October 9th, 2014

RealSwim Bag

Realswim bag V2What is it? The RealSwim bag™ is an inflatable tow bag specifically designed for the open water swimmer. It has dual air compartments providing safety back-up, an inner storage compartment to take water proof phone, drink or food on your swim. A simple to use waist belt that allows the bag to be towed behind above the thighs ensuring minimal disruption during the swim – most of the time you will forget it is there.

The RealSwim bag™ sits on top of the water therefore is it extremely low drag. Its buoyancy provides an added layer of confidence to the more anxious open water swimmer. Most importantly the RealSwim bag™ is bright orange, it exponentially increases you visibility to other water users such as boat traffic and observers on shore.

High Viz, Low Drag.

High Viz, Low Drag.








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September 24th, 2014

Why Swim?


Why do we swim?

Why do we swim?

Why do we swim? It’s often hard to capture the ‘why‘ . What makes us want to head back to the water again and again. Two swimmers were gracious enough to share some amazing words from their swim experiences this summer. Both, very differently, answer their ‘why’:

For Karen Wellings…

There is the water itself which enables freedom, healing and relaxes. Which meditates, invites curiosity and brings childlike joy to the fore. There’s an unexpected raft of emotions to navigate.  And whilst I may have displayed the odd bit of grumpiness, annoyance, fatigue and incomprehension at times the overriding emotion is delight. There’s the thrill of progress made and achieving goals set and of getting further beyond the vestiges of illness (both physical and psychological) and beginning to see myself differently. There’s the beauty, challenge and sheer fun of swimming with others. The beauty of friendships made.

For Alice Gartland …

Seals, cormorants, chilly temps, underwater forests and seaweed wigs – I looked up at one point and it was just me, in the middle of the sea, looking out to the never ending horizon. I have dreamt of a moment like that for a long time.

Alice swimming Isle of Skye. Picture credit: Gill Williams

Alice swimming Isle of Skye. Picture credit: Gill Williams









Why do you swim?

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August 24th, 2014

The Athletes Goggle Guide

As a swim coach I get asked regularly ; “Can you name a brand of goggles that fit comfortably, don’t fog and don’t leak?”  No I cannot . We all have different shaped faces.  What works for me might not work for you. A good set of goggles should … be comfortable , not leak, be appropriate for the conditions (tints for sunshine or clear/blue/orange for cloudy days) . All goggles will fog eventually. The only way to find a good pair for you is to try them on. There are so many options. I looked around our swim squad a while back and realised just about every swimmer was wearing a different set of goggles. Within the group we probably had a broader spectrum of goggle styles than any swim store. Therefore I thought I would ask our Rio swimmers for their comments and goggle preferences. Here are the results in no particular order:

Introducing our Rio 2016 Talent squads athlete goggle guide…








Carolyn …TYR Goggles - http://www.amazon.co.uk/TYR-Special-Polarized-Goggles-Purple/dp/B008CPHRCOPolarized Purple and Pretty!








Chris … These are Aqua Sphere Kaiman EXO Clear Lens Goggles SS14 White/Black. They worked very well this morning. Good vision, light, comfortable and no leakage.







Charlie… It’d be useful to those of us with imperfect sight to have a range of prescription goggles. I get the option for vision but I have to compromise on all other factors others would be looking at eg depth, fit, etc. Since the advice is never to swim in contact lenses (in case of infection) it seems a missed opportunity. http://www.oceanleisure.co.uk/swim-triathlon/eyewear/adults/tusa-platina-v-500-swim-goggles.html






Nicola… At the last Cold Water Swimming Champions at tooting lido there was a company selling Swans Goggles. Nancy said they were the best. They are extremely expensive.. More than £20 but I’m a complete convert. They are really comfortable and never leak. And lasted about a year. I bought a pair of open water Swans that are hexagonal. They are the most agonising goggles I have ever worn. Therefore I reverted back to the regular type.. They only had these pink ones at Swimshop. They are quite cool. I wouldn’t consider any other brand now. :-)








Mark … The Aqua Sphere Kayenne’s are simply the only swim goggles that have proved to be both water tight and robust whilst offering a wide 180 degree view. Perfect for open water swimming.

