Cassie Patten became a household name in open water swimming when she won bronze at the 2008 Bejing Olympics.
Just a short time after this victory she went on to take first place at the inaugural Great North Swim in September 2008 hosted at Low Wood Bay, beating her friend and rival Kerri Anne Payne.
With just ten days left until the competitors take to the water for the 2014 Great North Swim, Cassie gives us a few tips and sends her best wishes to each swimmer, whatever their goal.
Tell us what The Great North Swim means to you?
Very soon thousands of hardy swimmers will be milling around Low Wood Bay lawns before descending onto the shores Windermere to swim in The Great North Swim. Some will have ambitions to compete, whereas for others their main goal is to complete. As a competitive open water swimmer my goal was always to compete. I won the first ever Great North Swim back in 2008 so it is an event close to my heart. Add to that the stunning scenery, crystal clear waters and friendly locals, The Great North Swim is also by far my favourite open water venue.
What do you love most about open water swimming?
For me I love the buzz of competing, the excitement of standing on the pontoon, shoulder to shoulder with your main rivals. Knowing that there is a mile in front of you that will stretch both your physical and mental capabilities to the limit and there is only one gold medal. I would start to prepare for the race weeks in advance, ensuring that I had a wet-suit that fitted, stocking up on racing goggles and manipulating my training so that I would peak at the right time.
The Great Swims were always the highlight of the year for me. For starters it was a novelty to be able to wear a wet-suit, as under Fina rules we never raced in them anywhere else. On top of that, being able to swim in front of a home crowd who were as enthusiastic about open water as I am was amazing.
Do you have any tips for those competing next weekend?
Preparation is vital for open water swims. I would recommend everyone to have tried out their wet-suit beforehand. My top tip is to practice putting it on a few times first. Making sure your wet-suit is in the right place is quite a skill.
What I would say to do is put your hand on a willing helpers shoulder, keeping the elbow straight, and starting from the wrist work the wet-suit material up your arm, you always want it to be looser around the shoulders to allow maximum flexibility.
What food should swimmers eat in preparation?
A key point in preparing for the big swim is food. Now if you’re anything like me, you love food, but making sure you eat the right foods is vital. The food you eat the night before is going to be the fuel used – so maybe stay clear of vindaloo! A nice balanced meal of veggies, carbs and lean proteins would be perfect.
Try not to get too bogged down with carbs loading as, unless you’re doing the 5K, you have plenty of stores already in your body. What I would say is listen to your body, if you know you are prone to a stitch then make sure you get up early to have a good breakfast at least three hours before you swim.
When I used to swim I would normally race on scrambled egg and beans on toast at least three hours before I raced, and if I got peckish I would snack on bananas and made sure I was well hydrated.
And Finally …
My last top tip is to enjoy it, I know that it can be nerve wracking the final half an hour before your swim, but just relax look around you and be pretty certain that you are not the only person feeling that way. Take a couple of deep breaths, smile and remind yourself that sooner than you know it will be over, you’ll be wrapped in a warm towel and asking the organisers for the dates of next year’s swim!
I’m sending my best wishes to every single swimmer. Go out there and have the best time! If you want to tweet me any questions @cassiepatten I’d be more than happy to answer them!
- Written by Cassie Patten, British freestyle swimmer and coach