For our blog this week we are providing some tips on mastering open water swimming which for many is a primary blocker for people not taking up triathlon, fearing swimming and open water in particular. Swimming. What? Never. “I can’t swim one length so I will never manage to do a triathlon”. Fearing the water is pretty common in Triathlon virgins which for many means they never get to try out multi-sport triathlon action. Hopefully this article can help reduce those fears and get you into the water.
Swimming in a pool is generally in a regulated temperature environment with clear water and lines painted on the bottom, you might get out of your depth but you are unlikely to be more than a few metres from the edge and if all else fails there is always that spotty teenage lifeguard to come to the rescue. Open water swimming is none of the above and can be cold and dark and involve touching things under water that you don’t really know what they are. Eeek. Sea, Lake or river open water is a very different but it isn’t all bad. First tip would be to buy a swimming wetsuit or better still hire one for your first couple of sessions and check it out. A swimming wetsuit (see Orca, Blue Seventy, Zoot, Huub, 2XU, TYR, Speedo) is very different to a conventional wetsuit for surfing or similar. It is thinner all over so will protect you from the cold, but not that much. It offers superior flexibility around the shoulder and arms allowing for you to move freely. Additionally it has been built to make you float with buoyancy across the middle and upper legs forcing you into a more flat body position. Final difference is that is built to be removed in transition so the wrist and ankle sections offer greater flex. Swimming in one of these you will be quicker than you have ever been, it makes normal swimming feel like swimming in soup. You might just find you like it!
Second tip would be to wear ear plugs to protect you from the nasties in the water, we are talking about bacteria here rather than monsters! Goggles are a must but the difference here to consider is you might want polarized lenses to cater for shifts in light conditions as you swim in direct sunlight or shade. Swim hats. Not just for grannies but in open water they make you visible as most wetsuits are pretty much black and you can be hard to spot.
Make sure you head to an organised open water swimming venue that has marked course, kayaks in the water and other swimmers in the water. If you follow the course but you need a break swim to the side of the course and rest, your wetsuit will give you buoyancy so lie back and enjoy being outdoors. Sighting is a common issue for swimmers in open water as you do the infamous zig-zag trying to reach the next marker. Swim techniques including crocodile eyes give you the ability to keep moving without restriction and maintain focus on where your headed. Swimming with bi-lateral breathing gives the best chance of swimming straight although we all tend to pull to one side or another but at least by breathing on both sides you have some option to level out.
Final tip would be to drink a can of coke after swimming. Go Zero or Max if you want no sugar but make sure you drink some. All the corrosive nasties in these drinks actually help do some cleansing of your insides after a swim and can help kill off some of the bacteria you may have ingested. It won’t sort everything but at least it might rid you of some of the horrors that could drag you screaming to the loo.
Last word is to enjoy it. On a summers morning with the sun shining and the water temp above 20 degrees its a pretty amazing experience, give it a go.
About the author – Billy is the founder or Trivelo Bikes and loves to combine an open water swim with a brick cycling session to prepare for race season.