For young athletes, adult athletes just getting into the sport, triathletes who are better at running or cycling, or multi-sport athletes who wish to improve their swimming performance, a great deal of information is below for your reference including a list of open water races and swim information from around the U.S.
Open water swimming is the art of swimming in any body of water, salt or fresh, natural or man-made, as an individual or on a relay. Open water swimming is also popularly referred to as marathon swimming, if the distance is over 10 kilometers, long-distance swimming or rough water swimming if done in the ocean.
Open water swimmers, including newcomers and veterans alike, can attest to the sense of adventure that is needed to swim past the shoreline of the ocean or the shallows of a lake. It
is natural to feel disoriented and nervous in the rolling swells and turbulence of the open water among the occasionally visible sea life.
However, with additional experience and increased familiarity of the open water and its variable conditions, these natural fears can be overcome.
Most open water swims in the U.S. are between 1 kilometer and 3 miles. Other famous swims include the English Channel, which is a bit longer than 20 miles. The length of the swim leg of the standard Ironman triathlon is 2.4 miles, which is exactly the distance of the Waikiki Roughwater Swim, the inspiration for the swim portion of the Ironman
www.Cap2k.com: The Money Box Cap 2k, 6th Annual Open Water Race & Pledge Swim (2-kilometer straightaway swim) in Lady Bird Lake (formerly Town Lake), Austin, TX. Contact Dr. Keith Bell at email@example.com.
www.dolphinclub.org: Yacht Harbor Swim (1.5-mile swim) in San Francisco Bay, San Francisco, CA.
www.clemsonaquaticteam.org: Death Valley Open Water Swim Meet (1/2-kilometer, 1-kilometer, 2-kilometer, 3-kilometer, 5-kilometer swims + 10-kilometer masters swim championship) at East Beach in Hartwell Lake, Clemson, SC. Contact Jacqueline Grossman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
www.horsetoothswim.com: Horsetooth Long Distance Swim (250-yard, 1-kilometer, 1-mile, 2.4-mile and 10-kilometer swims) in Horsetooth Reservoir, Fort Collins, CO. Contact Joe Bakel or George Thorton at email@example.com.
www.aquamoonadventures.com: Bermuda Round the Sound Open Water Swims (10-kilometer, 7.25-kilometer, 4-kilometer, 2-kilometer and 800-meter swims) in Hamilton Sound, Hamilton, Bermuda. Contact Randy Nutt at firstname.lastname@example.org.
www.rcptiburonmile.com: RCP Tiburon Mile Open Water Swim (1-mile from Angel Island to Tiburon) in San Francisco Bay, San Francisco, CA. Contact Lauren Pohler at (415) 721-9990.
www.nycswim.org: 17.5-mile Ederle Swim from Battery Park, New York to Sandy Hook, New Jersey. Contact the Manhattan Island Foundation.
Open water swimming has been done competitively for more than 2,000 years. From Japan to ancient Rome, many societies have held competitive swimming races in the open water for centuries.
In the modern day, open water races are held in oceans, bay, lakes, rivers, reservoirs, dams and rowing basins around the world. Open water swimming is also referred to long-distance swimming, marathon swimming, if the race is at least 10 kilometers, or rough water swimming, when races are held in the ocean or large lakes.
The sport first became known globally when Matthew Webb made the first successful crossing of the 21-mile English Channel in 1875. The sport continued to steadily attract adventures and participants throughout the 20th century until 2005 when the IOC decided to add the 10K Marathon Swim as a 2008 Olympic medal event.
But, the history of open water swimming at the Olympics goes back a long way. During the 1896 Athens Olympics, four races were held in the Bay of Zea. 100-, 500- and 1200-meter open water races were held in 55ºF water and very heavy surf in front of a reported 20,000 spectators. During the 1900 Paris Olympics, five downstream swims were held in the Seine River, including a 4K race.
In the U.S., the La Jolla Roughwater Swim, near San Diego, is the longest continuously held open water race that began in 1916. In the 1920’s, Gertrude Ederle, a triple Olympic medalist, became the first woman to swim across the English Channel, while George Young won $50,000 in a Catalina Channel race in 1927 and Ed Keating won a 24-mile Lake George Swimming Marathon in New York.
In the 1950’s professional marathon swims began in earnest. In 1954, the 37K Atlantic City Around-the-Island race began as did numerous pro races in Canada and the Great Lakes. All these races attracted skilled and colorful swimmers from all around the world.
In the 1970’s, John Kinsella, an NCAA champion from Indiana and Olympic medalist, won dozens of races on the World Professional Marathon Swimming Federation circuit. Paul Asmuth, an NCAA finalist in the 1650 from Arizona State, continued the American domination of professional marathon swimming throughout the 1980s. Also during the 1980s, Lynne Cox helped bring open water swimming to the front papers by becoming the first person to swim across the Bering Strait in the Arctic Ocean and, later, in a historic swim in the South Pole.
In the 1990’s, a global World Cup and Grand Prix Open Water pro series was organized by FINA where races are held in Dubai, Egypt, Portugal, Italy, Austria, Serbia, Singapore, Hong Kong, China, Argentina, Mexico, Canada, Brazil and the U.K. During this decade, Chad Hundeby from Irvine, Tobie Smith of the University of Texas and Erica Rose of Northwestern won world championships, but the FINA marathon swimming circuits have largely been dominated by swimmers from Russia, Germany and Italy in the recent past. Swimmers from Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, the U.K., Spain, France and Australia have also been successful.
With the advent of triathlons and multi-sport events, the number of open water races across America and throughout the world have significantly increased over the last 20 years.
Every race begins with a start, but preparation for open water races begins well before the gun start.
In FINA and national championship races, all swimmers are numbered on their arms, shoulder blades and the back of their hands by race officials at the check-in.
These numbers are used to (1) monitor the swimmers’ progress during race, (2) announce swimmer’s position to crowd and media throughout race, and (3) inform swimmers who have committed rule infractions during the race.
In FINA and world championship races, swimmers are provided with two transponders. These Omega transponders are attached to both wrists at check-in and are used to provide official timing. Swimmers should firmly tape these transponders to their wrists for two important reasons: (1) the transponders can come off or flap while swimming which can be very irritating, and (2) swimmers must finish with both transponders or they will be disqualified.
In local lake and ocean swims, swimmers generally are numbered in the same manner as the world-class events, but the races are often started by a run into the water, from a standing start at the water’s edge or from an in-the-water start as designated by a start rope.
Swimmers should apply either Vaseline or lanolin to the chafing points on their body. This includes the neck, underarm pits, inside thighs, chin and around their swim suit straps. The Vaseline or lanolin should be applied by a teammate or coach in order that no Vaseline or lanolin is left on the swimmer’s hands. But, just in case, the swimmer should also carry a small terrycloth towel with them until the race start because the Vaseline or lanolin can inadvertently get on their hands or goggles, which would be disastrous right before the race start.
If the water is cold, some swimmers use silicon earplugs and two swim caps to fight the cold. Two swim caps are legal in open water swims, although neoprene caps are not allowed.
The first pre-race requirement is to completely understand the race course. Swimmers must know what direction to head, where the intermediate buoys are, where the feeding stations are, where their coach will be positioned for their feedings, what direction to go around the turn buoys, where the finish is and other basic facts. Secondly, the prevailing currents, winds, waves, surface chop, glare of the sun and water temperature should be taken into account. Thirdly, the coach should discuss and determine a race strategy before heading out for warm-up.
If possible, the warm-up should include a swim out to the first turn buoy and the last turn buoy. Sightings of landmarks and an understanding of the race course from the perspective of the swimmer in the water are essential. The warm-up should be at least the same length and intensity done for a 400-meter race, although some athletes will be satisfied with either a shorter or longer warm-up.
In FINA and world championship races, swimmers are required to attend a pre-race meeting. Most domestic races also have these important pre-race meetings where any changes in the course will be explained. The Head Referee will explain the race course and give final instructions to the swimmers. During these meetings, swimmers often ask questions or request clarifications of the course, especially about the intermediate and turn buoys. In summer, especially when the races are held in hot and humid conditions, swimmers should continue to hydrate during these pre-race meetings.
After the pre-race meeting in FINA events, swimmers will be called by their number to head out to start area. Clothing and gear will be placed in buckets and gathered by the race officials. Water bottles and gel packs can and should be taken into start area and consumed before the start.
At some races, the announcer will introduce each swimmer, his or her number and country to crowd before the start. In most local races, the announcer will simply encourage the swimmers to start moving into position for the race start.
In FINA and world championships races, all swimmers must wear a cap at the start of the race, but it is not necessary to finish with their swim caps. Often, swimmers intentionally take their caps off early in the race, especially if the water temperature is warm.
There are 4 general types of starts: (1) floating pontoon starts that are used at Olympic and world championship races, (2) in-the-water starts that are used at many open water swims, (3) run-into-the-water starts used on many races on the East and West coast, and (4) standing starts at the shoreline or lakeside.
When the start is from a floating pontoon or fixed dock, the swimmers will be pre-assigned a starting position which is drawn at random before the race. This random drawing is usually done before race day.
When the start is in the water, the swimmers are free to enter water and position themselves along a starting rope in whatever position they desire. Significant jostling among swimmer will occur near the “best” starting positions. It usually always takes a while for all the swimmers to get into position and the Head Referee will patient until he or she decides a fair starting line has been established. Swimmers usually have one hand on the start rope and should remain horizontal – not vertical – before the gun start. In other words, keep your hips up, feet near the surface of the water, and ready to go at any time. Sometimes, there is a countdown, but many times you will only hear a gun start or a sound of a horn to signify the start.
Once the swimmers are lined up by the Head Referee, the start gun or horn can go off at any time. Swimmers should be prepared to go at any time. Many newcomers are often caught off-guard by a quick start.
Another general rule of open water swimming is to start as soon as any other swimmer starts. Occasionally, the race begins before the starter’s gun is shot (or starter’s flag is dropped). Often, the swims are NOT called back and, if the swim IS called back, there will be no disqualifications.
Generally, the pace will be quick – very quick and certainly quicker than most newcomers will imagine. Experienced swimmers understand that positioning is an important part of winning and they immediately begin to position themselves right from the start.
When the start is from a standing start at a shoreline or lakeside and requires a run into the water from a beach, it is essential to get a good starting position, run and dolphin as far as possible without losing momentum, and avoid the logjam of bodies that inevitably occurs around the first turning buoy.
The best swimmers will dolphin through the shallow waters, generally until the water hits their swim suit line.
