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By far the largest open water swimming event worldwide, the Midmar Mile attracts over 10000 swimmers annually to the picturesque Midmar Dam situated in the KwaZulu-Natal midlands. The Midmar Mile entered the Guinness Book of Records in 2009 for the highest number of participants in a swim event and every year the numbers continue to climb.
The race was started by 3 friends in 1974 and has grown in popularity to become a major event on South Africa’s sporting calendar. The youngest to participate in the Mile was a 5-year old boy and the oldest an 89-year old gentleman.
Due to the vast number of entrants, swimmers are placed into categories to swim out in 5 groups at 3-minute intervals. There are a total of 8 categorised races spread over 2 days. The first event involves a swim for the disabled, participants in an ironman/woman event and for swimmers aged 71 and older. They are followed by relay events spread throughout the day and school, club and corporate teams are encouraged to participate. Day 2 races on the Sunday are the individual events split between boys and girls, and women and men. All finishers are awarded a medal. Depending on the dam levels, the start might involve a sprint from the shore into the water. Organised chaos!
Swimmer safety is a top priority and 120 lifesavers are on hand to aid struggling swimmers, while a Police dive team patrols the route.
Organisers offer a free training program on their website, so there’s no excuse for lack of preparation! Renowned TED speaker American Craig Dietz swam the event twice. He is limbless. A number of swimming Olympians arrive too, year-on-year, to take on the Midmar Mile challenge.
Note that the Midmar Dam lies within a nature park and visitors are required to pay an entrance fee.