Henley Mile 2015

Henley Mile 2015, so good I swam it twice.

This past weekend I headed off to take part in the Henley Mile organized by Henley Swim. The name pretty much sums up the event — It’s a 1 Mile swim downstream in Henley. Though technically the event location is in Remenham, a mile and a bit downstream of Henley.

Tent troubles

Having bought a tent for the previous event I decided to camp out the night before. The initial tent erection was going quite well until I realised that in my attempt to be clever when I put the tent away I had tied up each of the guy lines into little bundles.  In other words I had basically made a half dozen tangled & knotted bits of string. After carefully unpicking them the tent then went up smoothly.


Camping also gave me an excuse to try out my new toy — a Jetboil MiniMo. This little gadget is a self contained cooking system. It consists of a cooking pot with lid and gas burner and stand. You just need a small gas canister and away you go. In fact it is designed so that the burner and canister fit inside the pot to make a neat little package.

Dinner in a field

Dinner in a field

I had brought a Pasta Carbonara meal with me as well as a Grower’s Cup filter coffee kit.

I walked up the river a little way with the intent of going up to Henley to get a pint and some spare water. On the way the last bit of the Henley Masters regatta was taking place so instead of carrying on walking I got myself a pint of Hazy Hog cider and a couple of bottles of water to take back to the camp site.

I fired up the Jetboil (aptly named I think, it is very quick and really does sound like a jet!) and boiled enough water for the pasta. The food is dehydrated so you just pour in some hot water give it a stir and wait 8 minutes. While that was ‘cooking’ I boiled more water to make the coffee.

The pasta was ‘acceptable’ though it did make me wonder if I could have just ordered a pizza to be delivered to the campsite! The problem was the bits of herbs and vegetables hadn’t really rehydrated much so tasted a little cardboard-y.

The pasta, and the main sauce were actually quite nice so on balance would have it again but maybe give it either a tad more water or a second stir half way through the 8 minutes!

The coffee was much more successful. Grower’s Cup is a pouch with a built in coffee filter. You pull a little tab from the side then put in 0.5L of hot water and wait for 5–8 minutes depending on the strength you want. After 8 minutes I poured out the coffee and it both looked and smelled fantastic. So much so that instead of waiting I tried it straight away and burned my tongue. No fault of Grower’s cup, that was entirely operator error! It was a decent cup of coffee and would definitely use the system again.


After dinner I decided to walk up the river to the start line. As it’s a downstream swim the start is much closer to Henley centre, with the event area at the finish line. I was also trying to remind myself of the landmarks to give a better gauge of distance left to go — not that that worked last time!

Was feeling rather energetic (told you it was good coffee) so ran the mile back to the start line ( in a little under 6m 30s ) and then returned to the campsite. Could’t get cell reception so went to bed…

Night Night

I guess for most people camping conjures up images of rain. Rightly so from my perspective as on Saturday night it rained pretty much constantly. While on the whole I have come to accept my slight hearing loss, one of the things that stands out is the sound of rain. Standing under an umbrella and listening to the water drops crash down onto the canvas makes me feel like nothing has changed. I don’t know if it’s the pitch or the sound envelope but I can hear raindrops just as well as I ever could. Normally this brings me great joy. Camping however, is, for all intents and purposes, like sleeping under a giant umbrella. So when it rains it is like being in the front row of the world’s loudest cinema! In other words I don’t get much sleep when it rains!


After a brief window of cell signal got an email my girlfriend who was travelling back from the states which was lovely as I have to be honest camping in a field on your own is pretty lonely!

I decided not to risk any cooking before the first race and instead walked down to the event area. There were quite a few stalls from open water related companies like H2Open magazine and DryRobe. There was also an endless pool in the middle of the marquee. Which, although pretty small, would easily fill my back garden from fence-to-fence!

After registering and collecting my goodie bag — which included water and a chocy biscuit. I had a nice espresso from a little converted camper van and while I was queuing a lady was showing a kid her product called Restube which is a belt you wear which contains a folded safely floatation device and CO2 canister to inflate it. Pretty clever idea, especially for people who tend to swim on their own or need more confidence in open water.

Back at the tent I got into my wetsuit, grabbed my waterproof camera, flip-flops and a plastic bag to put my glasses case in once I’d got to the start line.

Safety Briefing

Safety Briefing

First up was the safety briefing. Standard fare for these events, You can take a break resting on either the booms around the course edge or one of the many support kayaks without being disqualified. Roll onto your back and put your hand in the air if you need help and please DON’T just get out of the water at some random point along the river bank and go home because you’re disappointed with your swim as then they have no idea you’re not still out in the water somewhere.

