So you think you can open water swim?
We spend so many countless hours on the pool specially in the Off-season, we get all excited about gains at the time trials tests, we surely get strong, we sure get faster, but then, we show up at race day and somehow all that speed just don’t transfer, I scratch my head thinking how in the world this can happen? Where did all my Swim gains go? We get frustrated first thing in a race when we finish the swim leg and look at our watches and there it is! the same old slow pace, certainly not a good psychological help, but the good news is that it can be trained and it can be fixed.
The Initial Chaos
So you begin the race with the usual chaos, the race expectations, and the energy of not only the swim start but also the whole race start. You jump in the water and all you see is feet, hands, body contact, far buoys and your hands moving down in deep dark water. All races start the same way, the more races you do the more familiar you get with this situation.
Switch your Mind
I like to focus my attention in others things like my breathing, my form, how tired I am in my arms and back and when I turn my head to breath I like to spot other swimmers and their swim cap colors, I like to look at how the ski looks and be thankful for health and how grateful I feel for being able to be called a triathlete, I swap something negative for something positive.
On a group swim start you will see feet, hands, bodies, and lots of body contact, Switch your mind into a vertical mode, think in a run or a bike situation where you see other people, sometimes passing you, sometimes you get to pass; on a swim situation is exactly the same, when you swim by a person if she or he is faster and you happen to swimming very close to them and you end up touching each other, don’t keep swimming straight, it only takes you a couple of strokes to move to a side and you will get away; always pass people on a side just like on the run or bike, again; keyword is thinking vertically.
Think Trail Running Vs. Road Running
Open water swim is wavy, there are currents, and it’s far from being calm, Switch your mind from a roadrunner to a trail runner. In the trails there is hardly flats, its always uneven terrain, waves are your hills, currents are how technical or rocky the trail is, you will never be as fast as road running in a trail. The same relation is Open water swim Vs. a Pool swim, A perfect calm water with a line of the bottom at the pool is like road running, always the same controlled environment, don’t expect your same pool pace to be on Open water swim, because is just not the same.
Grow your Effort.
Always start your open water swim from easy to fast. When you jump into the pool have you notice you swim faster the first 300-400 yards effortless? Why waste energy or get into Oxygen deprivation mode on an explosive sprint if you are already swimming fast effortless?, instead grow your effort as you advance in distance trying to go from easy to hard effort, that way you go hard to maintain the pace that was easy at the beginning.
Don’t get lost
One of the main differences in the pool Vs. Open water swim is called Sighting. Pick a spot in the horizon to follow if it’s not a foggy day, all races have floating buoys to follow, pick the next one to follow. Sighting has a bad hit on the rhythm of the swim, the more you do it the slower you get, so pick a rhythm to sight, say you sight every 6-8 strokes, or even better, follow other swimmers and let them do the sighting for you, or both! Sight forwards every 12 strokes and sight other swimmers every 6 strokes.
Nothing Beats Practice
If you are self-coached triathlete don’t make the mistake of not incorporate open water swims into your training, if you are never exposed to this environment you will never improve, the more your swim open water the more familiar it feels, practice sighting, stroke counting, and practice growing your effort to the end and focus on not loosing or changing your form.