Racing Tactics & Other Urban Myths About The Henley Classic - Henley Swim - Inspirational Swim Events - Open Water Swimming

Racing Tactics & Other Urban Myths About The Henley Classic

By admin 10 months agoNo Comments


The Henley Classic is our original event here at Henley Swim, and it’s still the one that gives me goose bumps. Back in 2004, jumping in the river at four in the morning seemed ever so daring, but these days it’s quite normal really….honest! What is not normal however, is the prospect of the most amazing summer mist on the water – we get this maybe one year in three, but when it happens, it is a truly magical sight.


Being an ex-rower, I was perfectly aware of the legends about which station, “Buck or Berks”, was the quickest. Historically it depended on the wind, or bushes, or the stream. But genuinely, these days there is no real advantage on either side of the river. So this might interest those of you who might be looking for an advantage at the start. And we are blessed with a dead straight course at Henley, so there are no nasty turn buoys to worry about just as you are starting to settle into your race pace.



It’s taken years to formulate this view, because swimming the course is very different to rowing it. Even though the finish is on the left hand side, I believe there is a very real advantage to starting on the Island side, even though that obviously means you need to move to the left as you make your way down the course. It’ll depend on other factors as well, like drafting. The very quickest will still be better off starting by the bank, tucking in behind someone slightly faster than you and holding on for grim life. But it’s a bit of a melee that side. One lungful of water and that’ll effectively be your race over (ask Alex Partridge of rowing fame if you don’t believe me) so that’s only for the very hardest and fastest I’d say (and believe me, he is one of the toughest swimmers I know). Being honest with yourself and getting into the correct position would be my advice. So having more space to swim in and less of a bun-fight, even for the most competitive swimmers, is a viable tactic.

Last year in the 2017 event we did a little experiment with our Swim to Live mates from Henley. Most of these guys and girls are ex international rowers and triathletes, still really competitive, and we all know our relative speeds very well. We all know how to draft and had a fair idea who was quickest and likely to “win” out of our lot. Some of us opted for the Island side and some for the bank, and the general consensus amongst us was that the Island side felt every bit as quick as the bank, despite having to ‘move over’ to the left during the swim – what was lost doing that was gained by having clearer water and perhaps a slower stream down the island?

The only downside was the possible inability to lock onto someone, if drafting was your tactic and they happened to be on the Berkshire station. But given that fact that you’ll have clearer water, it’s not too hard to spot your target.

There is also the ability to follow the booms at The Classic, but this depends which side you tend to breathe. Of course we all like to fantasise that we can race bi-laterally, but if you are anything like me and 99% of Olympians, you’ll be breathing one side or the other. There is a good argument that if you breathe to your right, picking the Bucks (island) station, will let you follow the boom and you’ll barely need to sight at all; a proper advantage – just look out for the odd break in the booms. It’s also deeper on the Bucks station, and there are very real fluid dynamics at play as well – just don’t ask me what they are exactly.

So there you have it – all the myths explained. Pick the station to suit you. Be honest about your positioning at the start. And start hard and build!

By Henley Swim Co-Founder Tom Kean – not only did Tom co-found the Henley Classic, he is also one of only 8 swimmers that have swum the Henley Classic 10 times. 

If you haven’t yet signed up for the 2018 Henley Classic, go to to complete your registration. 



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