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How can I train for swimming? outside ?

I'm a member of a gym, although a quite a good endurance runner, and fast on my bike. I've done a few Duathlons and one triathlon years ago. One was the Buxton Beast (a Duathlon) and a Tri somewhere, which did ok, but I was only 19 at the time.

I live near a lake, or a mere - an old sand quarry, and have swam in there loads of times, but for a few years it is also a sailing school (did a wind surfing coarse and do hire a board out in the summer).

I'm looking to do or at least train for a tri, athough fairly good in running and bike, still fairly slow in swimming, although I have swam in the sea and a strong swimmer, but not that fast, though I can keep up a front crawl even when I'm tiring and getting hot.

The gym pool is only small and 1m deep, so some mornings, I go for a swim then run afterwards, before the staff arrive and tell me it's too dangerous etc. It is cold now to swim, but once i'm in and moving ok for a few mins. Running warms me up again. Where is the best place to train like this?

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