Pip Barry








Mr Pip Barry… My Goggles are so great I can even use them when on the computer

Pip Barry2






Pip also says…Zoggs predator and predator flex. I like both my predator and predator flex so much I sometimes use both at once. My yellow Predator goggles get used when its overcast or dark or cold they bring out the sun even when it is not there.The predator flex normally get used when entered in races as they do not leak or steam up and have great vision

Anna Brim






Ann … Aqua SphereVista .These are the only goggles that work for me. Great 180 vision. Work best when put on dry. Anti fog wears out eventually so then need spraying. Quite pricey.







Barbara … My lovely new Aquasphere ladies Kaiman goggles. Comfy, easily adjustable, don’t leak or leave goggle dents, come in clear or tinted and you can get them in pink! What’s not to like?

Pip Tunstall







Pip T … my  goggles… AquaSphere ‘Vista’  – until I got these I hadn’t found any that didn’t leak – I would like to have smaller streamlined ones so that I don’t look as if I’m just going snorkelling but I think my eye sockets are a bit misshapen or face just odd! These work a treat for me.


Alex says … I have 3 pairs…







TYR Flexframe:I found these goggles difficult to adjust with narrow visibility and uncomfortable nose piece.  They dont have a “natural” fit to the face and you constantly have to push them to your face to get a good seal.  I stopped using these a while ago.









I replaced them with a pair of Tinted Predator flexes which I have been swimming with for the last 2 years and will continue to do so.

Alex3They are easy to adjust and have good visibility.  The nose piece is comfortable and they  form a nice seal without have to tighten them much.  These goggles have done me well on crowded swim starts where you get the occasional foot to face.  Comfortable on the long swim.







I have recently purchased a pair of Aqua Sphere Kayenne’s as I wanted some clear goggles for the more gloomy days.  I was just going to purchase a pair of clear Predator Flexes but thought I would try something new.These goggles are slightly larger than the Predators and provide a greater degree of visibility which I have been enjoying.  They are just as comfortable and easy to adjust as my Predators.  I haven’t tried them on a long swim yet but might give that a try on the weekend.









I can’t comment on the anti-fog abilities of any of the goggles as I use anti-fog religiously (a habit formed from diving and under water photography) {Take note swimmers – Ed}











Gail says …

Please find my helpers modelling our favourite goggles.

The first is the Zoggs Sea Demon, always good for a surprise in the pool, if better suited to a smaller (rather grumpy) face. Holographic lenses and UV protection. Nice.












Mandy says…

Aquasphere women’s Seal Xtp goggles, are the most comfortable goggles I’ve ever worn, they don’t leak and have great visibility.  The soft silicon skirt means you don’t have to walk around with goggle prints around your eyes all day.  They are particularly good for winter swimming as the silicon seal is quite wide and you can tuck your hat over the seal to prevent icecream head.  They’re great for open water and swimming in the lido but would be really un cool for indoor swimming and not good for diving.  They rarely fog up but best to rinse out with shampoo every time.








Will says… They’re pretty simple but they’ve served me well for over a year. I think they’re Zoggs Fusion Air.  I like the fact you can see out the side – handy when you’ve got a eye out for the blue clock!

Thank you to all the athletes who submitted to our athletes goggle guide. Swimmers take note – spending some time finding the right goggle for you and your swim needs can make a world of difference to your swim enjoyment. Ed






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August 7th, 2014


polluted riverAs a an open water swim instructor and guide I would like to sing the praises of New Zealands clean green practices … but I can’t. Unfortunately New Zealand is excellent at watching the mistakes the rest of the world makes … and then copying them. My local river … too polluted to swim in. My local river flows into our largest catchment area river which Silver Fern Farms believes is a viable option for dumping waste http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/news/north-canterbury/9970873/Silver-Fern-Farms-dump-waste-in-river    and http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/farming/10029940/Works-filth-poured-in-river

In this next article (below) Patrick Smellie asks if New Zealanders should expect rivers and lakes to be swimmable as standard or if having only some bodies of water as swimmable is acceptable while allowing others to remain polluted to a level not suitable for swimming is OK for economic reasons. How do we really feel about having rivers measured as ‘swimmable’ or ‘wade-able’ ?  Is it really acceptable to aim to have our waterways good enough for just ‘wading and boating’ or would we like to know that our dog can drink it without dying and we can dip our toes in on a hot day?


Want a snap shot of the future of New Zealand ? … Water plant operators along western Lake Erie have long been worried about this very scenario as a growing number of algae blooms have turned the water into a pea soup colour in recent summers, leaving behind toxins that can sicken people and kill pets.