Dolphining means the swimmer pushes off the bottom and dives forward in a streamlined position, often kicking butterfly underwater, then repeats until he or she is in deeper water or past the surfline. In shallow waters, it is generally much faster to “dolphin” rather than to swim. As the water gets up around the waist, it is generally faster to start swimming.
Because the first and last part of most beach swims involve a combination of running and wading, swimmers should check out the depth of the water and slope of the shoreline at the start and finish.
Depending on one’s level of competitiveness, one should run into the water together with the crowd, neither pushing the person in front, nor slowing those behind. As one reaches the shoreline, swimmers naturally slow down slightly as a precautionary measure and, until the water level is above one’s knees, experienced swimmers will run with their knees high while they swing their feet over the water in a circular motion. This method of running looks similar to a duck waddle, but is the fastest and least resistant way to get through shallow water.
Once the water is deep enough to dive in safely, experienced swimmers begin to dolphin until the water is about waist high. Dolphining consists of repeated dives and jumps off the bottom and is the quickest way to get through the water between knee and waist high.
As the water reaches one’s thighs, experienced swimmers take long, flat dives. These dives
are done in a streamlined manner with one’s head down, chin tucked to one’s chest, arms squeezed by the ears, and hands overlapped. After taking full advantage of the momentum of the dive, one should pull their legs under their body and spring off the bottom, at approximately a 45 degree angle. Repeat this process until the water is chest high or it is faster to swim.
After the last jump off the bottom, one should be prepared to start swimming without losing momentum or rhythm. If there is surf at the start, swimmers jump over the waves or whitewater until they begin to dolphin through the surf. Once the water is of safe depth, diving under the waves is usually faster than plowing through them. If the surf is breaking in relatively shallow water, hold onto or crawl along the bottom to best maintain one’s position.
As the wave passes over, it is important to kick hard and come up to the surface looking for the next wave. Remember, one unseen wave can completely wipe out any lead or momentum one has. If large swells continue out to the first buoy, it may be faster to occasionally go through the waves in a streamlined manner using a butterfly kick than to go up and over the swell. While swimming through a series of swells, swimmers should check their position by raising their head at the swell's crest. A good view of the competition and the race course can be obtained at this point.
Once the swimmers have started, they will immediately form into packs and look for the first turn buoys. There are generally three types of buoys, but every race will be different. There is no standard for turns or turn buoys in open water swimming.
The first type of open water buoy is called an intermediate buoy. These buoys can be any color and are usually smaller than the larger turn buoys. Many times, it is not necessary to stay on any particular side of these buoys. In other words, swimmers can swim to the left or right sides of these buoys as they wish.
The second type of buoy is a turn buoy. These are the most important buoys in a course. These buoys are usually large and orange or red in color. Most times, these turn buoys can be seen from a distance unless waves or boats are in the way. Swimmers must round these turn buoys in one particular direction. The Head Referee will inform the swimmers if they must keep their left shoulder or right shoulder next to the turn buoys during the pre-race meeting. Sometimes, the swimmers must go around the last turn buoy in a different direction that the other buoys along the course. The buoys are usually anchored, but because of waves and currents, they can move during the race.
This fact brings up an important rule of thumb for any open water swimmer. It is important to EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED. In other words, every open water swimmer should be flexible and understand that the race is not in a controlled environment like pool swimming and things often go wrong or unexpected happenings occur. Currents can dramatically shift during a race or large waves can dislodge turn buoys.
The intermediate buoys often serve as guides between the turn buoys, but that does not necessarily mean the intermediate buoys and turn buoys are perfectly lined up.
The third type of buoy is the finish buoy. The finish buoy can range from balloons near the finish line or a lane line funneling the swimmers to a finish pad, but the buoys come in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors. Occasionally, there are no special finish buoys. Whatever the case is, it is important to know how to navigate the last 50-100 meters of the race because close races are the norm in open water swimming.
Positioning before and around the turn buoys is one of the most important skills to learn for competitive open water swimmers. Many races have been lost because swimmers had poor turns and lost valuable time around the turn buoys.
In competitive races, there will generally be many swimmers going around the turn buoys at one time. The packs at FINA and world championships races can be as large as 25 swimmers fighting around a turn buoy at one time.
Because going around the turn buoys is so critical, the best swimmers start positioning themselves for a fast turn well before reaching the turn buoy. Some swimmers will protect their position if they think they are in the “right” position and other swimmers will speed up or make moves against their competition if they are not in a good position. Obviously, heading into and swimming around the turn buoys among dozens of swimmers is difficult and often results in numerous changes in positions and leads, especially around the last few turn buoys in the race.
It is important for swimmers to swim tightly around the turn buoys, but it is also extremely important for swimmers to protect themselves and their goggles in the pack around the buoys. Arms get tangled and legs get pulled in the midst of a lot of kicking, thrashing and splashing. Swimmers can get kicked, elbowed, bumped, pulled, banged, kneed, cut off, scratched and jostled at the turns, especially if swimmers are asked to make U-turns or 90° turns.
Although the intermediate buoys and turn buoys help swimmers navigate the course, a lead escort boat or kayak is often available and can help keep the lead pack on the straightest line.
In most open water swims, feeding and hydration are not absolutely necessary, especially when the race is under 3.1 miles (or 5 kilometers). However, in case of swims longer than 5K, hydration and feeding are an essential element of success.
Feeding and Hydration: What and When
A 5K race can take between 50-60 minutes, depending on the conditions. A 10K race will take between 1 hour 50 minutes and 2 hours. A 25K race can take between 5 and 7 hours. Swimmers take a wide variety of liquids and gel packs during races above 5K.
Liquids include Gatorade, flavored water or water. Food includes primarily gel packs, although a variety of foods are also occasionally consumed in races longer than 10K.
Sometimes, especially in major races, feeding stations are provided along race course. Feeding stations can be a dock, a pier, an anchored boat or floating pontoons. However, in cases where escort boats are not allowed or feeding stations are few and far between, swimmers are recommended to take gel packs in their swim suits to use during the races above 5K. At least two gel packs are recommended just in case one gel pack is lost or yanked off by another swimmer, or a feeding is missed at one of the feeding stations.
The gel packs can be stuffed in one’s swim suit, but the sharp edges of the packaging should be cut and rounded so the edges do not cut into one’s skin. The gel packs should be placed so the gel packs do not rub and are easy to grab while swimming. The swimmers should feel comfortable and be able to grab the gel packs (preferably) with their writing or strong hand. This may take some practice.
The gel packs should be prepared by “pre-slitting”. That is, the gel packs may be difficult to open in the water with wet hands during a race. Therefore, a small incision can be made before the race so the gel pack can be opened immediately. Even if a little bit of the contents leaks during the race, it is much preferable to easily open a gel pack rather than struggling with the gel pack during a race.
In cases where feeding stations are available, swimmers do not have to stop at the feeding stations, although it is advisable. Some swimmers do not stop at the feeding station because they are not close enough to their coach due to the number of swimmers in a large pack or because it is part of their strategy. However, in these cases, these swimmers will take their own gel packs at their convenience somewhere along the course.
Feeding can be described in four stages as the swimmers come in and out of the feeding area:
Seek and Spot
Reach and Roll
Gulp and Go
Toss and Turn
In the Seek and Spot stage, the swimmers should spot their coach on the feeding station when they approach. Many coaches will tie their country flag or special markings at the end of their feeding stick. Because some feeding stations can get very crowded with many coaches, coaches can wear clothing that stands out from their coaching colleagues in order to help make them more visible to their swimmers in the water.
In the Reach and Roll stage, swimmers grab their cup or bottle from the feeding stick and reach for the top of the cup. The palm of their hand places over the cup help keeps the liquid in the cup when the cup is removed from the feeding stick.
In the Gulp and Go stage, swimmers should swallow quickly and then continue swimming, ideally within 2-3 strokes and within 3 seconds. As the swimmer rolls over on their back and quickly drinks from the cup, they should continue kicking so their momentum is not lost. Swimmers drink what they can and quickly take off. While it is advisable to drink everything in the cup or bottle, there is no need to worry about drinking every last drop. If the swimmer only drinks half of what is offered, this will often be enough.
Sometimes, cups are inadvertently overturned by other swimmers as the swimmers pass through the feeding station. If a swimmer’s cup is overturned, the swimmer should simply continue to swim and take his or her gel pack sometime later in the race.
In the Toss and Turn stage, the swimmer can and should quickly discard the cup and turn over on their back. It is acceptable to simple drop the cup. It is not necessary to toss the cup back to the coach. As the swimmer turns over on his or her back, they can take a quick look forward to help decide where to swim.
Feeding Sticks and Cup
Coaches use feeding sticks of various types and lengths. Coaches must hold their position on the feeding station while they very carefully steady themselves on the occasionally slippery surface. If the feeding station is crowded, then each coach feeds his or her swimmer when they come into the feeding station and then graciously move aside after their swimmer has been fed.
If a coach falls into the water, then his or her swimmer will be disqualified, so non-slip shoes are recommended. Sometimes, the feeding stations are floating pontoons in the ocean or large lakes where the coaches must wear life jackets due to local laws.
Coaches must communicate quickly and briefly to their swimmers at the feeding stations. For example, “You’re third – looking good!” or “25 meters ahead of the pack” is generally the limit of what can be said because the swimmers have very little time to listen.
After the swimmers have left the feeding station, coaches may want to talk to their team members at the finish or spectator areas via radio or cell phone.
Grabbing a cup is difficult, especially when the race is tight, the pack is large or the floating pontoon is moving due to waves. The handoff from the coach to the swimmer is critical. But, just in case, the coaches should also prepare a spare cup and have it on hand just in case the cup spills at the last moment. Also, the coach should also have a spare cap and extra goggles just in case the swimmer cries out for a new pair.
NOTE: There are numerous racing strategies and tactics to use in a race. Many of these strategies and tactics are dependent on one’s goals and level of experience. The strategies and tactics explained below are for the experienced swimmer who wishes to be highly competitive with their peers.
Race strategy is often dictated by one’s competitors, the venue and the water conditions. However, the classic race strategy is at once simple and difficult to execute.
The best open water swimmers have a combination of great endurance and sprint speed along with a high navigational IQ and are savvy racers.
In races between 1K and 10K, the world’s best swimmers are always in the lead pack, jabbing and fading like a skilled boxer. They rarely lead the race and always drafts inches from their competitors. Because they are drafting so close to their competitors, they infrequently lift their heads to look forward. They are also masters of fast and efficient feedings at the feeding stations or while taking gel packs from their swim suits.
