Getting prepared for the big day


By Dr Hussain Al-Zubaidi @irondoctorhaz 
SWIM England Clinical Advisor, RCGP Lifestyle & Physical Activity Lead and Team GB AG Triathlete 

Not long to go guys! The weekend is nearly here, and I can’t wait to see you all and share the experience. What I love about the Great North Swim is that people are doing it for so many different reasons. Many want to have fun in the beautiful lake Windermere, others want to beat their personal best and some want to try open water swimming for the first time. Well, I have 10 top tips in the week before the event that can help you get the most out of it! 

Preparation is key for success. In the final few days before the event, it is important to ensure you make the process as smooth as possible. This includes thinking about all the small details like writing down the hotel address, where are you going to be parking, and what equipment you're going to need to pack. This includes giving yourself enough time to do this in a non-rushed non-stressed environment. We can often complain that trips away can be stressful so it is important to give yourself time earlier than you would normally to get these things sorted as I promise time invested here will save heaps when you are frantically searching for things or trying to work things out on the fly. You will enjoy your time away more as a result.  

Last minute training 
Now many of you reading this are thinking: ‘last minute training? I’m not sure I’ve done any training!’ Well don't worry if that's the case, but if you have - in the last week or two it's important to focus on a few things: 

Avoid high body stress workouts (this is high load either in time or intensity). Ideas for a good session (this is one I do, but we are all different so just an idea not a rule!): Dynamic stretching > Low intensity swim with faster bursts every 5 minutes for 2 minutes at a time. Look to do 30-40 minutes > Cool down. 

No access to the water? Then try out a dryland workout for swimmers. Get the right muscles moving and activated but not stressed as they won’t have enough time to recover for the event day. 

This is a huge topic, but I am going to focus on what you need to do in the 24 to 48 hours before the event. We need to aim to top up our energy stores. This is called Glucagon and is stored in our liver and muscles. Now the best source of food for storage is fructose (a type of carbohydrate). Now depending on your goal and swim distance your need to adapt your diet in the day or two before will vary, but for those seeking that personal best, increasing your consumption of high-fructose foods like fruits and vegetables is helpful. There is no need to go mad and eat half the house worth of carbs. If you are doing 2 miles or more then yes increase your intake, but by 15-30%, for distances below this or predicted swim times less than 1 hour then the need is far less.  

A word of warning, if you are one that struggles with gastrointestinal issues or do not eat high fibre foods generally, I would be cautious to eat more whole forms of fruit in this instance. Many athletes will use foods like jam, honey, and fruit juice to get high concentrations without the worries about a high fibre content. Now generally speaking I would ALWAYS advocate whole fruits and vegetables over these processed forms because they are less calorie dense, lower in sugar, and higher in fibre. But before a big event you do not want to feel like you need to visit the bathroom! Especially if you are in the middle of Windermere… So, using these foods short term the day before can be helpful to get that fructose load without adapting your diet significantly. Just make sure to go back to that whole fruit and vegetables afterwards, otherwise your dentist will not be pleased! 

So important regardless of your aim for the event. For the longer swims the event has a fantastic fuel stop to help rehydrate but it is important to get to the start line well hydrated. Many leave it to the day of the event to take on that extra bit of water, but that is far too late. 3 days out from the event start focusing on getting good quality hydration. This means water or water with electrolytes. Do not consider your caffeinated drinks as fluids as they will cause you to urinate more. We all need different amounts based on how much activity we are doing, size and the temperature we are in but as a minimum we need 2L per day. I would go based on your urine colour. If it is dark, you need to drink more.  

Any cardiovascular workouts you do in the last week will not make a difference to your fitness come event day. It takes 2-3 weeks to start seeing any physiological changes. So, if you have been training hard for the event now is the time to start toning it down to get yourself rested and recovered for the weekend.  

I generally do 70% training load 2 weeks out and 40% the week out. 

The Arla Great North Swim website has a fantastic page covering the key bits you need. Give it a read here, and as I said before, pack early! I promise you will be grateful for the reduced hassle come travelling day. 

Warm up 
Getting your body primed for the swim is important to ensure you reduce your risk of injuries and perform at your best. Before the events we will be doing a guided warm-up to get all the key muscles and joints activated.  

THINK SMOOTH AND STEADY. Swimming is all about technique not frantic splashing. Start slow and build into it. It allows your body to adapt and prevent early buildup of lactic acid. I divide my swims into 3. 1) Slow and controlled 2) Maintenance 3) All guns blazing! Now that is just me but segmenting the swim can help give you structure and make the effort feel easier.  

Quite a few swimmers have told me that they often get quite panicky at the beginning. With lots of people around you and potentially a new experience it is easy to see why. My tip here is to visualize what it will be like before the day. Consider what it is going to feel and sound like. You may want to start thinking about how you want to approach it, like starting at the back, go in slowly, or taking some time to just float and adjust. You do whatever you need to do. The team there will support you.  

Post event plan 
I was once told by someone that they expected to feel stoked for the next few weeks after the event but instead had an empty feeling. This is common in several sporting events, not just swimming. A common mistake is to have only 1 goal. Therefore, when this goal is achieved you have suddenly lost that purpose that got you training. So instead have multiple goals, which are constantly moving. Goal setting is not about trying to beat other people. Or to post it on Instagram! It is that constant journey of personal improvement. Having direction like this gives us a virtual armour (resilience) from mental health difficulties. So let the Arla Great North Swim be part of your journey NOT the only journey.  

I hope you have fun and have found these tips useful. I look forward to seeing you all soon and learning from your experiences.  


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