First triathlon - first Thames swim - advice needed.

Hi everyone,

I'm doing my first triathlon in June 2013 in Windsor.  I was entered as a birthday present would you believe?  I am opting for the Sprint instead of the more daunting Olympic triathlon. 

Right now I'm bricking it.  I'm a terrible swimmer and the thought of swimming 750m in the Thames terrifies me.  If I tried to do this event now, it would be my last Triathlon because I would undoubtedly drown after about 50m.

Can anyone please offer advice and answer a few questions regarding the swim?

1. Is the swim upstream or downstream, or a combo of both?

2. How are the currents normally (last year aside when it was cancelled)?

3. How far should I comfortably be able to swim in a pool before attempting the 750m in the river?

Thanks in advance



  • it's up and downstream - you go up against the current to a turn buoy and then back with the current.  in normal years the current is fine and the usual process is to hug the bank as much as possible on the upstream leg as the current is less close to the bank; on the downstream head to the center of the river where the cuurent is stronger so you go faster.  

    one word of warning - on the way back you need to make a sharp 90 degree right turn into a side arm of the river to the exit point.  there's a marker buoy and boat to tell you where but many people miss it if they stay in the fast current too long and then have to fight their way back to it.  

    and imho - if you can do a 1km pool swim, you can do this - just make sure you get some OW swim practice and are happy in a wetsuit (compulsory for Windsor)

  • You guys are so blase about the swimming thing - I have nothing but admiration for what you all do - the idea of getting in the Thames or any open water and swimming in it - you make it sound so easy - Was up in York over the summer and saw a bloke pushed into the Ouse by one of his mates - he just swam nonchantly back and scrambled out - I start to cramp up in the swimmming pool on one of my 4 or 5 lengths.

  • Paul - I'd spend the winter in the pool getting fit. And then you need to get the open water practice as FB says. Where are you based ? There are a lot of lakes that cater for open water swimming now.  Practice and a well fitting wetsuit will be a massive help. 

    Grendel - are you swimming too fast maybe ? 

  • Paul as above also if you need to think about kit take a look through this.

  • Paul, you CAN do it. Like already said,work on pool swimming over winter then do some OW practice in spring. I used to be really scared of OW when I first started but once I got out there and practiced a bit I found I prefer it to pool based swimming.

  • Once you get used to it, it's quite liberating, especially on a warm summers eve, knowing there is a cheeseburger at the end...

  • When I started training last May I could only do 4 lengths in the pool, too - did 1.2 mile river swim in Sept - slowly but it's completely doable if you can get your head right. Work on good thoughts as much as fitness
  • Paul

    My nickname is "SLAB" Swims Like a Brick. But with a coached session once a week and some practice between times they have taken me from drowned rat to a kilometer in 2 months. Another 2 months and it was 2km. My style is still quite crap, and I'm still the slowest in the coached set but it is progress.

    If I can do it, you can do it. We're blase about it because we have realised that once you have got over the fear of failure it all gets to be less traumatic.

    Come on over to the "Crap Swimmers R Us" thread, where like minded souls drip together in a corner.

  • swimming open water is one of the best things you can do.....seeing the surface of the water.with the light bouncing off it.or the raindrops bouncing off it.each time it feels different and exciting.....

    to me its a bit like running outside comnpared to running on the treadmill.............why on earth would anyone chose to run on the treadmill unless ice outside or lack of time.........feels the same to me with swimming

  • no response from the OP - maybe we have scared him off??

  • Cougie - no not to fast just can't relax in the water I think so am swimming tense.

  • That's simply practice needed. G3. Personally, I never settle till about 500-750M. Try going with a couple of mates and making it a social event to take the sting out of it. Alternatively, I would guess most on here happy to go round with you as a bit of support early on. Obviosuly dependent upon where you are.

    Few of us frequent Thorpe, Shepperton, Datchet, Heron Lake, Mytchett quays round south west London parts. Quite a few sea goers around as well 

  • Sorry folks, I've just come online.  Thanks for all the great advice about

    1.) the course (fat buddha)

    2.) the equipment (cake)

    3.) the crap swimmers thread (blisters).  I'm working my way through the 11,000 posts.

    4.) the general encouragement (everyone else)

    I have joined a tri coaching session in my local pool.  My swimming technique and conditioning is improving.  I'm fit but this is a whole new set of muscles that I've obviously neglected all my life.  

    I will stick to the pool over the winter and try some OW in the Spring.  Cheers for all the replies.