In fact, the problems on the shallowest of the five Great Lakes brought on by farm runoff and sludge from sewage treatment plants have been building for more than a decade.http://news.msn.com/us/lake-eries-algae-woes-began-building-a-decade-ago

But wait there is more … Scientists’ annual survey found an area of 5,052 square miles of “low oxygen water,” or hypoxia, off much of Louisiana’s coast and part of Texas, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Monday.

The zone is formed by nutrients that wash into the Gulf’s waters — largely agriculture fertilizer and wastewater coming down the Mississippi River. These boost algae blooms that suck up the oxygen in deep water, according to NOAA and the U.S. Geological Survey.


Clean water is already in scarce in many places in the world. New Zealand still does have some of the most fantastic swimmable and drinkable water sources in the world. However our tiny population has yet to put any of the pressures on our water resources as many have already in the big wide world. The mistakes out there are plentiful. The lessons learnt are widely available. If you like bottled water and being crowded in an indoor swim pool as your only swim option … continue doing what you’re doing. Am I scaremongering? I would like to be proved wrong; unfortunately I think time will show that I am not.



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July 12th, 2014

The Purple Duck

Purple duckHow regularly do I need to practice swim technique? Read on … the purple duck theory.

It does not matter what level of swimmer you are whether you are learning freestyle/front crawl or an experienced swimmer trying to make improvements to your stroke. Every one of us needs to spend time and apply themselves in order to make permanent changes to their stroke.

Before making changes first we need knowledge. Knowledge of what we are actually doing. Knowledge about what we should be doing. And then tools, usually in the form of isolations drills, to help us understand and ‘feel’ what the right movement feels like and also importantly what the wrong movement feels like. The greater your level of understanding of these key components the greater your ability to apply this knowledge when swimming on your own ie when there is no coach around. The more consistently you perform the new movement the sooner it becomes a natural part of your swim stroke and the more exponential the results.

There are some fundamentals we need to be aware of when making stroke technique changes. The nervous system is amazing but also utterly useless. It is amazing at telling us when we are doing something we are not used to doing. It is useless at telling us whether this new movement is right or wrong. Any new movement, right or wrong, will feel weird. If knowledge and feedback tell us this new movement is correct then we need to rehearse often and accurately enough to ensure this ‘weird’ becomes our new normal.

As adults we are hard on ourselves. We expect after receiving instructions to be able to implement them correctly because as adults we are ‘smart’ and we understand instructions. The problem is that isn’t how we work. All of us will receive and interpret instructions differently. Our learning progresses when we then put the instructions into practice. Making errors is part of learning. It’s perfectly OK to make mistakes. Very very rarely will anyone execute a drill perfectly the first time. Give yourself a chance to get familiar with a drill, work out (with the help of a coach) what you are doing right and what you are doing wrong. Then refine your rehearsal to ensure you increase the accuracy.

To make permanent changes to stroke technique requires a significantly different approach to fitness training. First we must isolate the movement pattern. Don’t try and change technique while doing full swimming, you will become overloaded very quickly. Don’t try and swim miles and miles doing drills. Short amounts of high focussed high quality drills are far more productive. And finally how much drilling/rehearsal is required to make a change permanent? Enter the purple duck … if you are out swimming and a purple duck swims past will your new technique remain unchanged while you focus on the purple duck or will you revert back to your old bad habits while considering the impacts of swimming with a purple duck? You need to do enough technique so that it can happen autonomously while you ponder the purple duck.

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July 7th, 2014

Charlie’s Story


Charlie swim2

Charlie taking the plunge. Photo credit Nuala Connolly

Anyone who knows me knows I love swimming.  Most of my colleagues think I’m obsessed and most of my friends are swimming buddies.  What is less obvious is that I am not actually very good at swimming, or, shall we say, I am only just learning to swim properly at the age of 33.

I can proudly remember getting my 5 metre badge just as I started school, but from there it was all going nowhere.  Swimming lessons at both primary and secondary school consisted of “get in here – swim over there” with absolutely no consideration for those of us who were terrified out of our depth or could barely attempt to doggy-paddle.  Certainly there was no instruction as to actually how to swim.  And thus I hated the thought of even getting in the water until I was out of my teens.


For no other reason than socialising, I joined my college water polo team at university.  I was a hopeless player but at least I have always been able to throw a ball.  What did happen, however, was that I finally got over my fear of being in the water.  Thanks, Paula.  Through water polo I met another dear friend, Valérie, and we swam together in the years that followed, both at university and beyond.


