By Richard Woolrich
Biokineticist (BSc Med (Hons) Exercise Science (Biokinetics) UCT
2014 PT of the year
I think for many triathletes, the swim can be the most challenging discipline, but with practice and training comes the confidence to conquer the open water. I hope these tips will not only improve your open water swimming but also make you feel more relaxed and comfortable in the water.
Top tip: experience
The more that you have been exposed to various conditions in open water the more comfortable you will feel on race day. So if possible, try to get in a few surf swims in a safe environment and preferably in a group.
The water temperature should be between 17 and 24 degrees Celsius, so it’s highly likely that you’ll be in a wetsuit. Make sure you have practiced in a wetsuit on multiple occasions and have found one that fits you correctly.
- An easy way to get the suit on is to put plastic bags over your feet first and then pull the wetsuit on over those.
- People often chafe quite badly around their necks, so it is advisable to use some Vaseline around your neck, especially on your breathing side.
- Make sure you pull the sleeves and wetsuit legs far enough up, so that you have adequate movement around your shoulders and hips.
- Once your wetsuit is on, you can spread some baby oil or spray some “spray and cook” around your wrists and ankles. This will help the ease at which you can slip out of your wetsuit.
Acclimatise to the water/warm-up
This is important both before a race, as well as when you are out for a training swim. In a race situation, I recommend getting in the water and warming up prior to the start. This helps you get a feel for the water conditions and gives you a chance to locate the buoys from the water. You will also need to consider the tide or wash as this can help you decide where the best place to start is. Make sure there are no rocks or holes in the line you are going to run into the water.
Practice your sighting
You will need to learn to lift your head to look where you are going in order to stay on course. If the water is choppy, it may be difficult to spot the buoys, so where possible look for various land markers. It may be a tall tree or branding – something that you can see each time you lift your head to look forward. Prior to the race, get in the water and practise sighting these buoys and markers during your warm-up or even the day before.
How to sight
As you lift your head, your hips and legs drop, which increases your drag. So it’s a compromise, sighting too often will affect your swim stroke and too little, you may go off course. I would suggest sighting every 10 or so strokes, but if you know you can’t swim straight, you may want to sight more often. The key will be to only lift your eyes high enough to see the buoy or marker. It’s a good idea to practice this move in the pool.
Follow the feet in front of you
Swimming in the bubbles of the swimmer in front of you will reduce your overall effort. This is also another way to keep you on course without lifting your head, however: do not rely solely on this for direction, as you could be led off course by the swimmers in front of you.
Next week I will cover brick sessions and how to incorporate them into your training.