May 2019 - SWIMMING
Taking the Plunge
Conquer Fear and Tame Water
By Ann Svenson
Open water swimming can be one of the most spectacular and exhilarating experiences… or it can be an intimidating and fearful one. What you do to prepare can have a big effect on how enjoyable your experience will be.
Before the race director says “Ready, set, go” make sure you’re ready with the following tips:
Evaluate the Course – The first thing you should do is survey the course so you are familiar with the conditions.
Water Temperature – Ask a lifeguard or race official. This may help you determine the need for a wetsuit or what kind of wetsuit, full-body, short one, sleeveless. If you can’t get in for a warmup, go to the shore and splash water on you so you’re aware of what it feels like. There’s nothing worse than being shocked by cold water! It can take your breath away, literally. It may also make your goggles fog up. Cooler water may require a longer warmup. Colder water can cause you to fatigue sooner and your stroke technique to deteriorate more rapidly. Fresh water may feel warmer than pool at the same temperature but slightly colder than salt water at the same temperature.
Currents – Be aware of them, especially if the course is out and back and plan accordingly. If you are swimming out with the current, you’ll have to work harder on the return.
Clarity – So it doesn’t freak you out if you can see bottom.
Footing – Be cognizant of bottom conditions at the start and finish. If the water is muddy and soft, you may have a harder time at the finish before you’ve gotten back your “land legs.” You also need to prepare if there’s a steep slope at the start and/or finish. Boat ramps can be slippery or rough. Watch for plant life; if you swim through it, stop kicking as your legs can become entangled in it. Beware of rocks on the bottom that you might trip over.
Course Layout – What color are the buoys? If you’re wearing tinted goggles, put them on so you know what they look like. Make note of how many there are, what shapes, and which direction you will go around them.
Position of the Sun – Is it going to be in your eyes for part of the course?
Plan for Sighting – Note landmarks on shore that you can sight off, a lifeguard stand, large tree, church steeple or mountain – anything that will help you stay on course. You don’t want to rely solely on other swimmers.
Advanced Open Water Skills
Entry – This part of the event can cause the most fear and anxiety for novice and inexperienced open water swimmers or triathletes. Understand where and how to run into the water. Use short, quick steps and swing your feet with a wide heel recovery to the side to avoid tripping, especially in ocean events.
Navigation and Sighting – Sneak a peek before taking a breath. Lift your head as little as possible, because lifting your head causes more drag and effort – and you kick more when your feet sink. Practice in a pool choosing a variety of items to look for. Choose landmarks and not just buoys for sighting, as buoys may not always be visible in a crowded race or choppy water. Be cognizant of the where the sun is and where it will be during different parts of your race to avoid glare when sighting. You can use the direction of sun rays reflecting underwater to guide you to staying on course. Try several kinds of goggles. Larger lens offer greater visibility and curved lenses can increase peripheral vision. Smoke color or mirrored lenses are good on sunny days; blue lenses on cloudy ones. Experiment and have a backup pair.
Drafting – Drafting helps you conserve energy while maintaining speed, but it takes skill, confidence and awareness. Choose an experienced swimmer who’s slightly faster than you. Drafting directly behind a swimmer is fastest; off the hip is the safest
Turning Around Buoys – Get a good sighting. If you have clear water, make a sharp turn; if it’s crowded make it wider. Take a stroke with your outside arm, roll onto your back and back onto your stomach, as you take a stroke with your other arm – practice this in the pool.
Water Exit – Be aware that you’ll be more fatigued and running in water will be more difficult. Get your land legs by kicking before trying to stand up. If the bottom is muddy, swim in closer to shore.
Race Strategy – Have a plan and don’t rely on the plans of others. Start wide of the pack. Start easy at first and pick up speed later in the second half of the race. HAVE FUN!
Words of Wisdom for First-Time Triathletes
Breathe, Don’t Kick! – Take a small piece of paper, and write those words on it. Put it in your goggles and put your goggles inside your swim cap. When you’re nervous before a race, particularly an event you’ve never done before, your mind ceases to function (almost) – and all the tips you’ve gotten go to outer space. The most important thing in a swim is to keep your cool, relax, take a few deep breaths before you get in the water, and look at that note.
Move to the Back of the Pack – You don’t want to get swum over by faster swimmers. Swallowing water – or worse, inhaling it – at the start of swim race isn’t fun and can cause a sense of panic. Remember to exhale... it’ll keep you calm. You’re not in it to race, but to finish! The lifeguards on the course don’t want to have to do anything but watch you.
Finally – “Sprint triathlon” doesn’t mean you’re supposed to sprint each leg!
Ann Svenson of Greenfield Center is a former triathlete, US Masters Swimming long distance/open water all-star and national record-holder, and Total Immersion Swimming coach.