A few weeks ago, we began posting some open water swim tips. This list will grow over time as there are literally dozens of great tips when it comes to open water swimming and triathlon swimming.
In addition to racing in triathlons, I regularly volunteers to help with the swim leg of local triathlons. Through that experience, I have been able to come away from a recent events with a few more tips and observations, these from the vantage point of someone on a lifegaurd boat at about the 1/3 point of a popular sprint triathlon with a great open water swim. Being able to observe swimmers of all abilities go by provides great perspective on what many people could do better or where they need to practice. Here are a few of the key takeaways that can hopefully help you as you take part in more open water swims.
Get your face wet. I am amazed how many people I see hold thier head high on nearly every stroke and even trying to avoid putting their face in the water. The fact that you are swimming in a natural lake or river water shouldn’t change a thing about your swim stroke. The water in a lake may in many ways be better for you than inhaling overchlorinated pool water, so stick your head and and swim downhill! The best thing you can do in open water is relax, and the best way to relax is to swim the way you have training, with good form and measured breathing. Don’t let the open water change how you hold your head.
Use the breaststroke and backstroke sparingly. Everyone should have an alternate swim technique that they can fall back on if they swallow a mouthful of water, get kicked in the face, or simply need to relax. However, I see alot of the slower triathletes relying on these as their primary strokes. Not only are they much slower than they would be using the freestyle, but they are likely exerting WAY more energy in the swim than they need to. Try to get to the point where at least 80% of your open water swim is via the crawl. If you can get to 99%, even better.
Sight. Easier said than done, I know. But I see at least 1/4 of the swimmers tack an extra 100 meters onto the 1/2 mile course simply by veering way off course and then having to correct. Some of them just weren’t sighting at all, and others were drafting someone else who was way off course. Remember to practice your open water swim technique to include sighting, make sure you do the race with newer triathlon swim goggles
Keeping these things in mind can help you shave seconds or minutes off of your swim time, and will also help you get out of the water with more energy for the other race legs.