Open water swimming holds a lot of challenges for many people. Open water swimming can be so challenging in fact that it is the biggest factor that puts off a lot of people from starting triathlon.
Open water swimming in itself has many challenges: the tides, the seaweed, the waves, the currents. And that is before you add the people!
I have been involved in lots of sports over my time- including martial arts- with full contact sparring.
It was highly likely in THAT sport that at some point-a black eye may result. Unintentional, of course- but it was certainly possible- even likely!
However, despite the bumps and bruises on my arms and legs, my face remained unscathed.
Enter the world of open water swimming triathlon!- A seemingly non- contact sport where you are NOT competing against others(in general)- For most people the race is against yourself- either simply proving you can do it, trying just to “get round” or trying to beat your time from last year.
However, as anyone will know who has competed in a triathlon with an open water swimming start or watched one, it is total chaos, looks like a lake of piranhas and a white wash washing machine!
It is amazing anyone actually exits an open water swimming event alive
For the uninitiated of course- this can be overwhelming and far too scary. Many weak open water swimmers do end up swallowing a lot of water, panicking and having stomach cramps for the rest of the race.
It was my third open water start in a triathlon. I was a “middle of the pack” swimmer (which is probably the most dangerous). The gun went, I rushed in with everyone else then before I knew it – thump.. a foot collided straight with my left eye.
My goggles fell off, I had intense pain, gulped water, my eye was watering and to be honest I was a bit dazed…
Everyone kept swimming past me and over me. It was either carry on or pull out. Well I could not see any blood-so I finally collected my thoughts, gave myself a quick talking to, got the water out of my eyes, thought of all those cold, dark mornings I got out of bed to run or swim before work and carried on.
I finished the race and was very pleased I did. It was not until the next day a very colorful bruised black eye shone out to greet the world.
I was quite proud of it in the end and it got a lot of attention in the office :)
The point is these things can happen.
But do not let the fear of open water swimming put you off triathlon altogether.
Here are some tips to help you navigate the beginning of an open water swimming race:
1) Be honest about your open water swimming ability
Position yourself correctly. If you know you are a little weak on the swim- do not try to start at the front or in the middle. Stronger swimmers will (literally) swim over you. Just start towards the back, or place yourself on the edge and let them go…. you won’t lose much time.
If you are a weak swimmer in general, do a TON of practice and do your swimming drills.
If you are a strong swimmer, start out in front and stay there! There will be less people to go round and less chance of making contact with stray kicks and wide arms.
If you think you are middle of the pack, try to position yourself on an edge so you stay safe and out of trouble. Depending on the distance of the swim, the crowd will thin out and everyone will find their space- so wait for this, then start to turn your motor on and start gliding towards the front.
2) Wear your goggles under your swim cap- so if they do come off you wont lose them.
If you lose your goggles in the water in an open water swimming event, it is likely you will never see them again. Wearing under your cap increases the likelihood that if they get knocked off, you will still have them.
3) Wide approach for buoys
Remember as you are approaching the buoys to make turns in open water swimming, there is no need to come in too close- this can be another bottle neck and danger zone. Stay a little wider, stay in your rhythm.
4) Practice sighting
In open water swimming you must regularly lift your head to sight and watch where you are going from time to time to make sure you do not go off course- or you may look up eventually and find you are actually swimming very much on your own!
If you do not sight you will end up swimming much further as I found out at the beginning!
This requires practice when you do your pool swims as well so add this to your drills list.
5) Practice open water swimming
As with most skills, open water swimming gets easier as you practice. Make the effort to practice in a lake or the sea regularly if you can. Get used to choppy water, tides, seaweed(!) and different temperatures.
Take comfort in the fact, most people won’t do this, most people will be unprepared, so if you can do just a little bit of prep- you will have a major advantage. Just following the black line and going up a down a nice swimming pool does not prepare you for the dangers, thrill and excitement of open water swimming.
Open water swimming can be one of the most exhilarating parts of the race, and can work to your advantage as other panic and get flustered. It can be great fun and you will find you will be faster by staying out of trouble than getting flustered, angry or upset in the middle of the pack
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