A lot of people have qualms about open water swimming. Heck, I do too. I’m sure most everyone has had leisurely splashed around in an open body of water, but that doesn’t prepare anyone to race in open water. And it doesn’t matter what kind of work you put in at the pool, swimming in cold, murky water filled with wildlife and things you can’t see touching you is not something you can learn from pool swimming.
There’s a lot more skill involved in open water swimming, and take it from someone with a few years of experience, be it races or guiding campers through the lake swim for so many years at summer camp, open water swimming has it’s challenges.
So, what should you know in order to be successful in open water? Here’s some basics, including a few things I still need to work on myself.
1. Sighting– This is where you lift your eyes or head forward up out of the water to see where you are. Usually you’re looking for a buoy to sight off of to make sure you’re on course and headed the right direction. Not properly sighting can cost you time and distance.
2. Drafting– This means hanging behind someone’s feet and letting them kind of pull you along (don’t actually grab them though, that’s rude and asking to get walloped), similar to drafting off another cyclist or a car. It can help in terms of lowering your effort output and allow you to recuperate or pick up some extra speed.
3. Bilateral Breathing– Or breathing both the left and right side. This helps if there are big waves to one side or the sun glare is impeding your vision. Then you can switch to a single side breathing routine knowing you’re capable of breathing on either side.
4. Good Gear– Things like well fitted googles that are tinted to reduce sun glare are a great investment. Also, a wetsuit for when the temperature are low. Good gear can make open water swimming so much more enjoyable.
5. Warm Up– I’m guilty of this and it’s okay in sprints, but I definitely need to be better about this at longer distance races. Get into the water before the swim start and get a few warm up laps in to prep your body and heart for the race. This will help you control your pace, breathing, and heart rate more efficiently from the swim start.
6. Practice– This seems like a no brainer, but seriously ask any triathlete how many practice open water swims they did prior to their first open water swim triathlon and most will say anything from none to only a few. To really get the feel for it you should practice in a few different open water locations. My usual lake is crystal clear and you can see the bottom all the time. So I need to practice more in murky water so I’m not totally overwhelmed by not being able to see if I encounter that in a race. Practice, practice, practice!
Open water swimming can really be fun and relaxing. Once you get it figured out it’s something you’ll look forward too. And I say this because I do enjoy it even though I’m not much of swimmer. Just make sure you get enough open water time and you’ll be ready to crush some triathlon swim courses!
Next weeks theme is Tools and Gadgets: The Swim! Let us know what swimming tools, gear, and gadgets you can’t possible swim without!