Once the lead pack starts to thin out and separate itself from the rest of the competitors towards the last half of the race, the world’s most experienced swimmers move up to the second, third or fourth position, never much more than a body length from the leader.
There are occasions when leading a pack is advantageous. For example, if the pace is too fast, a swimmer can literally slow down the entire pack by sprinting into the lead…and then slowing down. In most cases, the pack will slow down with the lead swimmer, who can then relinquish the lead to his or her competitors.
In a 10K race, after the 8K mark, if any swimmer makes a break, the best instinctively follow, hanging on right behind their competitor’s feet or immediately somewhere off to the side between their hips and feet.
At the end, as the remaining lead swimmer or swimmers approach the last turn buoy, the best open water swimmers move into position to take the lead. Either right before or immediately after the last turn buoy, they step up their pace to either take the lead or swim right next to the leader. Then, because they have conserved more energy than their competitors throughout the race, they have the energy to begin a final kick, often brushes up against their competitors until they can “break” their competitors.
Race strategy in open water swimming involves a variety of issues that may not be readily apparent to the pool swimmer. For example, in large domestic races or in major international races, there may be a flotilla of boats – official’s boats, escort boats and media boats – around the swimmers throughout the race. Many of these boats emit exhaust and create waves that can be irritating to the swimmers. They can also block the view of turn buoys and finish lines.
After the start, packs will form immediately. The top swimmers know where their top competitors are. While it is important to draft, there are also limited instances where leading is a necessary race tactic. For example, if the pace is too fast, some swimmers have sprinted to the lead of the pack…and then slowed down to purposefully slow down the entire group’s pace.
Another key tactic that is difficult for many newcomers to learn is how to avoid getting boxed in between swimmers to the left, right, front or rear. Once a swimmer is boxed in, his or her ability to break free and keep up with a breakaway swimmer is significantly reduced.
Race strategy also involves self-protection in open water races. Swimmers must be careful of flying elbows and competitors bumping against each other. The best swimmers stay calm and move into a better position within the group rather than retaliate. However, for many swimmers, the first instinct is to fight back. Resist this instinct and focus on your goal.
The pace will significantly increase in the second half of race. Sometimes, two or more packs form. If two packs form, swim with the faster pack even if you do not know which pack has the best line to the finish.
Referee boats will be visible throughout the race. Swimmers may hear the referee whistle and point to swimmers who are in violation of race rules.
Each race will vary in its rules and how these rules are interpreted. At the highest levels, rules are strictly enforced and several referees will be on the race course.
For example, in major international competitions, the Head Referee will frequently blow a shrill whistle when competitors jostle each other. The whistle is only a warning. If there is a more serious infraction, the Referee will issue a yellow card. The Referee will write the name of the swimmer who committed the infraction on a white board and will hold up a yellow card. This is a serious warning, but it is no reason to slow down or give up one’s position in the pack.
If there is a serious infraction, then the Referee will write the name of the swimmer who committed the infraction on white board and hold up a red card. A red card means the swimmer is immediately disqualified.
What actions lead to red cards? The official FINA rule is as follows: Obstructing, interfering with or making intentional contact with another swimmer shall, if in the opinion of the Referee deemed to be “unsporting”, will lead to disqualification whether made by a swimmer or their escort safety craft.
Practically, this means anything like punching, elbowing or pulling on the legs or body of a competitor leads to an immediate disqualification. Also, swimming another swimmer off-course or purposefully spilling their water cups are other examples of serious infractions.
Because there is so much physical contact between swimmers in open water swimming, one good prevention measure is to put a light amount of Vaseline on one’s ankles, lower legs and shoulders before the race. This Vaseline will help ward off other swimmers from effectively grabbing other’s ankles, legs and arms.
In local races and most open water races, rules are generally not so diligently enforced and it is basically a free-for-all, especially during the starts, turns and finishes. Beware and be careful.
Great open water swimmers either have – or develop – a high navigational IQ. Navigational IQ refers to the ability for a swimmer to swim the fastest course in an open water race. But, the fastest course may not always be the straightest course, depending on the currents, waves and surface chop.
Additionally, navigational IQ refers to the ability to know not only where the competition is, but also the distance to the next turn buoy, distance to next feeding station, the remaining distance to the finish, and the effect of any currents waves, wind and surface chop.
For example, if the ocean winds are blowing strongly towards the shoreline, then an experienced swimmer will expect that the turn buoys will be slightly off course and will swim accordingly.
This need to be fully aware of the surroundings requires swimmers to occasionally raise their heads to look ahead. But, looking ahead must be done within the natural rhythm of the stroke, without letting the hips drop too much.
Sometimes, it is difficult to know where one is or where one should swim due to the glare of the sun, currents or a boat blocking one’s line of sight or waves. In those cases, the swimmer should make reasonable judgments where to swim based on their competitors to their right, left and in front of them.
Drafting is a key element in racing: the closer the swimmers are to their competition, the more energy they can save for the sprint at the end of the race. Drafting wisely means swimmers are close enough to touch their competitor’s feet if they are swimming behind them or close enough to touch their swim suit if swimming side-by-side.
The importance and benefits of drafting cannot be overemphasized. Swimming alone in an open water race is almost never advisable unless a swimmer has broken from the lead pack and is sprinting alone first to the finish.
Sometimes, swimmers cannot see landmarks because there are too many escort or official’s boats in the way. In that case, swimmers can look at the boats and swim in the same direction as the bow (or front part) of these boats. Generally, the pilots of boats along the course will be aiming either for the turn buoys or the finish point. Therefore, following their line of sight is general an excellent guide for open water swimmers.
For the uninitiated pool swimmer, open water races can present an intimidating challenge. No longer are you safely bounded by pool walls and guided by black lines on the pool bottom, but are instead navigating in the vast expanse of water under variable conditions. The ability to swim straight in the open water is usually difficult to master.
Open water navigational skills also include head lifting and bilateral breathing and may take a few years to develop. By lifting one’s head during the normal breathing pattern and taking frequent sightings of the race course, a swimmer can make directional adjustments and swim a generally straight line. The frequency of head lifting depends on the conditions of the water, the swimmer’s familiarity with the course, one’s natural ability to swim straight, and the number of experienced swimmers in the general vicinity.
Swimmers may have to lift their head every 20-30 strokes if there are large waves, heavy surface chop or strong cross currents. If swimmers are familiar with the course and can swim straight, then quick infrequent glances forward should be sufficient. If a swimmer is drafting off experienced swimmers, they may be able to take even fewer sightings.
In every case, head lifting should be efficiently incorporated with one’s breathing cycle and natural swimming stroke in order to save time and energy. There is no need to lift one’s head once to breathe and then another time to navigate.
In the "look-and-breathe" style, a swimmer should first lift their head forward to look, then turn their head to the side to breathe. In the contrasting "breathe-and-look" style, a swimmer will first take a breath to the side, then turn his or her head forward to look. Both styles work best if the swimmer lift their head only high enough for their eyes to clear the surface of the water. If a
wave or another swimmer blocks one’s view when the head is lifted, take another quick look after a few strokes. It is not recommended to swim head-up like a water polo player, struggling to find the correct course. Rather, it is better to take a series of looks over 15-30 seconds in order to get a good fix on one’s position relative to the course.
Bilateral breathing, also called alternate breathing, is the ability to breathe on both the right and left sides. Although an inexperienced swimmer may not feel comfortable breathing on both sides
at first, the ability to see opponents and reference points on both sides is an essential navigational skill. Because of the course layout, turn buoy positions and water conditions, breathing to both sides is often desirable in open water races. Bilateral breathing also helps balance a swimmer’s body position and, very importantly, allows swimmers to breathe away from oncoming waves, surface chop or the sun's glare.
The mechanics of swimming in the pool and open water are basically the same with a few exceptions. During windy or choppy conditions, swimmers can make slight adjustments to their
breathing style to avoid swallowing water. That is, breathe away from the oncoming waves in the depression created by one’s armpit and head. By turning one’s head further back than
normal, a swimmer can position their mouth under their recovery arm to avoid swallowing water is rough conditions. Breathing in the depression of the stroke can enable swimmers to breathe at or below the water level without swallowing water in wavy conditions.
For many swimmers, their kick in the open water is more of a stabilizing force than a means of propulsion. Also, because swimmers are naturally more buoyant in salt water than in fresh water, less effort and concentration can be applied to one’s kick without sacrificing speed, especially in the ocean or during choppy conditions. This is especially important to triathletes who need to conserve their legs for the bike and run.
Finishes are nearly always a fierce battle where swimmers are sprinting with everything they have. Often lane lines or ropes help funnel the swimmers toward the finish line or touch pads.
There are 3 different general types of finishes: (1) floating pontoon finishes with touch pads that are used at Olympic and world championship races, (2) in-the-water finishes where the finish line is indicated by a rope or other marker, and (3) run-out-of-the-water finishes used on many races on the East and West coast.
In FINA and major international races, the finish is a specially constructed floating pontoon with 6 touch pads elevated above the surface of the pad. The touch pads are supported by a special floating pontoon that is anchored at the finish line. Swimmers must clearly touch one of these elevated touch pads to officially finish.
Swimmers should remember to strongly touch any one of the finish pads, preferably with the palm of their hand. Merely crossing the plane of the touch pad is not an official finish. The touch pad must be visibly touched by one’s hand. Even if an athlete swims past the touch pad, he or she must reach up to touch the pad for an official finish.
Swimmers should time their final stroke so their palm or outstretched fingertips hit the touch pad before their body crosses the plane of the finish. This must be practiced over and over again because so many international races are decided in the last few meters and some races come down to the final stroke. Touch pads are above the surface of the water.
Swimmers should take a straight line to nearest touch pad. Swimmers can touch any pad of the 6 pads. Think of 3 pool swimmers finishing a race in the same lane in a pool, immediately followed by 5 other swimmers also in the same lane. This will give you an idea of how close and how competitive FINA-sanctioned international races are.
The finish at FINA and many international races are video taped for photo finishes. Photo finishes are quite common in international competitions, especially among the top 10 finishers.
Swimmers and coaches should know that the official placing is decided by finish judges – either by their own eyes or upon a post-race review of the finish as captured by the cameras. There are three judges positioned at the finish line responsible for this final decision.
To give you an example, there was a race at the 2004 World Open Water Swimming Championships in Dubai that was decided using all four processes. As the Dutch and German swimmer sprinted stroke-for-stroke to the finish over the last 200 meters, synchronized with their stroke count and breathing patterns, the crowd anticipated a photo finish. Neither of the athletes was able to drop the other. Towards the final few meters, the two swimmers simultaneously raised their heads looking up toward the touch pads. They both reached up to the touch pads at the same time with their leading hand…only to miss the touch pads in their final lunge. As the momentum of the swimmers carried them across the plane of the goal, they both extended back with their rear hands to simultaneously hit the touch pads.
