Tips for Open Water Swimming

Sandy Sanders Open Water SwimmingAs the summer continues to roll on, triathlon season is in full effect. Each new season brings with it a crop of motivated athletes trying their hand at triathlons. For many of these “newbies,” open water swimming can be the tri’s most daunting leg.

For first timers intimidated by the swim, let me just say that you are not alone, as MANY are daunted by the swim.

My recent intimidating open water swim prompted me to share some tips that might help increase the comfort level associated with the swim:

  • Wear a wetsuit. Wetsuits not only help to keep you warmer during your swim, but their buoyancy factor will help to make the swim a little easier. As with anything, don’t try something for the first time DURING the actual event. Try “test driving” one prior to the actual race.
  • Start off from the perimeter. Starting on the ‘outside’ will help you avoid the chaotic frenzy of swimmers making a beeline for the buoy. If you want to start off closer to the buoy, then wait a few seconds to let the other swimmers go before starting your swim.
  • Darker, defogged goggles make buoy spotting easier. Darker goggles will also help cut down on sun glare. You can either buy defogger, or go with the free method I learned – licking the inside of goggles will keep them from fogging up.
  • Find out from the race director if the race offers swim angels. Swim angels are volunteers who will swim with you to help keep you calm during the swim, even offering you a flotation noodle to hold onto should you need a break.
  • When training, swim with a purpose. Don’t just swim aimlessly up and down the black line. Check online for workout sets that will not only improve your speed and efficiency, but will make your pool practice session fly. While swimming, work on bilateral breathing so that you don’t tire yourself out by just breathing on one side. Also, every now and then work on lifting your face straight out of the water while swimming, to simulate looking for the swim buoy while not interrupting your swim groove.
  • Try practice swimming in open water before you actually race in it. Training in open water will help dissolve the fear of the unknown. Many triathlon clubs offer open water swim practices. Take advantage of those if possible because not only will you increase your comfort level in an open water environment, but you will build a repository of familiar faces that you may encounter during most of your local triathlons.
  • Remain calm and confident. You know how to swim. You can do this. As I panicked during my own swim, I simply reminded myself, “I know how to swim; I can do this.” Just repeat to yourself, “I CAN DO THIS.” (Because you can.)

For those entering the world of triathlons, WELCOME!! It’s a fun place to be once you get over that initial aquatic intimidation. Remember, a majority of first timers are in your aqua shoes, dreading that swim. Every first time TRIer had to start somewhere. Just stick with it and you’ll find that as with most things, experience will remove that fear of the unknown, and your comfort level with the swim will definitely increase. Combine these swimming tips with the running tips offered by Carri Uranga in her most recent blog, and two thirds of your race is covered. So TRI it and have fun!

Quren Tri

Sandy’s daughter competing in the swim portion of her triathlon.

Christine @ Love, Life, Surf

July 26, 2013 at 6:07 pm

I love swimming but open water swimming is an entirely different beast! These are great tips and yes, practice in open water prior to the event if you can. There’s nothing like getting in the open water and getting a feel for what it’s like before race day. I love the idea of swim angels! Wish I had one during my first tri 🙂


July 27, 2013 at 1:33 pm

All excellent suggestions. And once you’re comfortable with the whole thing, you can start trying smaller swims without the wetsuit and see how it goes! Baby steps in all things when it comes to open water; incremental acclimation to time, cold, and distance is super important.

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