Open water swimming can be intimidating if you do not train and prepare for it properly. (But it can NEVER be as bad as this! Click here for video)
A quote we like, “In a challenging situation you don’t rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your training.” We have compiled a list of tips and drills that you can start using in your swim training. When it comes to the swim portion, if you do not prepare for it, you are likely to have a miserable experience.
Sighting & Navigation.
One thing about swimming in open water is that there is no black line at the bottom to guide you in the right direction. If you do not sight frequently and effectively, you are likely to swim off course and this can be very discouraging. We suggest you sight every 3-5 strokes. You can lift your head while swimming freestyle, or swim breaststroke or doggy paddle as you sight the buoy (or similar marker) in the distance. Tip: Be mindful of the swimmers around you during a race. If they are sighting frequently and not swimming off course, let them do the majority of the work. Stay right behind them and watch their feet. At this point you can save energy by drafting and sighting every 10 or more strokes (to make sure they are still on track and that you know where you are going).
If you breathe on one side in freestyle (unilateral breathing) you are in for a world of trouble. Case in point, you breathe on your right side. During the race, the wind is blowing and waves are coming at you on your right side. Are you going to keep breathing on your right side into the waves? Only if you want to swallow water! At this point, it’s imperative you feel confident and comfortable breathing on your left side. If you have not been practicing it in your workouts, you are going to have a miserable swim. We suggest that you learn bilateral breathing – breathing on both sides. When we have athletes that prefer one side over the other, such as right side breathing, we tell them to swim the entire workout breathing on their left side only. Seems harsh, but it works. They learn to feel confident and comfortable breathing on their non-favorite side. We want them to be ready for whatever may come during a race.
Some races require athletes to enter the water before the race starts. At this point you are treading water for about 30 sec – 1 minute. If you have not prepared for this, you may find yourself exhausted before the race has even started! We recommend you learn how to tread water (if you do not already know). Youtube has great videos demonstrating the egg-beat or rotary beater kick technique. Click here for a video demo. Other effective techniques can be floating on your back or if permitted, holding onto the dock until the race begins.
The exit of the swim race can be easy and fun if you do it right. When you approach the shoreline, just because your feet can touch the bottom doesn’t mean you should start trying to run. Keep swimming freestyle until your hands and elbows are scraping the bottom. At that point, plant your feet, stand up and start running. When you use the latter technique, the water is very shallow (below your knees) and makes it easier and faster to run out. The fun part is passing all the other athletes hardly moving in waist-deep water!
The swim portion of the triathlon can be fun when you are ready and prepared for it. Regularly practice sighting, bilateral breathing, and treading water in your swim workouts. The more often you do them, the more natural they will feel. Also, on race day, practice a few swim exits during your warm up. All these are important factors to a great open water swim! Good Luck!