The transponders were triggered when the swimmers slapped the touch pads at the same time. The Dutch supporters cheered in victory – and so did the German fans. The rest of the crowd yelled in excitement and then became strangely quiet because no one knew the winner. Fortunately, the video cameras caught everything on tape and the judges went into a deliberation room where they stay for a few hours before the Dutch swimmer was declared the winner.
After finishing the race, swimmers should move past the touch pad to exit the water. The two transponders on the swimmers’ wrists are removed by the officials immediately after race.
Similar to pool swimmers at major international competitions, all swimmers must pass through the Mixed Zone after the race. The top swimmers will be interviewed by the media. USA Swimming officials with press credentials may also be there to assist the American swimmers.
The 3 most common conditions that can negatively affect the performance of open water swimmers are (1) cold water and cold conditions, (2) warm water and warm conditions, and (3) jellyfish.
Cold water and cold, windy conditions can affect swimmers in different ways. Wearing ear plugs and two swim caps can help reduce the effect of cold water. Putting on a thin layer of lanolin on the skin can help reduce the immediate and unpleasant feeling of cold water on the skin. The lanolin should be thinly applied to the chest, neck, back, upper legs and torso, and it can be pressed firmly into the skin.
Also, keeping one’s mouth closed, except when breathing, and wearing silicon earplugs, are also good measures to combat cold water.
However, the best preparation for cold water is simply acclimating to cold water. This can best be done by training in cold water, but if training in cold water is not possible, taking cold showers over a prolonged period can help.
Open water swimmers occasionally talk about hypothermia. Hypothermia is when the body’s core body temperature drops and is caused by prolonged exposure to cold water during open water races, especially when combined with chilly winds. It is a possibility especially for swimmers with a low body fat percentage. Hypothermia is medically defined when the core body temperature drops below 95ºF. Mild hypothermia may be identified by increased shivering. Severe hypothermia must be treated immediately by medical professionals.
Warm water and warm, humid conditions also can severely impact swimmer’s performance. The opposite of hypothermia is hyperthermia where the body’s core temperature increases. There are several degrees of hypothermia, ranging from Heat Edema where the hands and feet swell to Heat Stroke which is a serious medical emergency. The effects of warm water temperatures can be increased when the humidity is also high under cloudless skies in summer. This often leads to dehydration, especially if the swimmer does not properly feed and hydrate before and during the race.
Jellyfish, Portuguese Man o’ War, sea nettles and sea lice can all cause problems for swimmers, ranging from uncomfortable to dangerous. Because the stings can cause mild to excruciating pain, medical attention is usually necessary, especially in extreme cases or when there is an allergic reaction.
The best response is to immediately obtain qualified medical attention.
If no doctors or lifeguards are around, it is thought that the best treatment for stings is to immediately apply vinegar. If vinegar or other treatment is not immediately available by a doctor, lifeguard or race official, then the application of hot water to the affected area can ease the pain.
The stinging cells must be removed by picking off the tentacles on the body. But, the first aid providers should use gloves to prevent injury to themselves. Some people remove the venom in the skin by applying a paste of baking soda and water and a cloth covering the sting. The paste can be reapplied every 15-20 minutes.
Many open water races do not have officials overseeing much of the course with the exception of the start, major turns and finishes. In these cases, among the most competitive swimmers, almost anything goes…and almost nothing is called and no one is disqualified.
However, in most open water swims, a very large majority of athletes compete in a courteous manner and only inadvertently cause problems for other swimmers.
At the highest levels of the sport, whether it is a men’s race or a women’s race, at least 25 swimmers will swim in large tight packs, each close enough to touch each other.
During these tight races, arms frequently get tangled and legs get pulled in the midst of a lot of kicking, thrashing and splashing. Swimmers can get kicked, elbowed, bumped, pulled, banged, kneed, cut off, scratched and jostled at the turns, feeding stations and finishes.
But, it is the responsibility of the referees to maintain order and fairness during the races. When are whistles blown? When are fouls, yellow cards and disqualifications called? Under the established FINA rules of open water, there is a head referee, two assistant referees, turn judges and feeding station judges who are responsible for the race fairness and should be in constant contact with one another via hand-held radios.
The head referee and the assistant referees should be positioned in boats along the course and work hand-in-hand with their boat drivers who navigate as directed by the referees. The other judges are positioned near the turn buoys and two feeding stations, respectively.
The head referee should position himself as close as possible to the second and third swimmers in the lead pack and makes him or herself visible to everyone in the lead pack by standing and carefully watching the swimmers for the entire 2-hour race from the bow of his boat.
If there are windy conditions, the driver should attempt to position the boat so the swimmers are not a position to breathe the suffocating exhaust fumes from the motor. The driver should be close to the swimmers, but not so close as to create waves or fumes to disrupt the swimmers.
The assistant referee positions him or herself further back in the lead pack in a separate boat, constantly watching for rule infractions. Generally, because the first 50-75% of the race of a 10K race will probably include as many as 25 swimmers in one large tightly bound pack, often two referees can positioned themselves only a few meters from the entire pack - the head referee towards the front, and the assistant referee towards the back in separate boats.
What are the infractions that referees can and should call?
Under the general unsportsmanlike rule, swimmers can be disqualified for making intentional contact, obstruction or interference with another swimmer. Such unsportsmanlike conduct should be judged solely by the head referee.
But with swimmers constantly bumping each other, the referee's key consideration is if the physical contact was intentional or not. A very high majority of the bumping is simply unintentional instances of contact that do not require intervention by the referees and are an integral part of the sport.
On the other hand, when swimmers are swimming too aggressively, the referees should quickly become pro-active and try to reduce further escalation of inappropriate activities among the swimmers.
Warning whistles and directives given by hand motions should be repeatedly used by the referees. For example, when three swimmers are swimming together and the two outside swimmers start to squeeze the middle swimmer, the referee should blow his or her whistle and give hand signals to instruct the two outside swimmers to separate and give the middle swimmer some more room. On the other hand, if swimmers lock arms while swimming stroke-for-stroke or run into each other during the crush around the turn buoys, the referee can and should judge this to be unintentional contact.
While most physical contact among the swimmers is viewed as accidental or part of the sport, there is a subjective element that is entirely dependent upon the referee's experience and perspective.
This subjective element is essential when deciding when athletes should be disqualified.
In general, whistle warnings may be given fairly frequently throughout the race - perhaps 2-4 times per loop during a relatively "clean" race and 5-10 times per loop during a more aggressive race.
At the first rule infraction when the referee judges contact to be intentional and unsportsmanlike, the head referee can show a yellow flag to the swimmer or swimmers with a card bearing the swimmer's number. This number is written with black markers on their shoulders, shoulder blades and back of hands for identification purposes.
On the second infringement, the swimmers can be shown a red flag and a card bearing their number. The head referee can inform the swimmer to immediately leave the water.
A variety of open water swimming drills can be practiced in any pool, whether it is a shallow 25-yard pool or a 50-meter outdoor pool. These drills can be done by taking the lane lines out of the pool and asking the swimmers to swim around the perimeter of the pool and using a variety of equipment that is explained below.
Have the swimmers line up with one hand on start rope at water level. Count down from 10. Ask the swimmers to sprint to the lead by the end of the pool or at the end of one complete circuit around the perimeter of the pool. Swimmers should remember to keep their hips up at water level as the 10-second countdown begins. Swimmers can use a strong scissor kick or water polo eggbeater at the start. Swimmers should also remember to give themselves as much room between other swimmers as possible before the gun goes off. Rapidly sculling the hands outside the shoulders often helps create separation.
Ask a “rival” swimmer to purposefully pull on the ankles, feet and arms of the lead swimmer after the start. Try to swim away from this competitor.
Ask two “rival” swimmers start a little bit behind on the right- and left side of another swimmer. Have the rival swimmers purposefully pull on the ankles, feet and arm of the middle swimmer. Ask the middle swimmer to swim away from these 2 competitors.
Navigational and Turn Buoy Positioning Drills
Have the swimmers swim 20 strokes with their eyes closed. This will enable the swimmers understand how they naturally swim to either the left or right without the benefit of lane lines or pool lines.
Have the swimmers lift their heads to see ahead without a significant drop of their hips or a decrease in speed.
Have swimmers go around turn buoys that are anchored at the end of the pool either (a) protecting their “inside” position, or (b) trying to gain an advantageous position, from different angles and distances.
Swimmers should learn the “360° spin” turn or “twist move” and use when necessary.
Drafting and Race Positioning Drills
Have the swimmers do “warm-up” leapfrog swims in groups of 3-5 swimmers. All swimmers can swim behind one another in a row. The last swimmer sprints to the lead and slows down after taking the lead.
Do “competitive” leapfrog swims in groups of 3-5 swimmers. Separate the swimmers in evenly divided groups. Have the groups race 3-5 loops in the pool at the fastest pace they can do as the swimmers leapfrog each other within their own groups.
Have the swimmers draft in various positions. Ask lead swimmers to prevent the drafting swimmers from overtaking them, especially before and during buoy turns.
Have the swimmers sprint to the finish, swimming one complete loop of the pool.
Have the swimmers sprint to the finish from different angles. For example, one swimmer can start from Lane 1 and another swimmer can start from Lane 8. They can swim at an angle, aiming for the finish at Lane 4.
Have the swimmers sprint to the middle of the pool in one of the end lanes and reach up to grab a cup or bottle of water. The swimmers should learn to grab the cup and drink while turning over on their backs and without losing momentum. The swimmers should completely drink their liquid within 2 seconds, even if they do not drink all of the liquid in the cup. A minimum of 50% of the liquid should be consumed.
Have the swimmers sprint to the middle of the pool in one of the end lanes and reach up to grab a cup from the designated coach. Other coaches on the pool deck should also have a cup. All the coaches should shift positions relative to each other on the deck as the swimmer heads towards them, but stop as the swimmer is within 5 meters. Ask the swimmer to get a feeding from designated coach.
Have the swimmers prepare their gel packs by “pre-slitting” the gel packs and placing in their swim suits so the gel packs do not rub and are easy to grab. The swimmers should feel comfortable and be able to grab the gel packs preferably with their writing or strong hand. This may take some practice.
Have the swimmers rip open their gel packs and consume in one gulp on their backs without losing much momentum. A minimum of 50% of the gel pack contents should be consumed within 2 seconds. This will take some practice.
