Swimathon 2019 – Enjoy the good days!

Duncan Goodhew giving Swimathon ambassadors some tips in the pool.

I was so excited to be invited back as a Swimathon Ambassador for 2019. At some point this winter, I had already decided to enter Swimathon. I enjoyed it so much for the last couple of years and feel that it gives me a great goal to aim for at the start of the year. (Moreover, I know there are also thousands of other people who love this event as 2019 is its 31st year!)

To kickstart our training, a group of Swimathon Ambassadors were invited to Castle Swimming Pool in London to take part in a training session led by Limelight Sports with Olympic gold-medallist Duncan Goodhew.

It was great to see a couple of familiar faces – Dawn and Stephen are two other returning ambassadors. I also recognised Mara Hafezi, aka the Fit Londoner.

Duncan Goodhew talking to people in a classroom.

The session started off with a workshop where we introduced ourselves and discussed our goals. I’m aiming to swim 2500m in under 1 hour, but I was blown away by some of the other ambassadors’ goals.

There were a number of people aiming to swim 5km, but two ambassadors have set huge goals. Tom is planning to do the triple 5k three times. He’s going to do 3x5km swims three weekends in a row (which will also be part of his training for a Channel swim!) I was impressed by the concept of swimming 45km (that’s further than a marathon which is 42.2km). Then Esther introduced herself. She’s going to swim 2x5km every day for 10 days – that’s 100km or 62 miles! Wow! However, don’t let that put you off – you can choose a distance that’s right for you from 400m to 3x5km.


Swimathon’s charity partners are Marie Curie and Cancer Research UK. These charities mean a lot to me as my father died of cancer. I hope that the work Cancer Research do will help to prevent many more deaths in future, but until then the support of Marie Curie is invaluable. Not only do they provide nursing care at home, but also hospice care for people with terminal or life-limiting illnesses is vital. The also provide help and support for families of people with cancer.

Arlene Main from Marie Curie was on hand to answer any questions that anyone had relating to their work. Wanda who was also an ambassador last year talked movingly about a visit that she paid to a Marie Curie hospice. Unsurprisingly, almost everyone in the room’s lives has been touched by cancer in some way, so we could all relate.

Swimathon is the world’s biggest fundraising swim. It has already raised over £50 million and is aiming for another £2.2 million this year.

But I’m not a swimmer

Apparently, John Legend started learning to swim recently. I remember when I was learning to swim. I felt so proud when I first completed 25m front crawl… the last few metres were such a struggle (and were almost entirely underwater), but I was so excited that I’d managed it. At that point, I couldn’t imagine being able to swim two consecutive lengths, let alone 16.

The important thing to remember is that Swimathon can be done at your own pace. If you need to take a break after every length, that’s absolutely fine… and even if you do that it probably won’t take you much longer than half an hour to swim 400m. That half an hour could raise hundreds of pounds, which could make a significant difference to someone’s life.

Over 600 swimming pools are running Swimathon events this year… and over 20 000 people are likely to take part. Will you be one of them?

My swimming challenges

Duncan asked each of us what we wanted to get out of the session. We were a mixed bunch with several of us who had learnt to swim as adults, a 13-year-old diver, an aspiring channel swimmer and a former US college swimmer.

My biggest issue is getting in the pool frequently. Unfortunately, that can’t really be fixed by anyone. I’m not going to pretend that my technique is good, but I already know many things that I need to work on. One of my biggest issues is the flexibility in my shoulders. I’ve always had a tight neck and shoulders.

Duncan recommended a simple exercise to increase the flexibility in my shoulders:

  • Lie sideways.
  • Support your head.
  • Do three arm circles forwards and three backwards
  • epeat at least twice a week.

I also need to work on my wrist flexibility.

What’s your biggest swimming challenge and what are you doing to tackle it?

Video interview

After we’d discussed our challenges with Duncan, it was time for a spot of lunch… and video time. Each of us was interviewed about our motivation for taking part in aspiration… watch out for my video appearing on social media soon!

In the pool

We put on our swimming costumes and were given some lovely new Zoggs goggles and Swimathon hats. Then it was time to get in the pool. We did a few lengths to warm up and then Duncan joined us in the pool to give us some tips.

Swimmers long the edge of a pool with Duncan Goodhew demonstrating arm position.

We discussed hand positioning and also what a ‘high elbow’ means. That’s definitely something that needs a lot of work from me!

Duncan is such a great teacher. He emphasised the importance of feeling the water and recommended that we scull with our hands whenever we’re just standing in the water to get a feel for it. Unfortunately, the ambassadors didn’t heed that message, so Duncan set us some drills. We had to do a synchronised swimming stroke – ballet leg. This involved us swimming on our bags with one leg in the air. It’s much harder then it sounds. Then it got tougher and we had to try to do it with two legs – we were all laughing so hard that no-one went anywhere!

A group of swimmers in a pool.

All too soon, our time in the pool was over. I felt so motivated and inspired that I didn’t want to get out of the pool!

Duncan’s round up

When we’d get changed, we went back to the studio for a round up with Duncan. He shared a number of interesting anecdotes to build on the motivation that we had. One of them particularly resonated with me. Duncan explained that when children learn to swim we’re actively encouraging them to do something dangerous, which is at odds with the messages that most children receive in life. It takes courage to let go of that fear and take your first strokes. Before I started having swimming lessons, there was a period of 10 or even 15 years where I didn’t contemplate visiting a pool. I couldn’t swim and my poor eyesight meant that I was too afraid. I’m so glad that I’ve tackled that fear now.

Duncan also compared swimming with throwing a ball. He explained that we need to focus on the whole stroke. This is something that takes a conscious effort from me.

Finally, Duncan talked about his days as England GB Swimming Team Captain. He was seen as an incredibly reliable swimmer as he never seemed to have bad days. Duncan explained that he observed a lot of other swimmers and learnt from them about what motivated them and made them have fewer bad days. He said the trick was to work harder on bad days and enjoy the good days.

Tamsyn, Duncan Goodhew and Duncan's gold Olympic medal.

In conclusion, I am feeling so motivated to start my journey now. I’ve downloaded a Swimathon training plan and intend to get in the pool as often as possible. Who’s joining me?

For discounted entry, please use my code: SWIM19TAMSYN

1 Response

  1. Really enjoyed this last year and Duncan is one of the most passionate people I’ve met. I also wish our local pool was a bit more like that one!

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