Tips, Advice and Anecdotes to help you with your Open Water Swimming

Open Water is a rapidly growing sport in its own right and as triathletes, swimming well in Open Water is a major part of racing success.

… But what if you have never stepped foot in a lake? Is it ok to feel a bit nervous?

Kate Offord says that this is normal…..

Open Water Swimming for Beginners – your first time

As a swimmer I have spent hours and hours in the pool and have never ever been afraid of the water. However, I remember my first trip to Boundary Water Park back in the early 2000’s being a little bit different than I was expecting. Not wanting to lose face in front of my new found ‘Tri’ friends, I got in and swam off at about a million miles an hour. Then I realised I couldn’t see anything and my breathing had got a bit out of control!! A lovely triathlete saw what had happened and told me to relax, and float about, then start again a bit slower. I did it, and BINGO, I was hooked.

So my advice is, if you are new to Open Water, and secretly a little bit apprehensive, follow these simple steps:

    1. Acclimatise to the temperature by getting your face wet and giving your body time to respond.
    2. Make sure you have surveyed the area, so you know where the buoys are and any useful landmarks. That way, when you are sighting you know exactly what to head for dependent on where you are in the course.
    3. Set off steadily and breathe NORMALLY
    4. If you feel yourself over breathing, forgetting to breathe or feeling a bit anxious in those early moments, don’t be afraid to stop, float, get comfortable again in the surroundings and set off again.

Only swim as far as you want to at first, you don’t have to do the big loops on your first visit.

  1. Go with a friend or two or find someone who has more experience to talk you through the first few minutes.

Then, make sure you enjoy it!! For me, little beats pootling around a lake in the rain, it feels like freedom. We are lucky in this area to have so many well organised Open Water Swim venues, so get out there without delay.

Here is what TONY JOLLY has to say about Open Water Swimming:

Triathletes tend to fall into two categories those that love open water, and those that see it as an means to a end (of getting on the bike/run or just plain finishing). Open Water swimming is different to pool swimming. Water temperature, wetsuits, visibility, navigation, choppy water and other swimmers all serve to play a part in making a different experience.

My best recommendation is to spend as much time as possible practicing for open water. By this time of the year that means swimming open water, central Manchester is blessed with so many options. Twelve years ago we just had one Thursday night session at the quays to aim at, things have progressed for the better….

Equally though a shorter faster swim stroke and a capability to sight without detriment your stroke can be developed year round. That’s why some of our morning sessions operate without lane ropes to help simulate open water, though to be fair you’re unlikely to experience Moss Side –esque water temperatures in the UK.

So get out there and get practicing, learn to love the open water…..

ROB BRIDGES is a talented triathlete and has a lot of open water experience.

Having coached, observed and raced many triathlons over the the last 5 years, here are my top tips on Open Water swimming:

    • Invest in a decent pair of open water goggles and wetsuit. Make sure you get the wetsuit fitted properly and when wearing the wetsuit ensure the wetsuit is high up between the legs and under the arms so there is no dead space.
    • When entering the water (especially if it is cold) make sure you get in slowly. Once in submerge your face several times and try to control your breathing (you will naturally start hyperventilating in cold water). Once you have done this get out of the water.
    • When you get in again the water shouldn’t feel as cold. Again submerge your face several times and if you have regulated your breathing swim slowly for 100m or so and climb out again. It can be painful on your face, don’t worry try to get through it as it stops hurting after 3/4 minutes.
    • If you are racing do this warm up before the start. When the gun goes don’t set off too fast, especially if your not swim fit or haven’t raced before. Otherwise you will find you get out of breath very quickly and with other swimmers being close can cause you to panic. Try and find your own space and ease your way into the swim.
    • Most races you will need to turn left or right several times around a buoy, everyone tries to take the tightest line which could potentially mean people start swimming over each other. Try to take a wide line and keep out of trouble, this is often safer and faster than going on the inside.
    • Try to practice this before a race or event. If you can’t get anyone to swim with you, you could always do what this guy did:

LUCY LLOYD ROACH is an experienced open water swimmer, she swims non wetsuit having completed a 3 way English Channel Relay.

Lucy says:

If you look at Swim Smooth and their training methodology for Open Water Swimming and Triathlons, they talk about the 3 keys:

      1. Fitness
      2. Technique
      3. Open water skills

You need to work at all 3 to improve your open water swimming. For example if you worked on only your fitness and technique, you could see your times improve in training, yet when you come to swim outdoors because your open water skills have been neglected come out with a performance that doesn’t reflect the improvements you’ve made in the other areas. The classic example is David Davies who got silver at the Bejiing Olympics in the 10k swim. He was leading, but 400m from the finish line made a sighting error that cost him the gold!

I’d say that open water skills to practice are:

Sighting, drafting, turning, knowing your tactics, getting used to swimming in close proximity with others, andgetting used to how your mind and body reacts to the cold.

Of these skills, sighting and knowing the course are key to swimming the least distance possible, which naturally saves you energy for the bike and run and makes you faster! If you have a GPS watch – you may know that you swim further than you have to! If you haven’t got a watch, Swim smooth wrote a great blog to help illustrate how much further this can be

I’ve only taken up open water swimming in the last few years, but I know that I in addition to practising these skills in training, that I still need to work on familiarising myself with the course, as you do with the bike course, to aid my sighting. When I’m racing on a course I don’t know, I still feel slightly disorientated until I’ve done at least one lap. This can be doing your research on the course before the race, allowing enough time to look at the course when you get there to see if you’d be able to see the buoys at all times, or whether you need to have secondary items to sight off, then making sure that you listen during the briefing as well to see if there have been any last minute changes.