Have the swimmers practice with waterproof watches on both wrists to imitate race transponders that are used in FINA events.
Have the swimmers who normally do not use swim caps start with a swim cap and learn how to take it off in one swift move.
The optimal training program for competitive open water swimmers is a combination of open water and pool workouts, strength training and flexibility exercises. The frequency and extent of one’s open water training regimen are usually dictated by one’s work or school schedule, family responsibilities, season of the year, temperature of the ocean or lake, and difficulty and distance of the race.
A balance between open water and pool workouts is essential – swimming exclusively in the ocean or solely in a pool are not sufficient. Depending on the time of the year, most competitive swimmers spend at least 90 percent of their time training in a pool. As the date of the swim
approaches, a greater percentage of time is spent training in the open water.
Pool training should be done to develop aerobic fitness and speed through interval training and stroke improvement. Swimming under the instruction of a qualified coach in an organized program can provide you with motivation and an opportunity to improve. There are thousands of
age-group and masters swim programs throughout the country that offer excellent coaching, ample competition and long-lasting camaraderie for interested swimmers.
On the other hand, there are relatively few experienced open water swimming coaches and only a handful of established open water swim teams in the country. However, because the number of ocean and lake swimming enthusiasts runs in the tens of thousands, finding a training
partner of similar speed and ambition should be relatively easy.
It is important to change your frame of reference when training in the open water. Think of training in terms of miles or blocks of time rather than yards, meters or split times. A typical open water workout may be a half-mile warm-up, followed by 1-2 miles at a good pace, and a quarter-mile warm-down. Or a one-hour workout may be broken up into three parts: a 10-minute warm-up, followed by a 40-minute negative split straight swim, then a ten-minute practice session of starts and finishes in the surf and on shore.
During an open water workout, swimmers should be cognizant of one’s stroke per minute (spm) pace and continuously work on one’s navigational skills. While pool swimmers think of split
times, intervals and their pace per 100, open water swimmers try to maintain a certain minimum spm pace while concentrating on swimming straight. Competitive swimmers normally maintain a 70-85 spm pace, regardless of the water conditions or distance. While on a long training swim, it is as important in practice as it is in a race to try to swim at a spm pace while swimming along a straight-line tangent .
Similar to pool workouts, competitive open water swimmers use various training methodologies in their open water workouts, such as locomotion and pyramid sets, hypoxic breathing, negative splitting and follow-the-leader.
A locomotion set consists of fast and easy swims. One variation may include a cycle of 100 fast strokes followed by 50 easy strokes. The hard repetitions develop aerobic capacity and speed,
while the easy repetitions are a form of active rest. One’s level of fitness and motivation will dictate the number of fast strokes one chooses to swim. If counting up to 100 strokes is too monotonous, then distances or periods of time can be substituted. For example, one can
swim hard between every other lifeguard stand or swim hard for three minutes followed by a one-minute easy swim.
Hypoxic training or limited breathing every three to six strokes for a half-mile every other workout will help increase cardiovascular endurance and may prove beneficial during a sprint to the finish or during extremely windy or choppy conditions.
If a group of swimmers train together, it is easy and motivational to devise creative workouts. Like a group of cyclists, swimmers can swim single-file and play "leapfrog" with one another. Each swimmer can lead and pull their training partners along for a certain distance and then fall back in the drafting line. Not only is this type of training fun and different, but it also works on important skills such as drafting, navigation and sprinting in the open water.
The evening is so calm, so quiet, so still. Nothing moves, no one stirs, everything sleeps. The moon remains hidden behind a blanket of clouds, depriving the earth of nocturnal light. A fine mist shrouds the lake, the tiny droplets suspended in air. The haunting serenity of nightfall surrounds me, overwhelming my sense of mission. I can feel heavy beads of perspiration on my
skin and the elevated beat of my heart. I cannot deny my emotions: I am afraid to begin, afraid to fail.
I normally welcome such isolation amid Lake Biwa's unspoiled environment. The virginity of the lakeside is enticing and wondrous. Since my arrival in Shiga, located just north of Kyoto, Japan, I have enjoyed the lake's peaceful settings from sunrise to sunset. But, unclothed under the eerie darkness of night, the glory of nature dominates me. My enchantment with Lake Biwa is rapidly slipping away, replaced by insecurity and indecision.
The light of the full moon momentarily breaks through the overcast sky, illuminating the area around me. The northernmost shoreline of the lake is rocky and littered with flotsam and weeds. The stretch of land on which I stand is covered with moss, grass growing profusely amid the rocks. My narrow beachfront haven adjoins a sheer cliff of granite. The towering mountainside is imposing, seemingly edging me onto my chosen journey.
The calm water gently laps against my ankles. My eyes glaze downward, my head bowed. My reflection on the lake comes and goes with the fluctuation of the evasive moonlight. I refuse to look ahead for fear the vast expanse of the lake will intimidate me even more. Lake Biwa, a tourist mecca by day, is too much to face here and now.
I hear the slap of an oar and look up. Nakatani, one of my fellow co-workers, emerges from the blackness in a rowboat. The escort boat whence he came is invisible, anchored off in the distance. I wave to him as he approaches. He forces a smile and wishes me luck, his face creased with worry. "Are you ready to go?" he questions me softly.
"Yes, go ahead. I feel pretty good," I mumble, attempting to mask my true emotions. "Keep the boats close to me."
Nakatani, puffing madly on a cigarette, heads off to join the others safely onboard the escort boat. I stand alone, my isolation complete. No family, no friends. No light, no sounds. I am scared, feeling inadequate to the challenge that lies ahead. The nightfall suddenly seems
to increase in intensity. Darkness permeates everything, swallowing everybody in its totality. But, shaking my head, I refuse to wallow in self-doubt. I must cast aside my immediate fears and regain my lost confidence. I take a few deep breaths and walk into waist-deep water.
The shoreline weeds are prickly and irritating in their abundance. The soft mud, which has crept in between my toes, feels cold and dirty. I envision small animals searching for human flesh, anxious to bite or sting my lower extremities. My upper body is clammy, shivering in the brisk air. I pause, knowing my time has come.
"Be careful," Nakatani yells across the water. "Do your best." I hear faint noises and cheers from the escort boat. The lights of the boat flicker on and off, signaling the official start of my swim. My commitment is thus sealed: the city of Otsu is fifty-five kilometers away and I will not turn back. I vow to swim until I crawl ashore or until I am involuntarily pulled from the water.
I dive headlong into the water. The lake envelopes me, causing me to shudder. I rise to the surface and begin to swim. There is scarcely a ripple on the lake; the water is like glass, so smooth and calm. I open my eyes and see nothing underwater. I lift my head and see nothing in the night sky. Darkness below and darkness above. I can only look toward the boat for any source of light and hope.
The methodical splash of my arms and the soft grinding of the boat's motor interrupt the stillness of the lake. All other external movement has ceased, paralyzed until morning. I cannot help but focus on the surge of blood through my veins. The amplified pulsation is maddening; my body seems to expand and contract with every heartbeat. I imagine my heart bursting, failing to withstand the pressure. Music, laughter, conversation ... I desperately need something to divert my attention.
I turn inward and try to rationalize my actions. My goal is clear: to swim the length of Lake Biwa. Beneath my cloak of fear, I am anxious, happy to finally set forth on this swim. I have trained and planned for this attempt for months on end. However, my reflection is fruitless. Even now, as I am realizing my dream, I am unable to elucidate the reasons for seeking such a goal.
Why should I want to swim so far? It isn't money, for I have spent much and expect none in return. It isn't fame, for the media is absent and the public is unaware of my efforts. Success will not improve my position in life, for I will remain in my current position at work.
My thoughts are interrupted by a shrill whistle. I flinch in surprise, swallowing a mouthful of water. I look up and see a silhouette beckoning me to swim closer to the boat. The distinctive whistle continues to pierce the night air, assuring me that I am not alone. I take a few strokes toward the boat and bow my head to acknowledge the efforts of my support crew. The men in the escort boat have been unfailing in their support. I can get nowhere without them.
My father, a mixture of pride and concern, has yet to take his eyes off me. Nakatani, puffing on what must be his tenth cigarette, is no longer attempting to hide his worry. lmai and Nishizawa, two local fishermen, alternately sit and stand. Each man watches me intently, periodically giving instructions to the navigator.
I have covered a reasonable distance in the last three hours, no doubt helped by the calm conditions and absence of wind. I am pleased with my effort, my initial fears behind me. I feel swift and powerful, gliding through the water with ease. With each stroke I separate myself further and further from the start and reach closer and closer to the goal. Otsu no longer seems so far away; Lake Biwa no longer seems so forbidding.
The buoyancy of my body is mirrored by a similar buoyancy of my spirits. I am full of energy and hope. I pass the time by reminiscing. Thoughts come and go, randomly and quickly. I think upon my childhood, the innocent days of high school, the carefree times of college. Each episode of my life, whether comical or stressful, brings a smile to my face. I realize now that all my previous exploits and endeavors pale in comparison to this swim. I press on.
"Get over here!" I hear suddenly. My heart skips a few beats. My father's stern command wakes me from a daze. Like my aimless thoughts, I had slowly drifted away from the boat. The lights of the boat shine down upon the water, creating an illuminated circle of light. Stroke after stroke, hour after hour, I concentrate on swimming in the soft glow of the beam, my aquatic cage. Safety demands concentration ... I cannot be so careless.
Swimming at night, I have no idea of my true position. I rely solely on the information periodically received from my escort crew. I peer up to the deck of the boat. My father looks worn and tired. lmai has fallen asleep in his chair. Nishizawa's head bobs up and down, his eyes constantly opening and closing. Their slumber is a harsh reminder of my own lack of sleep. Every day en route to work they nod off to sleep in the train, content that they will reach their destination. But this swim is not a simple commute; it is a feat that demands teamwork and mutual support. I need them to be awake; we must persevere together.
Throughout the night, I keep swimming, trying to overcome cyclical bouts of depression. Darkness has dominated my swim for so long now. My strength of spirit has slowly eroded to the point of despair. I am disheartened and fatigued. I am tired of the battle within myself and against nature. The men in the boat, sympathetic to my plight, have directed me near the shore.
The shallow water offers no relief; in fact, the depth of the water has an opposite effect on me. When my hand occasionally scrapes the sandy bottom, I simply want to stop, stand up, and get out.