By the summer of 2010, I was fortunate enough to work in close proximity to London’s Hyde Park, and some wonderful colleagues (Spike, Jools, Louise) got me started in the Serpentine.  It was just one of those things you had to try.  It was £20 a year, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year, and it was liberating.  A quick holiday trekking in Afghanistan (yes, really) and I came back wondering about the next challenge.  Slowly Louise & I swam throughout the autumn, as the pond weed dissipated, and the golden dawns shone and warmed our mornings and the water reflected the colour of the falling leaves.  The water temperature dropped, and we kept going.  We had fallen in love with the world of outdoor swimming.  Goodbye heated chlorinated tanks: this was our passion.  We got to know each family of swans and geese and were even able to distinguish the herons, the embodiment of concentration as they watched the water for their catch.


Before we knew it, the water had frozen over, we walked over snow to the pontoon, and immersed ourselves in the little open water that there was away from the ice.  We had become winter swimmers.  Together with another colleague, Nuála, we spent the following seasons entering winter swimming competitions in Slovenia’s Lake Bled, in Tampere and Helsinki in Finland, and in Tallinn, Estonia’s beautiful capital.


Swimming is a very social thing and can open up a world of possibilities. By early 2013 I had reached a point where I wanted more than just socialising: I wanted to actually be good at what I do.  Not the best, just good enough for me.


The Serpentine is full of wonderful, inspirational people and that Easter the legend that is Nick Adams ran a training camp for aspiring long-distance swimmers.  I was by far the slowest in all the sessions, but I knew already deep down that I have the determination to persevere.  It was here I met the equally amazing Sal, who invited me to Jersey and gave me some proper lessons: almost the first I had had since I was a toddler.  Thanks to you both for setting me on my way.


I am also a member of the South London Swimming Club, which does lead to somewhat of a conflict with galas against the Serpentine, as I literally don’t know which swimming hat to wear these days.  The home of the SLSC is Tooting Bec Lido, funnily enough in South London.  In the summer of 2012 I had had a couple of lessons there with Dan through Swim Trek, and it had helped spark my interest that there was more than just pootling around in the ‘fresh’ water of London town or diving into the short and snappy winter swimming trips.  By the summer of 2013, there was much talk of Channel swimming; specifically relays.  I had been invited to join one team but am not ashamed to say I pulled out when I realised that the rest of the crew (none of whom was Serpentine or SLSC) were not in tune in the same way I was with the enormity of the challenge, the respect needed for the water, and the essential camaraderie and preparation as a team which was to get us all to France.


Quite by accident, as one does over a post-Serpentine breakfast one morning, my friend Dani asked me to fill the last space on a relay team for late summer 2014.  I wasn’t a good swimmer, I replied.  I would be slow.  I couldn’t swim properly, I said.  Dani said it didn’t matter.  He knew I was already getting better since I’d actually started having regular lessons.  Not coaching, but lessons, with Dan.  Being a winter swimmer, and somewhat stubborn, there was no question that I’d give up once in the water, especially as part of such a fantastic team.  Jaki, Henry, Volker, Alan, Dani: I can’t wait for this autumn.  But these past 12 months (& more) haven’t been just about popping over to the continent one day (or night) the scenic route.  They’ve been about friendship, fun and lots and lots of learning.  It’s the journey that counts.


Why am I writing all this?  Well, Dan asked me to :)  and he deserves a lot of the credit for where I am today.  He’s seen me change in the past two years from someone who could barely stand putting her face in the water (heads up breaststroke only) to someone who kicked ass in a 12C 2-hour relay qualifier (thanks Suzie and Ranie for that one!), someone who turns up to group fitness sessions twice a week and is still last in the lane, but getting faster, and someone who has worked hard and consistently and little bit by little bit is actually learning front crawl.  So for anyone reading this, if you think you’re too old, you think it’s too late, you aren’t relaxed and can’t breathe in the water, just stop, and think again.  It’s been one of the most exciting journeys of my life to date to fall in love with something that used to terrify me, and to think that one day, I might even be good at it.

FitandAbel note : For those budding adult swimmers take note of Charlies final sentences – her story is inspirational but also very achievable for the many adult non swimmers out there who think maybe they would like to take part in an open water swim adventure of some description one day. Dan Abel




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