Introducing open water swim training into your workout regimen is a great way to break up the monotony of pool swimming. It is also a great approach to practice all the techniques that differ between open water and pool swimming, which can prepare you for your next triathlon or open water swim meet. The key piece to remember is that there are different aspects involved with open water swimming that will help an athlete be more successful on race day. Four main areas of focus for open water swimming are the swim start, buoy sighting, drafting, and water exit. Like always practice is key, in order to have proper execution on race day.
If you have ever witnessed an open water swim start, right away you know that it is much different than starting in a pool. Depending on the race, some will have you in the water and others will have all athletes starting on land. The trickiest start for most athletes is generally correlated with the mass land start. For this scenario you want to put yourself closer to the front for a clear view of the distance to the water. When you hit the water you want to run as far as you can, while running with high knees, to avoid getting bogged down with each stride. Continue running with high knees until the water becomes somewhere between knee and hip deep. At this point dive into the water and begin swimming. The key is to focus on not swimming too soon where your hands drag the bottom, and in contrast not running too far where your speed slows down before beginning the swim.
Now that you are in the water there are two main points to focus on that will set you up for your fastest swim. First, you want to make sure you are proficient at buoy sighting. When we swim in a pool it is easy to go in a straight line because the line on the bottom points us in the right direction. However, not being able to sight for the buoys is a quick way to get off course adding more distance and time to your race. Proper buoy sighting involves lifting your head slightly out of the water until your eyes break the surface and you can see the buoy. This should be timed simultaneously as one of your hands is entering the water and starting the catch phase of the stroke. You should only need a quick glance to distinguish the large buoy and then lower your head back in the water as your opposite arm goes through the recovery phase of the stroke. This process should be very quick to allow you to resume your normal swimming stroke with the smallest amount of interruption as possible.
Once you are swimming and tracking buoys properly, you want to try and draft off another swimmer if possible to save energy. The most effective place to draft will be to place your body behind and slightly to the side of a larger, faster swimmer. Be careful though not to get so close that your hands hit the other swimmer. If there is a current or waves coming from a certain direction during the swim you want to position another swimmer between yourself and the direction the waves are coming from. This is typically found by placing yourself on one side of the other swimmer with your head next to their hip.
As you start to round the last buoy and finish your swim it is important to know what to do and how to get prepared for exiting the water. When you are around 100-150 meters out from finishing the swim you want to bring your legs in a little more by ramping up your kick slightly. This will allow the blood to flow to your legs so that you will be able to run upon hitting the shore. The crucial thing to remember is finding the right kick that is suitable for you, strong enough to get the blood flowing and not so overzealous that you elevate your heart rate.
With practice of the four points of swim start, buoy sighting, drafting, and water exit you will set yourself up for a success on your next open water swim. However, whether seasoned swimmer or embarking on your first open water swim, if you are still nervous about the event, try to find a wetsuit legal swim. Wetsuits such as the Aqua Sphere Phantom have the latest technology to help put your body in the ideal swim position, which allows you to swim faster with less energy. Aqua Sphere’s open water goggles such as the Kaiman, Kayenne or Vista will help you clearly spot the buoys and finish so you swim the shortest distance possible. As always practice makes perfect, allowing you to be successful and get more enjoyment out of your next open water swim. More information on the Phantom wetsuit and open water goggles can be found at aquasphereswim.com/us/index.php/component/content/article/197 and aquasphereswim.com/us/index.php/products/eye-protection.