The best tip for handling open water conditions is experience. The more that you have been exposed to various conditions in open water the more comfortable you will feel on competition day. So with that being said here are a few tips to consider...
It's time to learn how to compete in Open Water Swimming with these easy tips:
BEGINNERS: (you love the idea but you have a fear of the ocean; not being able to see or touch the bottom)
1. Pre-Competition Day – Never practice open water swimming alone. No matter how good a swimmer you are you should never swim alone. Swim with another person or swim at an area with a lifeguard. In addition to safety having another person around can help you with technique.
2. Getting Ready - Wear your goggles underneath your swim cap. This will avoid your goggles being knocked off your head at the start and around the turn buoys. I always raced with 2 swim caps. (First the cap, then the goggles and finally the 2nd swim cap.) Wear bathers or approved skins (blueseventy) that you have worn previously. Avoid wearing a brand new swim suit on competition day. Why? The salt will rub in places you never thought it would. Trust me!
3. Know the Course - Look at the map of the swim or go to the lake, river or ocean itself and figure out which direction you will need to swim and when.
4. Review the Course - take another swimmer and have a light swim from the start to the first turn buoy and look down the course for your marker buoys that will guide you throughout the swim.
5. On Your Marks - Stay Relaxed. Don't Panic. You're Not Alone! Cold water can make you breathe rapidly which may make you feel like you are so nervous your breathing is being impacted. If the water is cold and this happens, relax; your body is adjusting to the water temperature and with time will adjust. Concentrate on breathing deeply, visualise yourself handling each turn buoy calmly and seeing yourself completing the swim with a big grin! This will help you greatly.
6. The Start - Talk to people who have previously done the race (in past years). Pay attention when the waves (groups of swimmers) in front of you go and watch the pattern they are swimming in. Start at the back of the pack and this will be less stressful for you.
7. Which stroke do I swim? – You are allowed to swim more than one stroke. Breaststroke, backstroke and side stroke can all be used both to give you a rest from freestyle and help you to stay on course. Using breaststroke and backstroke can also help you adjust to the colder water.
8. Rounding the Turn Buoys – no breaststroke please. This helps avoid the person behind being kicked by you in the face or other private parts of the anatomy and you not having the guilts for the rest of the race.
9. Be prepared for the next wave of swimmers - Don't swim right on the course as there are more waves to come; especially if the swim is in age groups or time categories. You will most likely end up in collision with a pack of swimmers or with faster swimmers. It is easier just to stay to the side a little and not get run over.
10. Don't draft/slipstream if you have not practiced the skill or only practiced it a little bit. At least not yet as a beginner. As a beginner if you get too close to someone's feet, you can end up getting kicked in the face and/or loose your goggles as noted in tip #7. It also doesn't allow you to enjoy the experience and concentrate on your swimming-your stroke and your pace.
INTERMEDIATE: (you've completed a few OWS events but not achieving your potential)
1. Know the Course - Check out the layout of the course. Locate the first and last buoys, wave conditions, swim direction, sun direction, etc. It is often beneficial to site those first buoys from water level so you will know what they will look like when the swim starts.
2. The Start - Don't start at the front or middle of your wave if you are not a strong swimmer. This is a frequent mistake made. The natural tendency is to start further up so that you have less distance to swim, but it can be quite rough in the front or middle of the pack if you don't have much experience with open water swimming. You might also swim the first part too fast and get tired. Also don't start right behind someone try to stagger yourself so you don't get kicked by their feet when you start.
3. Concentrate on technique or 'form' - With all the other swimmers and trying to stay on course this can be tricky and you may only be able to focus on one element of technique to correct which is fine. It gets easier over time though.
4. Learn to breathe on both sides – Known as 'bilateral breathing'; not only does it split the effort of certain muscle groups by 50%, but it's good to be able to turn away from the sun while swimming with clear goggles and avoid the waves and wind smashing in from one direction.
5. Slipstreaming – There is no FINA rule for drafting. Think cycling and tuck in behind a competitor or mate that that you know is a slightly faster swimmer and this will reduce your overall effort. If you are close enough to feel the bubbles of their feet you are in a prime position. Just a few points of courtesy, don't tap their feet and be sure to thank them after the competition.
ADVANCED: (you think you know it all…but there’s always room to learn, improve or refresh)
1. Review the Course - Check for rips and currents when reviewing the course. Taking the fastest route via a rip may not necessarily be the straight line off of the beach but it will get you to the turn buoy in record time.
2. The Start - Avoid that "centre field" "middle of the pack" position on the beach. Outside start position with a clear line to the first buoy is more advantageous.
3. Slipstreaming – the best position is on the outside preferably behind someone's feet. Avoid getting boxed in the middle or you will get hammered on both sides. Think horse racing; the worst position is against the fence as you cannot get out. If you cannot get out; stop and duck under and out of the way and go to the back of the pack or onto the outside of the person next to you.
4. Open Water 'Sighting' - The key to proper navigation. Lifting your head too often you will slow down, not enough and you may get off course. A good school of thought would be to 'sight' every 5 or 6 strokes. If you have a naturally straight swimming stoke you may go to every 10 strokes. Most swimmers 'sight' as they are exhaling, then lower their eyes back into the water, turn to the side for a normal breath. The key will be to only lift your eyes high enough to see the buoy or other landmark that you are using for sighting. It's good to practice this move in the pool. Practice the drill in the middle 20 metres because the walls at either end can be less forgiving.
5. The Final Sprint – You've rounded the last turn buoy and you're heading back into the beach/finish. This part of the swim is when the previous 90% can not be fair. So far you have been using primarily your upper body muscle group. Now it's time to bring in the legs and lower body. To help get the blood to move to the lower extremities increase your kick the last 100m of the swim.
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