toilet block (including 20p hot showers): Simple, lovely and a great base for the swim and to explore the surrounding area.

The night before the swim a growing number of swimmers appeared at the campsite. Whilst clearly we’re all spiritually aligned and could identify one another telepathically, it did help that one of my neighbours had a hoodie, which stated ‘Open Water Swimmer’ on the back. Thanks for the cuppa and the lovely chat!

People had already told me this, but I will confirm it again now. The Seahorse swim is lovely. Friendly, well organized and low key. Funds raised from the swim go towards the wonderful East Dorset Open Water Swimming Club, The National Trust (Knoll Beach is an NT site); The Seahorse Trust and the local RLSS.

The Start. Credit David Beater Photography
The Start. Credit David Beater Photography

The Sunday sea was still and the sky a little overcast, but gradually the sun broke through and the wind picked up, making the second lap of the 3.8k course a natural mini roller coaster in the waves – wonderful!

I emerged from the sea with seaweed still attached and a stylish sea beard – The mark of a good swim.

EDOWSC 3.8k Seahorse Swim finished, complete with seaweed and sea beard!
EDOWSC 3.8k Seahorse Swim finished, complete with seaweed and sea beard!

A prize giving and picnics were then enjoyed at the finish.

Thank you EDOWSC. A brilliant swim and I look forward to exploring more of the South West Coast soon.

The Seahorse Swim!
EDOWSC Seahorse Swim!

芙蓉出水 (fúróng chūshuǐ) Out of the Water a Lotus Rises.

By Alice Gartland

Get in touch:

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

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