Time seems to have miraculously evaporated. One moment I was ready to quit and the next I find myself daring to do more. The natural beauty of Lake Biwa must be the catalyst of my relief. I see the outline of Chikubu Island by the light of the moon. The lake's historic land mass is a familiar and refreshing sight. I think of the island's long bamboo trees as thousands of cheering spectators. The eyes of my imaginary gallery of fans are on me, their hearts overflowing with emotion. I proudly bask in their silent cheers, smiling inside. I acknowledge their praise by swimming faster, cutting through the water with greater efficiency. In time, the island will be behind me, a vanishing dot on the horizon.
As the first rays of sunlight pierce the gloom of night, I swim through the deepest and widest part of the lake. I feel like a piece of driftwood at the mercy of the elements. If I focus on the escort boat, it looms large, majestically rising out of the water. But, against the backdrop of the
lake, it is infinitesimal, an insignificant blip on the water. However, with the imminent coming of morning, I feel renewed, elated.
They turned off the night lights! I want to jump for joy, scream with delight. I can actually see objects onshore, making out shapes and proportions. I stop to inquire about my position. Unbelievable! I am within two hours of the Lake Biwa Bridge. My final landmark will be a grand reminder that the end is near. At once, my goal seems so close, so attainable.
My pace has dramatically slowed. The sun is now high in the sky; its rays bright and warm. Each kilometer takes longer and longer. I attempt to derive some comfort in the splendor of the late morning. I think of what tomorrow will be like whether or not I am successful. I must endure.
I hear the men talk about Hikone Castle and its famous garden off to the left. What good does this do me? The conversation seems so inane and unnecessary. How can they discuss things of beauty when they are looking down upon my spent body?
Periods of lucid thought come with much less frequency now-and for increasingly shorter periods. I think of the oppressing heat of summer and the bitter cold of winter. Every year Japan's unpleasant elements seem to linger endlessly. Then a change of season, nature's magical elixir, comes without fail. The brightly colored leaves of autumn and the short-lived cherry blossoms last a scant few weeks, but their memory lives on throughout the year.
I am completely drained; my body has deteriorated to a miserable state. I am barely floating on the surface of the water. My arms are unbearably heavy, my legs dragging lifelessly behind me. Each stroke is a struggle, causing spasms of pain. I am nauseous and disoriented, unable to swim straight.
I want to get out, but I cannot resign myself to quitting. I know the reason why, but it is still difficult to accept. My crew is absolutely beaming with hope and joy. Words are unnecessary, their countenance reveals all. I cannot face disappointing the men on the boat. As my confidence and strength has diminished, their hopes have alternately risen. They really believe I can complete the swim. Oh, why do they do this to me? Certainly they cannot possibly know the depth of my suffering.
I must stop. It is over. This is not reasonable. I cannot see past my boat anymore. My vision is blurred, my hearing impaired. I am numb, insensitive to my self-inflicted pain. I stop, intending to get out. "How do I look?" I yell in the general direction of the boat.
"What do you mean, 'How do I look'?" asks my father, unsure he heard me correctly.
My impatience rapidly turns to disgust. I yell louder, "I want to get out!"
"You're doing fine. The radio reported a large crowd has gathered in Otsu. The television people are coming in a boat. Rest a bit if you have to." I nod my head automatically. "Just a little more. You can make it."
Why do I always feel better when I hear my father's voice? I swim and swim until I think I can go no further. Then I stop to get out and his reassuring words prevent me from quitting. This has happened more than once. Is his paternal presence a source of unknown strength or is simple human interaction a suitable remedy for my immediate woes?
I begin to swim again. I slow up even more, trying to conserve the little energy I have. Time and distance are no longer measurable concepts. Everything is a blur; nothing seems real anymore. Immediately, I fall into the predictable habit of self-pity. Negative thoughts flood my mind, rendering me incapable of appreciating how far I have come or how close I am to finishing.
I vaguely sense a flotilla of boats around me. I close my eyes, unsure what to do or think. Yes, I can feel the vibrancy of man, the closeness of well-wishers all around. But I can no longer comprehend what is being said to me. I am the recipient of mere sounds, not words; of harsh grunts, not instructions. I turn over on my back, despondent and tearful. I glance forward and gasp. I stop, straining to see clearly. Are those buildings in the distance? Or is it a cruel illusion, a simple reflection off the water? Can Otsu really be so close? I swim on, knowing there is no other option but to continue.
Editor's Note This personal account was first printed in the July 1989 issue of Swimming World Magazine. The author eventually took 10 hours and 36 minutes to swim the 42-kilometer length of Lake Biwa.
When a new sport is observed for the first time by the general public or the media, the terminology and rules of the sport are either unknown or unfamiliar. This brief American English open water swimming dictionary includes the definitions, etymologies, synonyms and examples of numerous terms used in the sport of open water swimming.
Abandonment (noun): A swimmer may retire from a race due to injury, exhaustion or time limits. A race may be abandoned and restarted at a later time due to unsafe conditions on the course. When the weather worsened and the waves reached over 10 feet, the referee called for abandonment of the race.
Acclimate (verb): to become accustomed to warmer or colder water temperatures and conditions before an open water race or solo swim. The swimmer began to swim in colder water in order to prepare for the English Channel. [Origin: 1785–95; < F acclimater].
Acclimatization (noun): the process of adapting to warmer or colder water temperatures and conditions prior to an open water race or solo swim. Acclimatization is an important part of preparing for the warm water conditions expected at the Olympics 10K Marathon Swim.
Beach finish(noun): a finish that is on land, requiring the swimmers to exit from the water and run up a sandy beach to a finish line. The rough water swim has a picturesque beach finish on the sands of Waikiki. Synonym: run-out finish. Antonyms: in-the-water finish and FINA finish.
Beaufort Wind Force Scale (noun): an empirical measure for describing wind velocity based mainly on observed sea conditions. The referee made reference to the Beaufort Scale when he made the public announcement about the abandonment of the world championship race. Synonym: Beaufort Scale.
Beaufort No.Sea Conditions (wave height in meters)
0 Flat (0 meters)
1 Ripples without crests (0.1 meters)
2 Small wavelets. Light breeze. Crests not breaking (0.2 meters)
3 Large wavelets. Crests begin to break. Scattered whitecaps (0.6 meters)
4 Small waves. Moderate breeze (1 meter)
5 Moderate longer waves. Some foam and spray (2 meters)
6 Large waves with foam crests and some spray. Strong breeze (3 meters)
7 Sea heaps up and foam begins to streak. Moderate gale (4 meters)
8 Moderately high waves with breaking crests (5.5 meters)
9 High waves with dense foam. Strong gale (7 meters).
10 Very high waves. Visibility is reduced. Sea surface is white (9 meters)
11 Exceptionally high waves. Violent storm (11.5 meters).
12 Huge waves. Air filled with foam and spray. Hurricane (14+ meters)
Beeline (noun): the most direct and straightest route to a specific point during a race, albeit not necessarily always the fastest route due to currents or waves. The coach directed her swimmer to take a beeline to the next turn buoy. [Origin: 1820–30, Americanism; bee + line]. Synonyms: straight course, direct line, shortest route, straight line and Rhumb Line.
Boxed-in (adjective): to get caught in between swimmers so as to not be able to swim in the direction or at the desired pace. The swimmer was boxed in between three other swimmers after coming out of the turn. Synonym: sandwiched and squeezed.
Breakaway (verb): to speed up or increase the pace in order to create separation from the rest of the field. The swimmer made a breakaway on the last loop. Synonyms: sprint ahead, swim faster, put on a spurt, pick up the pace, drop the hammer, increase the tempo, drop the field, make a move and breakaway.
Breakers (noun): waves that crests and break along the shore or shallow shoal that may not be visible. At the start of the race, the swimmers had to fight through the breakers before they hit the first buoy.
Call room (noun): a designated indoor or outdoor area or room where the swimmers gather before the race, often to listen to pre-race instructions from race officials or to store their personal gear before the race. The swimmers were called to the Call Room 30 minutes before the start of the world championships. Synonym: Ready room.
Celcius (noun): Also, Centigrade, a temperature scale in which 0° represents the ice point and 100° the steam point, often abbreviated to C when written. FINA does not allow competitions when the water temperature drops below 15°C. [After Anders Celsius]
Chafing (noun): to irritate or cause irritation due to repeated rubbing of skin against swim suits or other items, including other body parts, due to the swimming stroke, waves, especially around swim suit straps, armpits, shoulders, upper thighs, neck and chin. The swimmer always used Vaseline to prevent chafing under his arms. [Origin: 1275–1325; ME chaufen to heat, rub, chafe < MF chaufer < VL *calfāre, var. of L cal(e)facere, equiv. to cale- (s. of calére to be hot) + facere to make]. Synonyms: rubbing, irritation, friction and rubbing.
Chop (noun): wave action at the surface of the water caused by wind. Small, frequent waves that are irritating to open water swimmers because they impede forward movement and can reduce visibility from the surface of the water. The chop was the reason why he went a bit off-course. Synonyms: surface chop, small waves, whitecaps and whitewater.
Core body temperature (noun) the operating temperature of a swimmer, specifically in the deep structures of the body such as the liver, in comparison to the temperature of peripheral tissues. This optimum temperature is 36.8°C (98.2°F) through it varies regularly as controlled by one’s circadian rhythms. Temperature examination in the rectum is the traditional standard measurement used to estimate core temperature. The swimmer finished the race, but her core body temperature had dropped significantly and she was experiencing hypothermia. Synonym: core temperature and normal human body temperature.
Corrected course (noun): the most direct course to the next turn buoy accounting for drift due to actual or anticipated currents, wind and wave action. The lead pack set off on a corrected course to the next turn buoy.
Course (noun): a direction or route taken by a swimmer. The path over which a race is run. The location in which a race is conducted. The swimmers were almost halfway around the race course. The swimmers studied the race course from the escort boat during the pre-race meeting. [Origin: 1250–1300; ME co(u)rs (n.) < AF co(u)rs(e), OF cours < L cursus a running, course, equiv. to cur(rere) to run + -sus, var. of -tus suffix of v. action]. Synonyms: race course, circuit and direction.
Current (noun): a portion of a large body of water moving in a certain direction. A steady forward movement of water; the flow of a body of water, regardless of cause. The currents were flowing against the swimmers. [Origin: 1250–1300; < L current- (s. of curréns) running (prp. of currere)]. Synonyms: tide, eddies, rip tides and undertow.
Cut buoy (noun): In the case of a swimmer who did not properly round a required turn buoy, a violation of the rule that requires the swimmer to return and correctly round the turn mark. The referee disqualified the swimmer for the cut buoy.
