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Posts Tagged ‘swimming’

Getting in the Groove - Photo by Sian Proctor

Getting in the Groove – Photo by Sian Proctor

 

I have been an open water swimmer for about 5 years and have completed open water swims of varying lengths from 800 meters to over 6 miles.  I am not a professional by any means but I have had enough time and experience to become comfortable with the open water environment and offer some advice to others.  My experience has been primarily in lake waters since that is what I have access to so my advice will not include considerations unique to ocean swimming (of which there are plenty!). If you are a triathlete getting ready for your first race and it involves an OWS, or if you doing your first OWS as a stand-alone event, I recommend you consider the following things:

1. Wetsuit

  • Use one if allowed.
  • Get one that fits.
  • Rent or buy a used one to save money.
  • Practice in the open water with your wetsuit prior to your event.
  • Lube up around your neck, shoulders (if sleeveless suit), and wrists (Body glide or other).
  • Let it hang inside out to dry and store on a hanger when dry.

2. Goggles

  • Get ones that fit and don’t fog up.
  • Consider smoke color for sun protection.
  • Have several pairs the day of the race.
  • Practice adjusting them while treading in water over your head.
  • NEVER touch the lenses with your fingers.
  • Wipe them out with your tongue, then wet in water to clean.
  • To fit them at the store, stick them to your face without the strap. If they don’t fall off for about 10 seconds, they fit.

3. Sea Sickness

  • Earplugs help with motion sickness
  • Training a lot in open water helps you get over mild sea sickness

4. Breathing

  • Bilateral (both sides) will help you maintain a straight course
  • Waves and other swimmers being close may force you to breathe on one side
  • If water is wavy, time your breaths to avoid sucking in water

5. Sighting

  • Get a feel for the course (overview map) prior to the swim including any obstacles or danger areas.
  • Pick something large that is father away but in line with the buoy to site from
  • Develop a rhythm that seems to work…5 strokes, sight or 10 strokes, sight
  • Practice sighting in the pool by doing “head-up freestyle” drill for 50 – 100 m
  • Learn to sight quickly as part of your stroke and avoid stopping and going vertical
  • You can follow someone else if they are on a good line (and you can even draft)

6. Training

  • Train with longer pool sets prior to your race (1000 m or 1500 m depending on your race distance).
  • Train in open water if possible at least 3 – 4 times (or more) prior to your event. Never swim alone unless you are in an area with lifeguards present.

7. Swim Time

  • Swimming in open water always takes longer than the same distance in a pool.

8. Incidental Contact/Race Etiquette

  • Contact will occur with many people in the water. It is unavoidable.
  • It is the passing swimmers responsibility to go around the swimmer in front. If someone bumps you from behind, stay your course. They need to figure out how to go around you.
  • If you stop, don’t stop right at a buoy or you will get run over. Stop and look around you quickly to be sure you are not directly in someone’s way.

10. Swim Your Race

  • When race day comes, don’t worry about anyone else.
  • Do your warm-up and be ready when the starting horn sounds.
  • Be sure you know where to start, where to swim, and where to finish.
  • The first few minutes are a adrenaline rush so give yourself a chance to calm down and relax.
  • Find your space to swim where you can be comfortable but be aware of those around you and of the route you are swimming.
  • If you panic, just stop, relax and breathe.
  • If you need to rest, you can do so on a kayak as long as you do not make forward progress.
  • Enjoy the event and all the training and hard work you have put into swimming!

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I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I HATE swimming. I just always feel better AFTER I do it than WHILE I am doing it. Well, most of the time the former statement is true. There are those moments, seconds really, when the breathing feels right, my suit, goggles, and cap feel right, and the water feels like my friend and not my foe. In those microseconds when all seems to be working as it should, then I feel like I can fly. As I take each stroke and turn my head to breath, I feel the wake of water indicating forward movement and I see the shapes on the shore move by.

You see…as a child I did not learn to swim. All I really learned was how not to drown…and I have been not drowning, every time I get in the water, for years.

My first real memorable experience with the water had to do with an ill-placed bet I made with my father at the tender age of about seven. I happened to be early for swim lessons the day before and, to my bewilderment, could stand in the pool and touch bottom right next to the sign that said 5’.  Now, I knew that I was not 5’ tall…not even close… but the overwhelming evidence to the contrary was right before my eyes! I could not put together the logic as to why I could stand at this depth and keep my head above the water nor could I deny that it was true.  Maybe some kind of miracle was involved? Maybe I had grown overnight? Whatever the reason I wasn’t too worried about it but I knew I had to tell someone. So, at dinner that night, I told my father.

“Dad”, I said almost breathless with excitement. “I stood up in 5’ of water today!”

I can remember the sequence of moments that followed as if they happened just yesterday.  My father, quiet and contemplative sitting on the other side of the table just letting the words sink in and, I am certain, running through the list of 1,000 possible replies. Then, with his response selected, leaning over the table with a gleam in his eyes and saying, “I bet you can’t stand up in 5 feet of water”.  Pausing, he then added, “in fact, if you can stand up in 5 feet of water, I will give you anything you want”.

If there was ever a moment in my life that I can define as the first, dumbest moment of my life, this would be it.  The overwhelming generosity of his offer coupled with the absolute certainty that I had the data to PROVE I could do it overrode the logic circuits of my brain and I blurted out, “A pony! I want a pony!” (Doesn’t every seven-year old want a pony?).

My mind went into pony overdrive! Where would we keep it? What would I name it? My friends were going to be so jealous. I just KNEW I had this one in the bag! Swimming lessons took place again the following day and my father agreed to take me. If I could stand with my head above water next to the 5’ sign, then that pony was mine. So confident was I that I all but asked if we could stop and buy a horse trailer on the way to the pool.

Next day dawned after an excited and sleepless night. We loaded into the car and headed down to the local pool. As we entered through the front gate and made our way to the kids’ area, I began to feel a gnawing sense of doubt. “Why did the water look higher than yesterday?” I said to myself.  But, armed with the vision of the single data point I had collected the day before, I headed into the pool next to the 5’ sign. As I tread water, I tried in vain to reach the tips of my toes to the bottom of the pool while keeping my mouth above the water line.  I reached and I stretched and I reached. I tried standing on my head upside down even though that was not part of the bet. Over and over again I tried to reconcile the new data I was collecting today with the information I knew was true from the day before.

Chagrined and slightly humiliated, I knew the pony was done. In fact, I should have known that the day before but had fallen victim to a really strong case of denial. I am not certain that the pony-pool incident kept me from getting into swimming more as a kid, but I sure do remember it like it was yesterday. I wonder if my father remembers it the same way that I do?

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