For many, open-water swimming isn't even in the picture, but for those of you braving a lake or ocean, have no fear! If you want to take the plunge in your first open-water swim or you're a triathlete looking to improve the swimming portion of your race, keep these tips and tricks in mind the next time you hear the gun go off.
- Dress for warmth: Chances are the water is not going to be as warm as the typical swimming pool — in fact, it will probably be a lot colder. Keep warm before the race by doing some light jogging and arm swings to warm up your joints, and make sure your towel and sweats are waiting for you at the finish line once you leave the water. During the race, wear two swim caps instead of one to keep the heat from escaping. It will make a big difference.
- Practice sighting and balance: In the open water, there are no distinct lane lines for reference, making it necessary to "sight" a point on land to help maintain your direction. Learning to breathe on both sides, for balance, with your head slightly forward will allow you to grasp where you are in the race and where your competitors are in comparison. Just make sure you aren't lifting your head too high and favoring one side — this can slow you down and become exhausting!
Keep reading for more open-water swimming tips.
- Suit up: The type of gear you choose to wear varies with individuals, water temperature, and the length of your race. If you prefer to wear a wetsuit, consider a sleeveless wetsuit to allow for more movement in your stroke. Applying a protecting balm before the race will prevent any chafing and discomfort that wetsuits may cause throughout the competition.
- Run, run, run: Yes, it is a swim competition, but being quick on land is important. Sprinting at the start of the race, yet being cautious of tripping, will help you get ahead of the pack (worry about settling into a more comfortable pace in the middle of the swim). When you reach the end, a quick sprint to the finish line will surely set you apart from the competitor you've been battling it out with for the last thousand meters.
- Stake your claim: Unlike a traditional swim meet, there is a lot of direct contact at the start of an open-water swim, meaning you might be kicked or pushed in the water when the race starts. Stay tough and maintain your line of direction without getting discouraged. Swim big, and don't be afraid to be a little aggressive or tough.
- Stay calm: This is the most important tip because an anxious swimmer isn't a fast one. It is easy to panic if it is your first time (especially if the water is cold). Prevent this by knowing the course, practicing in a similar space beforehand, and being comfortable with your gear (now isn't the time to try out a new pair of goggles!).
While it's likely you may do a lot of your training in a pool, grab a buddy and practice in a nearby ocean or lake whenever possible. Besides helping ease anxiety on the day of the race, oceans and lakes don't have membership fees and never close. Experience will come with practice, and in no time you'll feel like a pro!