THE CONFIDENCE TO SWIM OPENWATER AND SWIM FASTER
I can truly empathise with the nervous when helping people get to grips with Open Water. I am one of those people even now when it comes to swimming in the sea. Before that it was Open Water in general. Initially as a pool swimmer the transition for me took place in season two when I had the opportunity to swim Open Water every weekend either as a training session or as a race. By the end of the season I was quite happy in Open Water but it took time.
Time to get familiar with my surroundings, spending time in the environment that was worrying me. I look at confidence in the water in the following way now when working out how to help someone I love the water and racing and all that Open Water has to offer but once upon a time I didn’t, and even now there are types of Open Water racing I prefer. No matter how fast you get its still ok to get a little worried about swimming in Open Water or to flat out not enjoy it.
A BEAUTIFUL SWIM
Give me the beautiful lake/reservoir setting of the Worlds in Gothenburg in 2010 over the sea setting of beautiful Rimini from 2012. My last IM event was South Africa in 2008. Here on this stretch of coastline I was not happy. What to do? Go hard to get out in front on your own spending as little time as possible in the water?
Leave the mass behind hoping it is will be rich pickings for the circling shoals beneath that I conjure up in my mind. Alternatively hang back, utilising the safety in numbers approach at the Shark ‘all you can eat buffet’. I know the stats are with us in terms of it being highly unlikely but it is not impossible. Those are the odds I do not like which leave me hoping for those inland races.
RECOGNISE CURRENT LEVELS
What is the main concern? The lack of clarity? The mass of people? The slight restriction around the chest from the wetsuit? Do we need to build confidence through improved swim technique, fitness, perhaps both or Psychologically overcoming fears? Being in the right frame of mind on race day comes from the confidence of knowing you have done it in training or replicated conditions in low-key less stressful environments. Ideally you will be confident of the distance not tiring you but also of getting onto the bike not overly stressed.
In some instance, levels of confidence need to be toned down. Starting too high up the ‘pack’ can make for an unpleasant experience. This is the other side that we often see when people fail to start safely. It never fails to amaze me the difference in approach to the start of the masses at a Running Marathon event compared to the frenzy of the start of most large Open Water swims. When starting the Marathon, the masses mostly walk until eventually space develops and then a shuffle/jog can start. Compare to a swim start and while similarly cramped when the gun goes what happens? Arms and legs start moving frantically as the smallest gaps are fought over. Most are vertical, starting upright then swimmers quickly switch too horizontal and 4x the space is suddenly needed by everyone.
Improving levels of confidence comes from repeating actions over and over in a situation that slowly becomes less uncomfortable. Swim with two people either side of you as your wingmen slowly getting closer as you progress in a pool lane. Add a few more people into the group, with someone out in front. Add some people behind so that the toe tapping is now a concern. Eventually that small group of the 3 of you is now 30 practicing across an Open Water venue.
Try to prepare in conditions that replicate your race dynamics. This sense of knowing can only help when it comes to lowering stress levels and building confidence that you are going to be ok on race day. The canal exit at IM Austria can be recreated by racing low key, smaller River Swim Triathlons.
The Lake Placid IM had buoys are attached to a submerged track visible in the clear water. Often rowing centres offer similar as the lanes are marked with small buoys. Do you have a facility nearby that offers smaller OW events to try? There are now lots of open water swim only events where you can practice without the added issues of it being a Triathlon. When ready, try some OPEN WATER racing without your wetsuit if the worst-case scenario arises. It happened again not so long ago at IM and left some swimmers distraught over in Switzerland. If you fancy Kona, then for sure it will be non-wetsuit.
BUILD ON IT
When you think of all the things has can irritate and chip away at the already fragile confidence you might have about your Open Water swim; doesn’t it seem sensible to take control of as many factors that you can. Ensure your wetsuit is comfortable, that goggles fit and don’t leak. Try to reduce fogging & learn some self-defence measures to protect yourself on the start line. The CATCHUP swim drill is a great drill and will leave both arms around the head momentarily helping with a degree of protection if you are concerned.
More confidence might mean you start further up the field and you then give yourself the opportunity to swim the first 400m rather than battle it out midpack. Nothing slows a swim, leaving you fatigued and frustrated quite like wrestling your way through a densely packed field of slower swimmers.
Many swimmers find their best swimming halfway through a training session after a good warm-up and a chance to build into their stroke. Try to recreate this sensation earlier in the race by performing a dry land warm up. Implement this ahead of a water based (if possible) warmup so that you feel good and ready to swim well when the gun goes.
Think about the basic skills necessary that allow you to master as many of the controllable variables as possible, it can only help. Think about the types of smaller races that might help prepare for the big one. Too often late in the season I come across people not yet comfortable with a pair of goggles, that don’t leak. All far too close to race day.
Knowing you will be happy with completing the distance required is also something you should be happy with well in advance. Try to reduce potential additional stress that might worry you i.e. could it possibly be a non-wetsuit swim? How close under the cut off might I be? Can I make myself more familiar with the style of course I might be racing during my ‘A’ race? Factor in and work on the stuff you have control of. With those aspects mastered it might just keep the worry about the uncontrollable stuff under control.
Pool Based Open water skills are a great way to start to get ready for a transition to openwater. More details here including our full confidence in OW plan – https://store.swimfortri.co.uk