George Taplin, record breaker, lover of open water and no stranger to long swims shares his top tips
I have two older sisters that were both keen pool swimmers, so rather than waiting around on poolside I would join the slow lane during their sessions. I really enjoyed swimming from the get go and at the age of 10 I joined Hillingdon Swimming Club, a competitive club based in West London. Over the next few years my swimming progressed rapidly. The training environment included all the key ingredients, 2 highly skilled coaches, a team of 80 regional-national level swimmers and access to 9 pool sessions each week. Over the next few years in the pool I picked up 6 National Age Group titles and started to lean towards racing the distance freestyle events. In 2016 I moved across to Maidenhead Swimming Club where I raced the 400 freestyle at the Olympic Trials and managed to break the 4 minute barrier, a big milestone in my swimming career. In 2017 I started at the University of Sheffield where I joined the triathlon team and discovered the world of open water swimming. Since then I have enjoyed training and racing all parts of open water swimming, from setting a new Windermere One Way record (3 hours 35mins) to swimming all the lakes in the Lake District in 3 days (71km). I’m currently based down in Cardiff and am currently planning a few more open water swim challenges.
How does open water swimming make you feel?
What I enjoy about open water swimming is that there is no fixed end point. In lakes or rivers you can swim continuously for long periods before having to stop, giving you complete freedom. This gives you a great opportunity to relax and allow your mind to be fully occupied the rhythm of your stroke, escaping any other stresses you may have.What has been your most challenging moment during one of your swims?
My most challenging moment in open water swimming came on my 3rd and final day of the Lake District Swim challenge, where I set myself the goal of swimming all the lakes in the Lake District (13 lakes, 71km) in 3 days. I started the final day on the shores of Ullswater, England’s second longest lake. When I started swimming I was immediately reminded of the previous 50km of swimming in my body as my shoulder started to seize up. The water temperature was 13 degrees therefore it was important I swam at a good speed to maintain my body temperature. With my shoulder seized I had little option other than to swim one arm backstroke. This meant that I was swimming at a much slower rate and consequently my body started to cool - I was unsure as to how long I could persevere for. Nevertheless, after a further 10 minutes of swimming, and gentle sculling my shoulder started to ease and I focused on the 11km ahead of me – this was certainly a low point of the challenge.
What are you most proud of swimming wise?
I am most proud of completing my lake district challenge in the summer of 2020 due to both the physical and logistical components of the adventure. The combination of 71km of swimming in 12-13 degree waters, along with hiking, driving and kayaking to the start point of each lake, and balancing nutrition intake with wetsuit and kit cleaning between lakes (to avoid algal transmission), made for an incredibly testing 60 hour challenge.
What are your top tips for people who are new to open water swimming? And if they want to swim faster?
I believe there are 3 key principles for people to master who are new to open water swimming.
- Focus on being relaxed in the water. It is very easy to be overwhelmed when entering open water swimming spots in the UK, especially if the water is cold. Take some time to relax and float around before you start your swim, and make sure your breathing is under control.
- Prioritize good technical swimming. An efficient freestyle swim stroke will not only reduce the cost at swimming at a given speed allowing you to swim further before fatiguing, but it will also enable you to unlock greater swim speeds.
- Have fun! One of the greatest parts of open water swimming as a sport is the community atmosphere. I would recommend joining an open water group, not only for the social side but also for safety.
Suit or skins
I don’t believe it is as simple as saying one is better than the other, I think it is important for members of the open water community to understand the main differences between the two and to see the advantages and disadvantages of suits and skins. The wetsuit is a great tool for: entry level swimmers to feel safer in the water, and to access greater swim distances and speeds; and experienced/elite swimmers to train and race in cooler water temperatures. Skins swimming is a fantastic way to connect with the water, and ideal for cold water dipping to get the benefits of cold water immersion. I think it’s important to address there will always be a place for the purity of skins swimming, especially across big straights of water due to the huge challenges that come with body temperature regulation and resulting increase in calorie expenditure. Nevertheless open water swimming is still a relatively niche sport and if wetsuit swimming increases access to these challenges and motivates more people to engage in the sport I think that is only a positive outcome.
How do you train for long swims?
Coming from a competitive pool background I tend to keep my training to what I used to complete for distance freestyle events (ie 5km sets with a mixture of medley, freestyle, pulling and technical work). The main differences I make included completing a bit more dry land strength exercises and also adding in 2 open water sessions to get used to sighting and swimming in a wetsuit. I think the main priority for swimmers training for long distance swims is to first try and increase the number of times they swim each week. That may come in the form of joining a masters club, or triathlon club, as generally people will swim more when they have group sessions booked ahead of them for each week.
How do you choose which Blue Seventy Wetsuit is for you
I completed my first 3 years swimming in Blue Seventy’s ‘Sprint’ wetsuit. It lasted incredibly well and really suited my swim style due to its flexible material on the shoulders. It was only in preparing for the Windermere One Way record attempt that I started looking at Blue Seventy’s higher range wetsuits for the marginal gains. I raced in the Blue Seventy Fusion wetsuit and really did find an increase in swim speed, and again an even further increase in the wetsuits shoulder flexibility. Overall I would say even starting with Blue Seventy’s entry level suit the Sprint is a good suit for racing and as you go up the range you get an increase in suit flexibility and buoyancy.
What attracts you to triathlon and to swimming long distance?
I was first attracted to triathlon due to the amount of training that is spent in the outdoors. After over a decade of mostly training in leisure centers I was eager to swap my training environment for something that allows me to explore new places with new people. I was extremely fortunate to be based so close to the Peak District in Sheffield, a national park that provides a cradle of good running and cycling routes. The attraction for long distance swimming mostly came out of curiosity for my open water capabilities. I found during some open water training swims that I could get into a rhythm and feel like I could swim forever. One day in Summer 2019 I decided to put this to the test and set out from Henley on Thames at 7am and decided to see how far I could go. 10 hours and 38km later I arrived in Windsor. It was from this day that I discovered the possibilities in ultra-distance swimming and wanted to pursue this further.
People talk about open water swimming or wild swimming? Which are you?
When I first transitioned from pool swimming to open water swimming I was mostly saw lakes and rivers an opportunity for a long swim. Over the past few years I have increasingly appreciated the beauty of wild swimming in remote corners of the UK, and the opportunity to go with friends and just float around and immerse yourself in the surroundings. Whilst I list myself as an open water swimmer, I very much take the opportunity for a wild swim whenever there is one!
Lake Windermere Record Holder: 3hrs 35 (2021)
Thames Marathon Champion 2021 (10km) 1hr 38
Fastest crossing of all the lakes in the Lake District -covering 71km and 13 lakes in 3 days (2020)
George is an ambassador for Blue Seventy wetsuits. To find out more about what he does go to,
https://gtswimming.co.uk or follow @gtswimming on Instagram