Open Water Swimming Prep & Start
For all you triathletes and open water swimmers, these tips are for you. As you all know, swimming in the open water can be nothing like those pretty little laps in the pool. Running into ice cold murky water with 2 foot swells and chop, with 100 other people intent on drowning you is not most people's idea of a relaxing swim. Many of the best swimmers sometimes get a rude awakening during their first open water event. And, many of those weak swimmers vow never to race again in the open water. Hopefully, however, our tips can help you feel more comfortable in these races. As with all skills, the keys are to be prepared and practice! We've highlighted a few of our favorite tips below. So pay attention and practice!
The turn can be broken down into the following components:
The Pre-Race. The entry to one of these races should be planned in advance for most people. Scope out the course. Check to see if the course is a loop or one way. Check the entry points and exit points for the best routes for getting in and getting out. You may see some potential hazards and/or roadblocks. Try to hit the path you project will be the quickest.
Study the actual course. Determine what path around the buoys you want to follow. If you are afraid of getting run down, don't be afraid to stick to the outside of the course. The little extra distance won't hurt you as much as a lung full of water. If you feel confident, scope out the shortest distance around the course and try to stick to it while in the water. Many times 'the herd' will not go in the shortest possible route. Also mark on-shore and on-water fixed landmarks ahead of time, and use them during the swim to guide you. This is rarely an exact science, but it can be a lifesaver in murky and/or rough water where guidance is limited. You cannot always rely on someone else being near you and they often don't know where they are going either. Buoys, houses, piers, etc. are all good.
Get a feel for the water and the overall conditions. If you can, get in the water and loosen up. Even if the water is cold! If you wait until the race, your muscles will be cold and you may tighten up like a rock upon the shock of entering the ice cold water. Check out the visibility and the choppy-ness of the water. Both of these characteristics will make a huge difference in how you swim the race. Try to get a feel for how you want to stroke the race based on what you are experiencing. Also try to sense which way the current and wind are going. If they are even slightly against you, your race will be significantly slower. Having prepared for it in advance will prevent you from panicking when you are still in the water 5 minutes past your goal.
Lastly, check out your competition. If you are swimming in a heat of senior citizens, you might be able to take a few more risks. If it looks like a bunch of Olympians are standing around you, you might want to think conservatively.
The Entry (beach starts). If you are a weaker swimmer or trying to be conservative, you should be in the back part of the starting pack. Don't get cocky or greedy. If you do, you will be ungraciously run over by many people. Another good technique is to get further towards the front but on the far outside of the pack. Since most swimmers head for the inside, you can start up near the front and not get run down if you stay on the far outside. If you are a very strong swimmer, get some balls and get to the front! Do not hesitate to be a little rude--once in the water, they won't recognize you anyway. Make sure all of your equipment is ready.
The gun goes off and 100 blood-thirsty athletes ramble towards the frigid water. How do you best get in? Run with the pack, no need to sprint like crazy. Avoid those hazards you scoped out prior to the start. You don't want to work the rest of the race with a 4-inch gash in your foot. Make sure to lift those knees high once you start entering the water--if you don't, you may be face down in the drink earlier than you would like. If you are a strong swimmer, you will want to run to a point that may be just above your knees or where you feel that its time to dive in. A good swimmer should be able to get a good streamlined dive into the water at that point, and still get into the water fast enough to start swimming.
The slower swimmer will want to run/walk out as far as possible until he or she feels like people are starting to swim faster than he or she is walking. This could be well past when the water is above your hips. This preserves your energy and maximizes your speed. This technique also lets you sight the course path you want to take for as long as possible.
Remember, the pre-race observations and planning can make or break your race! Open water swimming is your friend.