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Training for the Henley Thames Marathon (Part I)      

By Lins Buck (@aquatic_buck)

Choosing An Event

2021 was a big year for me. I completed several open water swimming events for the first time. I did the Henley Mile, the Selkie Henley Classic, a breaststroke 5km, and the 2-mile Serpentine Swim. All of which I thoroughly enjoyed! It was safe to say I was completely hooked, and so the next challenge was just deciding what to sign up for in 2022…

I have always loved the idea of a marathon swim (10km) but, with a job and two young children under 8, was never sure I would have enough time to dedicate to the training. I knew that if I was going to enter one, then the Henley Swim Thames Marathon would be the main contender. In the run up to Christmas, and with New Year’s resolutions in mind, I figured that I’d never know unless I tried and decided to go for it. The Thames Marathon is a really unique event because it’s actually 14km (approx.), from Marlow to Henley, divided into 4 sections as you need to exit the river at three points. It’s a swim of roughly 4km, 6km, 2km, and 2km. 

Winter Swimming

To help inspire me to continue swimming in the winter, I signed up for the Her Spirit Winter Swim Challenge, and the Henley Swim Brass Monkeys Challenge; both of which were excellent, and I would highly recommend! I accumulated 1472 cold water minutes from 1 Nov 21 to 31 March 22 for the Her Spirit Challenge, and achieved the ‘Fearless’ level for Brass Monkeys, with 1500m in under 6 degrees. I also got twenty-five sub 10 degrees swims registered with NOWCA too, which meant another badge. Yes, I am very much someone who is motivated by prizes! :)

Finding A Coach

During the winter swimming, in early January 2022, I got talking to Mike Russell who does the inductions at St Andrews Lake in Halling where I swim. I’d heard that he was coaching someone for a channel swim and mentioned that I’d entered the Thames Marathon and was utterly clueless in terms of the training. Mike agreed to coach me, and from that moment, my training began. Fortunately for me, Mike (71 years young), is a highly accomplished triathlete and incredible open water swimmer. With 32 weeks until the event, he put together a personalised training plan for me, based on the days that I was able to swim each week, and we went from there.

St Andrews Lakes

Learning Front Crawl

We started with several pool sessions, to improve my front crawl technique. I had only really been swimming front crawl in OW for a few months, and so it needed a lot of work. The key to endurance swimming is to be as efficient as possible, as there’s a long way to go, so these technical sessions were a massive help. Mike also introduced me to swimming with a pull buoy in the pool, so as not to use my legs, and the use of paddles to improve shoulder strength. We then moved to the lake sessions. Although I’d been swimming throughout the winter, the temperature at this stage was still around 5 degrees and so there was limited time that we could spend coaching outdoors as it was just too cold for anything more than 30 minutes.

The Three Amigos!

At the same time, Mike was also coaching Ron - another one of his friends. Ron is currently training for a Solo Ironman this September, which at 72 is totally awe-inspiring to say the least. As the cold and bleak winter weeks progressed, the three of us swam together more frequently (through wind, rain, and snow) and formed a great little group; affectionately named The Three Amigos. Training as a three has been fantastic motivation and I’ve greatly enjoyed the company. Hopefully, they’d say the same!

Over Half Way Through

I am now at Week 20 of my 32-week plan, and my training sessions have been excellent and an interesting variety in terms of distances to complete, and time spent in the water. The longest continual distance I’ve done so far is 2500m, and the furthest I’ve swam in a week is around 10km. We’ve moved on to ‘Double dipping’ sessions too now, which involve swimming a set distance (e.g., 2.5km) then getting out of the water, waiting an hour, then getting back in for a second shorter swim (e.g., 1km). Double dipping is an effective way of simulating being in the water for a long time, without actually having to do so. I’ve also started to take SIS (vegan-friendly) energy gels with me on the longer swims, to practice using them on the day.

So far, the training has been a brilliant experience, and having an experienced coach has made the world of difference – not only to my swimming ability, but to my training in general. I needed to miss a couple of sessions due to covid, and missed the whole of week 19 with another cold, but each time Mike adjusted the schedule accordingly, to account for the illness and also recovery time – which is something that a training plan from the internet just couldn’t provide. With 12 weeks remaining until the marathon, I’m ready and excited to tackle whatever comes next…



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