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Coached by Mark Plested


A few years ago, I decided that it was time to get a bit fitter and be not quite as much of a couch potato. I started with Personal Training and looked for something that I really liked, to give myself a chance to stick to it. As I always loved water, but do not like swimming pools so much I looked for an opportunity to swim outside and found Reading Lake. At that point I had only ever done a bit of leisurely breast stroke and no front crawl, last time I had done that was at school – just a few years ago…..

Reading Lake offered a 1 to 1 introduction to open water swimming, which I did and I got in contact with a triathlon club, offering coached swim sessions. I slowly learned front crawl and a year later did my first sprint distance triathlons, even if most swims were a mixture of front crawl and breast stroke. My Personal Trainer at the time encouraged me to have a goal and I thought it would be great to be able to swim 5k when I was 50, and with 2.5 years still to go it looked achievable. The goal changed the year before my 50th to 5 swims, with increasing distances starting from 2k and ending with the Dart 10k.

2015, the year of the big challenge, I found HOWSC online and contacted Mark. My first “swim” was in February; well it was a dip and a rather short one. Despite wetsuit and booties, I was in and out of the water probably in seconds, not being used to 3 degrees water temperature, my hands “froze” as soon as I put them into the water. It was great to have found a very nice group swimming regularly and that helped me with the training for the 10k, needless to say the swims after my first experience lasted longer and were much more enjoyable.

Hella Wedding
Having fun with HOWSC on my wedding day

I finished all my challenges that year but ended up with a rather sore shoulder due to breathing just to one side and poor technique. Mark P. got his open water swimming coach qualification during the same summer and offered Jeni and me to use us as “guinea pigs”. We had a coached session more or less once a week and Mark very patiently changed my upper body rotation 6 strokes at a time. I used to turn my upper body and head so much that nearly my whole face came out of the water, looking at the ceiling of the pool. Mark demonstrated how it should be done, which was very helpful and also drills helped to change it slowly. The most important part being, doing 6 strokes the right way for a few times before trying a length and if the problem sneaks back into the stroke, take 6 strokes again, making it easier to concentrate. The next step was to learn the 2 beat leg kick, rather than wasting energy by kicking a lot. This calmed my whole stroke down a lot even my arms and made the stroke longer, bringing the stroke count per 25m lane from 25 to around 18 now.

I swam the Thames Marathon for the 1st time the summer after I started to train with Mark. I am slow, but finished it without having a very painful shoulder. I swam it again last year and took nearly 30 minutes off my time. My stroke changed completely, even my husband who always joins me at events as a spectator and who always used to recognised me by my “funny” stroke, noticed it.

I am still quite slow and still breathe to one side, but Rome was not built in a day. There is still a lot to learn and the sessions will continue every now and then. Doing coached sessions with Mark has helped me so much! It increased my confidence for longer distances and I am enjoying it a lot. 

Thank you, Mark!!

Hella arm up Hella arm down
Before After
AS YOU'RE HERE: The HOWSC website is maintained and run by HOWSC members and relies on voluntary contribtutions.  Do you have something you'd like to share?  Maybe reflections on a recent swim, tales of adventures in far flung places, an account of your watery accomplishments? Photographs, videos, poetry, prose, art and more will all be gratefully received and published on the website for all to admire.  Contact Mark Reed to discuss or submit your contribution.  We look forward to hearing from you.
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