  • Paul, myself and at least two others i know will be at Windsor again next year  (all doing the Olympic distance), so if you need to know anything else, or have any worries, drop us a line image

    Most importants things are to enjoy it and make sure the person that bought the birthday presents pays image

  • I think one important thing has not been asked, who ever was nice enough to buy you such a gift will likly have a birthday between now and your event. If not there is X-Mas, so why not get your self some company, they may be even more greatful if you were to gift them the olympic distance version.

  • NIce thinking training hill, but alas Windsor is sold out. Challenge Henley Half, on the other hand........... image

  • image Bit tight they most be a lovely person to buy the present. Arn't entries still open for the full IM at Henley? image

  • I didn't do any OW swimming practice before my first OW tri and apart from completely failing to swim in a straight line for more than about 20m at a time, I got on okay. The cold freaked me out a bit, as did being kicked in the head at the mad thrashing start, as did the murky green water and lack of lane markers on the bottom. But I didn't even come close to drowning. It's not as awful as it's made out to be, really...

  • Buying said person an entry was the second thing that crossed my mind, after "oh shit, a fcuking triathlon".  I don't think it will be happening though, they would just refuse and laugh at my futile attempt at revenge.  I'm on my own I think for this one.

    If anyone is in the north west, southport direction though and fancies a training partner, I'm your man.

    Thanks again for the advice, if I have any more questions I'll let you know.  Actually, here's a few:

    How much would you spend on a wetsuit?  I have a couple of scuba diving ones but they won't cut it I reckon.  Need flexibility in the arms/shoulders.

    Again, same question for a bike.  A second hand one is fine - I only have a mountain bike, albeit a decent one.

    Has anyone tried those zone3 buoyancy shorts?  My arse and legs sink like an anchor.  



  • If you're not sure about whether this will be your only triathlon or the start of a long career, you could hire a wetsuit for the season.  You usually get the option to buy it anyway.  No need to worry about that just yet though, leave that until the spring because you won't need it until then.

    For the bike you have a few options.  You could probably find a decent one second hand fairly cheaply at this time of year, but you need to make sure it's the right size for you.  A new one might be UKP500 upwards, but you can pick the size (or get the bike shop staff to pick it for you, which is usually safer).  You can hire them for the season the same as wetsuits, and the last option is to go for a complete triathlon package which various companies offer, with bike, wetsuit, running shoes and a few other bits & pieces you'll need (number belt, tri suit, that sort of thing) which are usually pretty good value.  Again, ads for those don't usually appear until the spring.

  • Paul- this year there were OW swimming sessions at Salford Quays if that's not too far for you (easy on the seaside train if you can tolerate it). I'm not a tri person, but I'd looked into doing the Great North Swim in Windermere and was going to train there. They also do wetsuit hire so you'd be able to try things out.

    I don't know any tri people in the Southport area (I grew up there), but I think there are a few who do Preston parkrun on a Saturday morning so might be worth popping over one week or posting on their facebook. Also might be worth asking around the Southport running clubs (the only one I really know of is Southport & Waterloo)

  • Paul there are quite a few tri types near you mate and a few of them talk tri stuff or generally clown around on the threads if you look through the tri section. If you look on the fatman to ironman thread ans training for a shorter tri thread there are a few on there. salford is a very good shout and even I pop over the pennies from yorkshire sometimes for a nice swim. imageimage

  • If you don't want to spend a fortune and you don't mind being a bit slow due to completely unsuitable kit, you can always just do it with what you've already got. I did my first sprint tri with a mountain bike and my first OW tri with a borrowed too-big wakeboarding wetsuit. I got some funny looks at both but everyone was very friendly and encouraging despite my obvious cluelessness.
  • I think I'll aim to spend under 200 for a secnd hand bike.  I got offered a Giant Defy roadbike for £260 but not sure about it.  Is that a reasonable offer?

    Knowing me, this triathlon won't be my last.  I'll probably buy a wetsuit eventually.  I'd be interested in finding a local place where I can hire one though, to try it for the season.  I'd prefer local because I would need to try it for fit.  When I say local, anywhere in the north west or yorkshire would be viable for a trip.

    I am lucky to have a big enclosed marine lake in Southport right on my doorstep.  If I can persuade myself I will probably train in there in the spring.  Hopefully my tri swimming coach will venture away from the pool when things warm up too.

    I'll check out that Preston site PG and the Fatman to Ironman one too Cake. 

    Cheers everyone.

  • I hadn't even thought about Marine Lake- surely in a lot of places it's not deep enough to swim? 

  • I think it's about 6 feet at least all over, not the cleanest environment but then I don't expect much from the Thames.  They have a lot of boat traffic at one end but the north end is quiet aside from the wildlife.  

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