Article image

by David Miner

April 2, 2019

You need to plan if you want success in an open water race

Making a plan for your next big open water swim is essential if you want success. A sound plan creates a starting and end point, builds and creates confidence, and helps to ensure you’re on the right path to accomplish your goals. Whether you’re a seasoned open water swimmer or triathlete or just starting out with your first race, don’t just wing it and hope things work out. Make a plan and stick with it.

So where do you begin?

Choosing the Right Event

A sound plan starts with picking the right race for you, your abilities, and the amount of time you can dedicate to training. If you’ve only done a 1-mile swim, don’t go straight for a 10K, unless it’s far enough in the future that you have ample time to train each week. Pick a race distance you feel comfortable with and determine where you want to swim. Do you want to travel to the race or pick something close to where you live? Do you want to swim in the ocean or a lake, cold water or warmer water, wear a wetsuit, etc.?

Once you have an idea on the distance and type of environment you want to swim in, look for the race that works for you. Research each race by reading testimonials, finding out about typical water conditions, how they handle safety, course layout, number of participants, time constraints on finishing the swim, etc. These are all important for your success.

Once you’ve chosen your event, it’s time to create a training schedule and carve out time to do it. Whether you swim regularly with a Masters team, train on your own, or a combination, be realistic about the amount of time you have each week, what your fitness level is, where you want your fitness level to be for the race, and how much time you have before race day.

Training for the Event

Start off by creating weekly goals for each workout, such as the type of workout, distance for each workout, open water skills you want to improve upon, and technique you want to improve upon. Having goals to follow on a weekly basis keeps you on schedule and allows you to track your progress leading up to the event.

Back your plan into the amount of time you have before race day. If your event is four months away, that gives you 16 weeks to train and be ready both mentally and physically. Use each week strategically but also don’t stress if you need to miss a workout once in a while due to life getting in the way. You can always make it up or just consider it a rest day.

Don’t just train in the pool; get out in the open water on a weekly basis to train. If you need workouts, U.S. Masters Swimming provides daily practices online.

Training can get very involved and detailed depending on the level of swimmer you are and your expectations for the race, so if you have a coach, seek assistance. If you don’t have a coach, work with another swimmer who has experience or seek online coaching.

Swimming Your Plan

In addition to your training, make a plan for how you want to swim the race on race day. This can be done a week prior to the event. Base the plan on your fitness level achieved during training, personal goals for the race, your comfort level and confidence, expected weather conditions, the swim course layout including the start and finish, distance of the race, and anything else important to you. Your plan should include things such as where you want to start in the pack, how fast you want to start, your swim pace, how often you want to sight based on the course layout and conditions, etc.

When race day arrives, there are a final few things that should be part of your plan:

  • Get to the race early to give yourself plenty of time for parking, check in, etc.
  • Attend and pay close attention to the prerace briefing as important safety information is provided to help you have a great race.
  • Review the course and course map again to make sure nothing changed.
  • Ask questions and don’t assume!
  • Review your personal race plan to see if anything needs adjusted based on new information you learned.

When the horn blares and your race starts, the adrenaline flow and excitement may lead to some anxiety. If that happens, don’t abandon your race plan—stay strong mentally and swim your plan. If you do, you’ll have a better chance for a great race experience.


  • Open Water


  • Training
  • Races
  • Racing