"There is nothing like pink toilet paper or a floating plaster to come at you from the deep to make you swim faster!" says Duncan Hough, vice chair of the Birmingham Running and Triathlon Club (www.bratclub.co.uk). But your first open-water swim doesn't have to be a daunting experience. Triathletes are only allowed to swim in regulated waters, so you should expect decent standards. Here's what you need to know:
Prepare yourself for the cold water. It's a good idea to take a cold shower every day for a week in preparation for your first open-water swim. Never swim in water less than 14˚C.
Practise swimming a few lengths in the pool with your eyes shut. When you become used to this, swimming in murky water will not seem such a shock.
Always wear a brightly coloured swimming hat. This will prevent heat loss and ensure you can be easily seen.
Stay in shallow water. Keep close to the edge of the river, lake or sea the first few times - this way you can get out quickly.
Keep cuts and scratches covered. Use water-proof plasters and make sure you wear flip-flops on the bank.
Learn 'sighting', or aiming for a target in the distance. To prepare you for swimming towards a buoy in a race, practise bilateral breathing - breathing on both sides - and lifting your head to check your direction.
Don't have a hot shower or bath straight after a swim. If you do you'll risk chilblains - instead, dry yourself then raise your temperature with layers of clothes and a hot drink.
It can be dangerous to swim alone in open water. Most triathlon clubs will have group sessions in approved lakes with strict regulations and lifeguards