Be a newcomer to the world of open water swimming
Be a newbie to open water swimming
By Annika Hobson, Intern at Swimming World College
About to run headfirst in your first open water race? Don’t know how to go from the pool to the ocean or the lake? Let yourself be guided by my first-hand experience and the lessons learned. This summer I trained and competed in my first open water race. I discovered the thrill of running in a new element, but it can also be intimidating if you aren’t prepared.
Sierra Nevada Masters Swimming held the 40e Birthday Donner Lake Swim in Truckee, Calif. on August 14. The event of 450 swimmers was sold out. The uniqueness of this open water event is that the race is 2.7 miles straight across the lake. Growing up next to Truckee, I have swam in Donner Lake several times before, but this race was my first open water competition. Being a distance swimmer I was prepared for the length, but open water swimming requires different techniques.
Race day preparations
Every swimmer knows their pre-race forward and backward routines. Whether it’s getting enough sleep or eating a hearty breakfast, swimmers know how to prepare their bodies for the big races. But going from the pool to open water races requires different ways to prepare for race day. Something I would have liked to have done for my race was to get in the water before the race to warm up. The warm-up for open water races helps a swimmer to prepare for the rhythm of their race. It also helps swimmers get used to the water temperature. Whether the water is too hot or too cold, it’s good to be prepared for what you’re about to run or dive for at the start of the run.
Unlike the organized start of blocks in a swimming pool, an open water race begins with flying limbs. After the starting signal, the swimmers run and push to enter the water. Once the swimmers enter the water, there is a sea of legs and arms that bubble up. Eventually the field expands, but the start of an open water race makes open water swimming a contact sport.
Another fun aspect of open water swimming is that swimmers can pull each other up. Most people know what car racing or bike racing draft is, but it can also be a smart swimming racing strategy. To draft on another swimmer, you can either jump behind their feet or swim to the side of their hip. In both methods, the repechage swimmer enters the repechage zone and swims faster. When you have the chance, take advantage of the draft by matching the speed of the swimmer during the draft and stay in the draft zone.
Observation is a key characteristic of open water swimming. Observation is when a swimmer looks up to see where he is going in an open water race. Observation helps swimmers stay on course and follow their line (race plan). Open water race courses vary from place to place, but one thing is for sure, there are no distinct lane lines. Therefore, in order for a swimmer to know where he needs to go, he must see between normal swimming cycles. While observing, a swimmer can look for light buoys, a finish line, geographic features, or more to effectively swim the course.
One way to practice sighting is to pull out the track lines from a swimming pool and set up three buoys as a racetrack. The course doesn’t even have to be particularly large, just enough space to go around the buoys. Swimmers can then practice sighting by looking up between strokes to see the buoys. This practice can also help teach swimmers to choose tight lines for swimming, so they don’t add extra distance to their strokes.
Open water swims feature many tight and thrilling races. There are two different ways to conclude swims in open water, with floating touch pads or while running. In the first setup, swimmers race to hit a floating touchpad with their hands to calculate their time. The other type of finish causes swimmers to run out of the water to cross the finish line. Whether it’s a full swim or a finish that requires swimmers to run, open water swims have tight results.
As a competitive swimmer for nine years, I am happy that I decided to dive into the world of open water swimming. Open water swims are a fun way to create new ways to compete. I can’t wait to register for more open water swims in the future. Are you going to try open water swimming soon?
All comments are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine or its staff.