Dock (noun): a fixed pier or floating platform where open water swimmers can either start or finish races or that serve as feeding stations or locations where supporters can cheer. The lead swimmer came into the dock to receive a feeding from his coach. [Origin: 1505–15; < MD doc(ke)]. Synonyms: berth, landing, pier, jetty, marina, slip and wharf.
Drafting (verb): to swim close behind another swimmer (or swimmers) in order to take advantage of their slipstream, especially in a race. The cagey veteran was drafting behind the young swimmer throughout the race. [Middle English draught, act of drawing or pulling, from Old English.]. Synonyms: hang on, follow, drag and free ride.
Ear plugs (noun): a device inserted in the ear canal to protect from the intrusion of water or foreign bodies. Often made of wax or silicon and can help decrease the middle and inner ear exposure to cold and thus lessen the uncomfortable feeling, including vertigo, that may come with exposure to cold water conditions. The swimmer always uses silicon ear plugs when he does cold water training in the Pacific Ocean.
Eyes and ears (noun): offering of navigational advice to swimmers in the water when they cannot see the course or their competition. The coach on the escort boat served as the eyes and ears of the swimmer when the swells got too large. [Origin: bef. 900; ME eie, ie, OE ége, var. of éage; c. G Auge; akin to L oculus, Gk ps, Skt akṣi] + [Origin: bef. 900; ME ere, OE éare; c. ON eyra, G Ohr, Goth auso, L auris, Lith ausìs, Gk oûs]
Escort (noun): a person or group of persons in a boat, kayak, JetSki or on a paddleboard or surfboard accompanying or leading a swimmer for protection and/or guidance in the open bodies of water. The escort was leading the swimmers out towards the last turn buoy. [Origin: 1570–80; < F < It scorta, deriv. of scorgere to conduct < VL *excorrigere] Synonyms: paddler, kayaker, lead boat and escort boat.
Escort (verb): to guide, protect or lead a swimmer in a boat, kayak, JetSki or on a paddleboard whiling in the open water. The coach will escort the swimmer on a kayak during the race. Synonyms: paddle and kayak (for).
Escort boat (noun): a boat or similar watercraft that accompanies or leads a swimmer for protection and/or guidance in the open bodies of water. The escort boat led the swimmers throughout the 25-kilometer race. [Origin: 1570–80; < F < It scorta, deriv. of scorgere to conduct < VL *excorriger]. Synonym: lead boat.
Fahrenheit (noun): a temperature scale that registers the freezing point of water as 32° and the boiling point as 212° at one atmosphere of pressure, often abbreviated to F when written. The water temperature was a very comfortable 72°F. [After Gabriel Daniel Fahrenheit]
Feeding (noun): the process of eating or drinking or being given nourishment during a race. The swimmers stopped momentarily for a feeding. [Origin: bef. 900; ME feding, OE féding]. Synonyms: drink, gel pack and some food.
Feeding pole (noun): see Feeding stick.
Feeding pontoon (noun): a boat or other temporary or fixed floating structure used by coaches to provide fuel (i.e., food) or hydration (i.e., drink) to swimmers in a race. The coaches were standing on the pontoon waiting for the swimmers to come in for a feeding. [Origin: 1585–95; < F ponton < L pontōn- (s. of pontō) flat-bottomed boat, punt]. Synonyms: feeding platform, pier and feeding station.
Feeding station (noun): a boat or other temporary or fixed floating structure, such as a dock or pier, used by coaches to provide fuel (i.e., food) or hydration (i.e., drink) to swimmers in a race. The coaches were standing on the feeding station waiting for the swimmers to come in. Synonyms: feeding pontoon and feeding platform.
Feeding stick (noun): a long slender mechanical implement with a cup or bottle holder at the end in which to hand fuel (e.g., gel packs, food) or hydration (e.g., water, Gatorade, tea) to a swimmer during a race. The coach stood at the feeding pontoon with her feeding stick in order to hand the water bottle to her swimmer. [Origin: bef. 1000; ME stikke, OE sticca; akin to OHG stehho, ON stik stick]. Synonyms: pole and rod.
FINA (acronym for Fédération Internationale de Natation Amateur) (noun): the international governing body of swimming, water polo, diving, synchronized swimming and open water swimming, recognized by the International Olympic Committee for administering international aquatic competitions. It was founded in 1908 and is headquartered in Lausanne, Switzerland. FINA administers two different global open water swimming circuits in addition to the biennial World Swimming Championships held every odd year.
FINA 10KM Marathon Swimming World Cup (noun): a year-round global series of professional marathon swims organized by FINA, 10 kilometers in distance, held in countries such as Brazil, United Arab Emirates, Portugal, Canada, Hong Kong, Singapore, China and Mexico. Many of the races are in loop courses that allow for spectators to see the athletes battling with each other throughout the race. The top pro swimmers travel the world to participate in the FINA 10KM Marathon Swimming World Cup.
FINA Open Water Swimming Grand Prix (noun): a year-round global series of professional marathon swims organized by FINA, ranging from 15 to 88 kilometers in length, held in countries such as Argentina, Italy, Serbia, Macedonia, Canada and Mexico. One of the toughest endurance circuits in the world has to be the FINA Open Water Grand Prix.
FINA Technical Open Water Swimming Committee (noun): a FINA committee (acronym: TOWSC) that sets and implements the rules and policies of open water swimming and organizes the FINA 10K Marathon Swimming World Cup and the FINA Open Water Swimming Grand Prix; have supported the International Olympic Committee to add marathon swimming to the Olympic schedule. Members include Valerijus Belovas of Lithuania, Flavio Bornio of Switzerland, Alan Clarkson of Great Britain, Jorge Delgado of Ecuador, Dr. Mohie Wahid Farid of Egypt, Paulo Frischknecht of Portugal, Tomas Haces German of Cuba, Dennis Miller of Fiji and Vladimir Srb of the Czech Republic. The Chairman is Sid Cassidy of the USA, Vice Chairman if Ronnie Wong Man Chui of Hong Kong and the Honorable Secretary if Shelley Taylor-Smith of Australia. The FINA Bureau Liaison is Nory Kruchten of Luxembourg. The Coaches' Commission Liaison is Osvaldo Arsenio of Argentina and the Athletes' Commission Liaison is Daniel Kowalski of Australia. The FINA TOWSC set the rules of the competition at the Olympics.
Finish shoot (noun): a series of lane lines, buoys or other such markings that indicate the finish area and help direct the swimmers to the final finish line or touch pads. The lead group of swimmers all entered the finish shoot together, each sprinting to the touch pads.
Fluid (noun): liquid nourishment that provides hydration during an open water race. Popular examples are Gatorade and water. The coach prepared the swimmer’s fluid at the feeding station. [Origin: 1300–50; ME fuel(le), feuel < OF feuaile < VL focālia, neut. pl. of focālis of the hearth, fuel]. Synonyms: drinks, hydration and liquid.
Four-wide (noun): 4 swimmers swimming side-by-side during a race. There is a four-wide sprinting around the buoy towards the finish. [Origin: modern-day NASCAR term].
Fuel (noun): solid food or nourishment that provides energy source during an open water race. Examples are bananas and chocolate and gel packs like CarbBoom, Clif Shot, GU and PowerGel. The coach put a bit of fuel in his water bottle at the feeding station. [Origin: 1300–50; ME fuel(le), feuel < OF feuaile < VL *focālia, neut. pl. of *focālis of the hearth, fuel.]. Synonyms: food and solids.
Gel pack (noun): Small, easy-to-use, individual squeeze packages that contain simple and complex carbohydrates, antioxidants and animo acids in order to provide an energy boost during a race. Single-serving pouches are sold in a variety of sizes, shapes and flavors, and can be easily digested while swimming. The swimmer stuck two gel packs in her swim suit before the start of the race. Synonyms: sports gel and pouch.
GPS (noun): acronym for Global Positioning System; a global system of U.S. navigational satellites developed to provide precise positional and velocity data and global time synchronization for air, sea, and land travel. The race director calculated the location of the turn buoys on the course by using GPS.
Gulp and Go (noun): the third rule of feeding when an open water swimmer quickly consumes fuel (e.g., gel pack) or hydration (e.g., water) received from his/her coach on the feeding pontoon, then immediately begin to swim again after the momentary feeding stop. The swimmer came in and did a great ‘Gulp and Go’ despite being crowded at the feeding station.
Hydration (noun): water, Gatorade, flat Coca-Cola or Mountain Dew, fortified water drinks, tea and other liquids to restore or maintain fluid balance during an open water race. The importance of hydration to prevent dehydration during the race cannot be overemphasized. [Origin: 1795–1805; hydr + -ate]. Synonyms: liquid and drinks. Note: some nutritionists argue that caffeine does not hydrate because it is also a diuretic.
Hyperthermia (noun): an abnormally high body temperature, usually resulting from warm water, warm temperatures, bright skies and/or humidity, during open water races, especially common during intense competitions or complicated due to dehydration. The doctors were ready to deal with cases of hyperthermia due to the hot water conditions under sunny skies.
Hypothermia (noun): an abnormally low body temperature, often caused by prolonged exposure to cold water during open water races, especially when combined with chilly winds, pronounced fatigue for swimmers with a low body fat percentage. Hypothermia is medically defined when the core body temperature drops below 35ºC (95ºF). Mild hypothermia may be identified by increased shivering or vasoconstriction. Severe hypothermia includes altered cognition, unusual behavior, weakness, apathy, reduced cardiac output, and even coma. The swimmer was pulled from the water when it become obvious that she was suffering from hypothermia. [Origin: 1885–90; hypo- + therm- + -ia where hypo- + Greek thermē, heat; see gwher- in Indo-European roots + -ia].
Impede (verb): to obstruct, interfere or retard in movement or progress by means of cutting off, swimming into, blocking or pulling on legs, ankles, arms or shoulders of other swimmers during a race. The swimmer was impeded by his competitor when he was cut off towards the end of the race. [Origin: 1595–1605; < L impedīre to entangle, lit., to snare the feet]. Synonyms: slow, stop, block, pull and interfere.
Intermediate buoy (noun): Buoys placed between required turn buoys or markers that may be passed on either side without penalty. The swimmer went to the left side of the intermediate buoys because he thought this would give him an advantage.
International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame (noun): an affiliate organization to the International Swimming Hall of Fame, established in 1961 to recognize the marathon swimmers throughout the world and governed by an international selection committee of marathon swimming experts. It recognizes not only the world’s most successful swimmers in competitive races, but also individuals for their solo swim exploits around the world. Due to her exploits as a professional marathon swimmer and her unprecedented solo swims, she was inducted in the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame.
