With temperatures on the rise and the triathlon race season moving from pool based events to open water venues, many people are now introducing open water swimming into their weekly schedules (or at least they should be).
• Start by ensuring you have permission to swim in your chosen location.
• Wear a brightly coloured cap and perhaps take a tow-float if you’re swimming in an un-managed venue.
• A wetsuit – huge variety and costs but you’ll need one for the majority of the Summer in the UK.
• Variety of goggles – those you use in the pool may not be the best choice in the outdoors. Various lens tints and fields of vision should be considered. But it’s a case of trial and error really.
• Swim with a friend or have a ‘spotter’ on land. And let family know where you are and when you’ll be back.
• Check weather forecasts/tides etc…
• Visually asses the location before entering the water (boats, paddle boards, kayaks, wildlife, overhanging trees and many other factors need to be considered).
• Water temperature – at this time of the year in the UK, lakes and rivers are never warm. A wetsuit is a must for most people. As you’re likely to race in one this is of course the best option anyway. Neoprene hats, gloves and boots can be used.
• Warm clothing and food/drinks are beneficial post-swim as your body can continue to cool down (after-drop) even once you’re out of the water.
Open Water Sessions:
• Familiarity – its ok for your first couple of swims to be largely unstructured as you aim to simply acclimatise to the environment (temperature, vision, wetsuit etc…), however broadly speaking….
• Each swim should have a goal/ a plan. All too often swimmers simply swim for an allotted time period at endurance pace. While this can certainly be enjoyable it’s not race specific and we can be much more creative than that.
• Use natural landmarks, buoys, the timer on your watch or even stroke count to create interval sets or to chunk the swim into sets with varying focus points (such as stroke rate, sighting etc…).
• Practice race warm-up (dry-land or in-water). If like many triathletes your warm-up is non-existent then try swimming at race effort with and without a warm up to allow for comparison. Instead of warming up for 5-10mins with easy swimming it will be useful to get straight into race effort, or even a little above, straight from the shore line.
• Specific open water skills – sighting efficiently and effectively, turning and drafting are all worthy of your attention when in open water as they are more difficult to practice in a pool.
• Race start – is you key race starting in the water, from a pontoon, a run from the beach, with a dive? All of these can be practiced well ahead of race day.
• Which way do you drift? Sight an object in front of you and then swim 20 strokes without sighting again. When you stop or sight again have you drifted off course and in which direction? Repeat numerous times to see if this is consistent. This awareness will help you come race day.
• Bilateral breathing becomes more important in open water when other competitors or weather conditions can make it difficult to breathe to your preferred side. Note that bilateral doesn’t mean every 3 strokes but simply being able to switch sides comfortably as and when needed.
• Finish with a speedy wetsuit removal mimicking T1 if you’re training for a triathlon. Do this very soon after exiting, while water still remains between the suit and your skin.