Next was the walk up the riverbank to the start line. This route is getting quite familiar to me and wouldn’t be the last time I’d do it today…

After a bit of assemblage at the bank we all got into the water and swam the 20 odd meters up to the start line. It was soon obvious that there was quite a nice bit of stream as everyone kept being washed past the start line and being told to swim back.

The start line

Floating about at the start line

And we're off

And we’re off

The swim went quite well to start with but early on I could feel a bit of tightness between the top couple of ribs on my right hand side. I dropped the pace and managed to carry on. It seemed to take an age to get even just to the half way point but I was’t going to give up. In the pool I am pretty good at breathing to alternate sides (or bilaterally as it’s properly called) but in open water I find myself breathing on every stroke and therefore to the same side, and this definitely didn’t help. I carried on as it was’t enough pain to cause panic and, if I did more of a glide after each stroke, it didn’t seem to get any worse.

As I drew up level with temple island and the 200M to go marker came up I was so relieved. I have to say that is the longest 200M I have ever swum! It felt much much further.



I snapped a photo under the finish line and then slowly clambered out of the water where there was some hand wash & splash of recovery drink.

I bought a bacon bap which I hungrily devoured and then went off to the campsite to shower and change before dong the whole thing again…

What do you mean by ‘again’?

Well for the sake of ticking a box and paying an extra £9 you can enter what the organisers call “Suits vs Skins”. This is in essence a race against yourself — you swim a Mile in a wetsuit in the morning, then in the early afternoon you swim that same Mile but without the wetsuit! So being the box-ticking type that is exactly what I did!

My second Mile was the penultimate race of the day at 3:20 so I had quite a bit of time to while away.


In the interval I had, in no particular order, a cheese burger, a can of coke, and a can of fanta. Sadly the queue at the coffee van was prohibitively long.

At 11:30 there was a presentation by Red Szell, author of The Blind Man of Hoy. As a fan of both open water swimming and about to embark on my first proper outdoor climb in a few weeks, listening to him speak was both moving and inspirational. He very kindly wrote a dedication in my copy of The Blind Man of Hoy and wished me well on my climbing adventures.

When I tried to get my race timings it just came up on the screen as ‘NYS’ which was rather sad. I knew I had had a bad swim but there was quite a current so maybe it wasn’t terrible… The man in charge of the timing system thought he might be able to work back from the second timing mat on the water exit so I would at least get a rough approximate time

Although this was the first race where I had left my sports watch at home I did have the photos from my waterproof camera where I had taken one actually as the starter blew the horn and could compare it to the time of the finish photo I’d taken shortly after swimming under the finish gantry.

As I was waiting for the timing to be fixed I got an unexpected call from my girlfriend — she was already back from her holiday. That cheered me up immensely and I all but forgot about the rubbish swim. We organised to meet up after I got home and so I went into the second half of the day much happier ;)

Here we go again

At around 2:40pm it was time for yet another safety briefing and then the walk up to the start line — this time I had on my swimmers on under my shorts and t-shirt. The weather was looking pretty grim and by the time we go to the start it was pouring down. I decided I would rather have dry clothes for after the race so stuffed my shorts and t-shirt into my small rucksack and waited in the rain in just my trunks! There was a delay while the safely team got into place and people were chatting about how crazy / brilliant an idea this was. One guy was asking what the difference was with/without wetsuit and someone said that because of the buoyancy you didn’t need your legs so much with the wetsuit and that’s what made it easier. It then occurred to me (rather late I know) that I had done the first mile like I would a triathlon and barley kicked at all! That would also have contributed to a slow time.

Then we were allowed into the water and for the second time that day I swam up to the start line. The weather was awful and I couldn’t see very far but the water felt rather lovely.

My new swimmers

My new swimmers!

It was so much easier to swim without the wetsuit (easier, though not necessarily faster!) and although it was still hard work I was amazed how good it felt. The fact that the water was in the low 20s definitely helped — no way I would have enjoyed it so much if it had been much colder. As my first long distance — well, I think a mile is a long distance — open water swim without a wetsuit I was really pleased, and I have to admit it is fairly likely I’ll do another non-wetsuit swim soon…

The timing chip worked fine of the second swim and did it only a fraction slower than the morning swim!

  • Wetsuit — 28 minutes (approximately)
  • Swimmers —29 minutes 3 seconds

After getting my bag back with the my shorts and another wander round the Open Water Swim show I headed back to the camp site to pack up the tent. At which point it again poured down which made trying to pack it away rather hard! Eventually got it shoved bag in it’s carry sack and then it was time to walk back into Henley to catch the train home.

Hope you enjoyed my race report and, as always, thank you for reading.

Don’t forget you can also follow my adventures on Twitter where you’ll find me as @netboy or check out the rest of my blog.

Up next I’m off to New York City to compete in an Olympic distance triathlon!

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