The Great Swim Series 2015 is nearly upon us; the vast majority of the training is behind us and now is the time to start thinking about packing. For me, this starts about a week before the event. This gives me time to pack, unpack and repack countless times and also the opportunity to order anything I haven’t got without stressing too much. Packing falls into 3 distinct categories; 1) Absolutely essential to participate, 2) Absolutely essential to compete panic free and 3) Not essential in the slightest - but coming anyway!

I pack in this order and hope that by sharing my packing list, it can help other ‘Great Swim Swimmers’ (especially first timers) to feel less daunted by the event.

‘Absolutely essential to participate’: These are the items that you cannot take part without. First in, is swimwear that I have previously swum in under a wetsuit. (For me this is my Aqua Sphere Casbah – thin straps, no rubbing, very comfy) Next in, 2 pairs of Aqua Sphere Michael Phelps K180+ - one clear (in case it’s a dull day) and one mirrored (for the day we all hope for!)

Followed by my Aqua Sphere Sleeveless “Pursuit” wetsuit – known affectionately to me as‘Wilbur’. Wilbur and I are really clocking up the miles together; he knows how I swim and fits me like a glove. You don’t necessarily need the flashiest and most expensive suit on the market – it just has to fit you properly so that it doesn’t rub. 

Then swimming hats – you need to wear the one provided, but many swimmers put a 2nd one under this and the paperwork that is sent through before the event (chip timer, instructions and hat). My final item is my inhaler.

‘Absolutely essential to compete panic free’.  Much of this is common sense – towel, clothes in case it hot or cold, suncream and flip flops/old trainers. Then food and drink for the day. I take water and my own choice of energy/recovery drink (science fitness glycosource). Race day is not the day to be experimental, so stick to what you train with.  On race day I have peanut butter wraps. I also insist on packing 3 bags of ready salted Hula Hoops. These are great for me because I always fancy them! When the nerves kick in you can lose your appetite, so having something like that with you can help. 

‘Not essential in the slightest, but coming anyway’ items go in last. These are the items formed by habit or advice of others over the years! I take my phone complete with race-day playlist. My 2 pre-race songs are ‘Electricty’ from Billy Elliot and ‘I get knocked down’ by Tubthumping. ‘Electricity’ is a song that resonates with me; that IS how it feels when I dive into water. It’s why I’m there in the first place- to have fun doing what I love to do. ‘I get knocked down’ is a bit of a mantra to me. The line “I get knocked down, but I get up again, you’re never gonna keep me down” has run through my head literally thousands of times, in training and races, taking my mind off of the pain, waves, currents and seemingly endless ‘middle sections’ of races. I also take tissues (in case loo roll runs out!), loose change and a credit card (in case I want to buy merchandise). The very last thing into the bag is ‘Gilla’ – a 33 year old, slightly mangy looking toy. He’s never missed a race, since my first at the Hertford SC Championships in 1985!

The final advice I would offer is to make sure you arrive at least 2 waves ahead of your race time. This gives you the chance to watch the starting procedures, relax, get your wetsuit on without rushing. If you happen to be one of the first 2 waves, arrive in good time and familiarise yourself with start/finish areas and toilets etc.

So, as The Great Swim Series prepares to get underway, I would like to wish all of the ‘Great Swimmers’ the best of luck – stay calm, enjoy it and remember to smile for your finishers photo!

Jo Mitchinson is a full time teacher, mother and wife. She is also an open water swimmer, National Masters Open Water Champion, @AquaSphereUK and @ScienceFitUK brand ambassador, Transition Tri and Stevenage Swimming Club member. Follow her @swimmitch