In-water start(noun): a start that begins in the water and does not require swimmers to dive in from a starting pontoon or run in the water from a beach, pier or shoreline to start. The bay swim used an in-water start where the swimmers lined up behind the rope. Synonym: in-the-water start. Antonyms: beach start, dive start and run-in start.
In-water finish(noun): a finish that is in the water and do not require the swimmers to exit from the body of water where the race is held. The bay swim used a rope across two buoys as the in-water finish. Synonym: in-the-water finish. Antonyms: beach finish and run-out finish.
Knot (noun): a unit of speed equal to one nautical mile or about 1.15 statute miles per hour. The race was conducted under wavy conditions and 10-knot winds.
Landmark (noun): large, visible or stationary objects that are easy to see with a quick sighting from the perspective of the swimmer in an open water race; includes buildings, light poles on piers or anchored boats visible from the distance. The swimmer looked for various landmarks as she was swimming into to shore at the end of the race. [Origin: bef. 1000; ME; OE landmearc]. Synonyms: guide, point and mark.
Lanolin (noun): a greasy, fatty substance, insoluble in water, that is extracted from wool-bearing animals used to coat the skin of swimmers, especially to friction points (e.g., underarms, inside thighs, chin and neck) in order to prevent chafing or help reduce the impact of cold water. The coach spread a thin layer of lanolin under the swimmer’s shoulders. [Origin: 1880–85; < L lān(a) wool + -ol + -in]. Synonyms: grease, Vaseline, white stuff, Adeps Lanae, wool wax, wool fat, anhydrous wool fat and wool grease.
Lap (noun): one complete round, length or circuit around a race course. The swimmers have two more laps around the course. [Middle English lappen, from lappe, lap, lappet]. Synonym: loop, round and circuit.
Lead boat (noun): a boat or similar watercraft that leads a swimmer or the lead pack of swimmers on a race course. The lead boat led the swimmers throughout the 25-kilometer race. Synonym: escort boat.
Lead pack (noun): the fastest or first group of swimmers in a race, all closely swimming together. The lead pack sprinted towards the finish ahead of the other competitors. [Origin: 1175–1225; (n.) ME pak, packe < MD pac or perh. MLG pak; (v.) ME pakken < MD or MLG] Synonyms: group and bunch.
Leading the pack (verb): to swim ahead of a group of swimmers in an open water race. The favorite was leading the pack during the first half of the race.
Left (or right) shoulder turn (noun): term used by race officials to describe the required turn direction when passing a turn buoy. A left shoulder turn means that the turn buoys must be kept on the left-side of the swimmer. All orange buoys must be passed using a right shoulder turn.
Line of sight (noun): an unobstructed path from the swimmer’s eye to a distant point such as the turn buoys or finish line. The swimmer had a great line of sight from the turn buoy to the finish area.
Long-distance swimming (noun): swimming in natural or man-made bodies of water such as oceans, bays, lakes, reservoirs, rowing basins and rivers; generally understood to be at least 3 kilometers in distance. The masters swimmers decided to try long-distance swimming when they visited Hawaii. Synonyms: open water swimming, rough water swimming and marathon swimming.
Loop (noun): one complete round, length or circuit around a race course, especially one that is circular in shape. The swimmers have to swim four loops around the Olympic 10K course in the rowing basin. [Alteration (influenced by Italian lega) of Middle English liege, from Old French ligue, from Medieval Latin liga and from Old Italian lega, liga (from legare, to bind), both from Latin ligāre, to bind; see leig- in Indo-European roots]. Synonyms: lap, round and circuit.
Make a break (verb): to speed up or increase the pace in order to create separation from the competition. The swimmer plans to make a break just after the last turn. Synonyms: sprint ahead, swim faster, put on a spurt, pick up the pace, drop the hammer, increase the tempo, drop the field, make a move and breakaway.
Make a move (verb): to catch up to or swim into position ahead of one’s competitors. The swimmer will make his move in the second half of the race. Synonyms: sprint ahead, swim faster, put on a spurt, pick up the pace, drop the hammer, increase the tempo, drop the field , make a break and breakaway.
Marathon swimming (noun): swimming a minimum of 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) in the large outdoor bodies of water such as oceans, bays, lakes, reservoirs, rowing basins and rivers, as defined by FINA (Fédération Internationale de Natation Amateur). Swimming a minimum of 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) as defined by the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame. The athletes were preparing for a 25-kilometer marathon swimming race. [Origin: 1895–1900; allusion to Pheidippides' 26-mi. (42-km) run from Marathon to Athens to carry news of the Greek victory over the Persians in 490 b.c.] + [Origin: bef. 1000; ME; OE swimmende (adj.)] Synonyms: open water swimming, rough water swimming and long distance swimming.
Marking (noun): numbers that are written in black in on the shoulders, shoulder blades and wrists of the swimmers for identification purposes. These numbers are used to monitor the swimmer’s progress, announce the swimmer’s position to the crowd and media, and to inform swimmers who commit rule infractions during the race. The race officials write markings on the swimmer’s shoulders 30 minutes before the start of the race. Synonyms: race numbers and competitor’s numbers.
Miss a feeding (verb): to drop a cup or bottle with hydration due to jostling in a crowd around the feeding station or to not get close enough to the feeding station to receive fuel (e.g. gel pack) or hydration (e.g., Gatorade). The swimmer missed a feeding for the second time at the feeding station.
Mixed zone (noun): an area near the finish line where media representatives, photographers and team officials can interview and photograph swimmers after the race. The swimmer smiled widely and waved to her coach from the Mixed Zone where she was being interviewed by the press.
Navigation (noun): the art or science of plotting, ascertaining or directing the course of a swimmer in a open water race. The coaches and swimmers discussed the navigation options for the swim around the island. [Origin: 1520–30; < L nāvigātiōn- (s. of nāvigātiō) a voyage]. Synonym: direction and plotting
Navigational IQ (noun): the innate ability for a swimmer to swim the straightest and fastest path in an open water race course. She has the highest navigational IQ among all the competitors. [Origin: 1520–30; < L nāvigātiōn- (s. of nāvigātiō) a voyage. See navigate, -ion] + intelligence quotient]. Synonym: ability to swim straight.
Off course (adjective): not swimming in the right (or fastest or straightest) direction in an open water race. The swimmers started to veer off course to the left. [Origin: orig. stressed var. of of] + [Origin: 1250–1300; ME co(u)rs (n.) < AF co(u)rs(e), OF cours < L cursus a running, course, equiv. to cur(rere) to run + -sus]. Synonyms: crooked and veering (to the right/left).
On course (adjective): swimming in the right (or fastest or straightest) direction in an open water race. The swimmers were right on course throughout the race. [Origin: bef. 900; ME on, an, OE: on, in, to; c. D aan, G an, ON ā, Goth ana; akin to Gk aná up] + [Origin: 1250–1300; ME co(u)rs (n.) < AF co(u)rs(e), OF cours < L cursus a running, course, equiv. to cur(rere) to run + -sus]. Synonym: right on.
Open water swimming (noun): swimming in natural or man-made bodies of water such as oceans, bays, lakes, reservoirs, rowing basins and rivers; generally understood to be longer than 1 kilometer in distance. The triathletes practice open water swimming in the lake every Saturday. Synonyms: marathon swimming, rough water swimming and long distance swimming.
Positioning (noun): a place or location, often strategic and intentional, but occasionally unintentional or accidental, where a swimmer finds him/herself during an open water race. The coach stressed to the swimmer the need to hold her positioning around the turn buoys on the last loop. [Middle English posicioun, from Old French posicion, from Latin positiō, positiōn-, from positus, past participle of pōnere, to place; see apo- in Indo-European roots]. Synonyms: place and location.
Rabbit (noun): a swimmer whose goal is chiefly to set a fast pace, either to set a record or to exhaust a specific competitor so that a teammate can win. The teammate served as a rabbit by going out fast on the first two loops. [Origin: 1375–1425; late ME rabet(te) young rabbit, bunny, prob. < ONF; cf. Walloon robett, dial. D robbe]. Synonym: pacesetter.
Race numbers (noun): number that is prominently written in semi-permanent black ink or with temporary tattos on the upper arms, shoulder blades and wrists of the swimmer for identification purposes. These numbers are used to monitor the swimmer’s progress, announce the swimmer’s position to the crowd and media and inform swimmers who are committing rule infractions during the race. The race officials write the race numbers on the swimmer’s shoulders 30 minutes before the start of the race. Synonyms: markings and competitor numbers.
Reach and Roll (noun): the second rule of feeding when the swimmer extends his/her hand to grab fuel (e.g., gel pack) or hydration (e.g., water) from his/her coach on the feeding pontoon, then turns over on his/her back to consumer the fuel or hydration. The swimmer was ready to reach and roll once he grabbed the water bottle from his coach.
Ready room (noun): a designated indoor or outdoor area or room where the swimmers gather before the race, often to listen to pre-race instructions from race officials or to store their personal gear before the race. The swimmers were called to the Ready Room 30 minutes before the start of the world championships. Synonym: Call room
Red card (noun): a red-colored penalty card that indicates the immediate disqualification of a swimmer due to unsportsmanlike conduct or a serious infraction of the rules during an open water race. The head referee gave a red card to the swimmer who pulled back his competitor around the turn buoy. Synonyms: disqualification.
Red-carded (verb): to be disqualified by a referee during an open water race. The swimmer was red-carded by the referee after his unsportsmanlike conduct. Synonym: disqualified.
Referee (noun): the designated individuals who judge open water races based on the established rules set by FINA or the race director. Referees can be located at the start, turns, finishes and/or on escort boats along the course. The referee gave a yellow card to the swimmer after observing the second rule infraction. [Origin: 1605–15; refer + -ee]. Synonyms: judge and ref.
Rough water swimming or roughwater swimming (noun): swimming in outdoor bodies of water such as oceans, bays, lakes, reservoirs, rowing basins and rivers. The athletes were for some rough water swimming at the beach. Synonyms: open water swimming, marathon swimming and long distance swimming.
Sea life (noun): living organisms found in the ocean and other bodies of water that open water swimmers may encounter during training sessions or races. These include fish, jellyfish, sea nettles, sea lice, turtles, porpoise, dolphins, sea lions, sharks, coral, seaweed, kelp, sea snakes. The beginner dreaded sea life during his first open water race in the Caribbean, but the experienced swimmers were looking forward to seeing all kinds of sea life. [Origin: bef. 900; ME see, D zee, G See, ON sær sea, Goth saiws marsh] + [Origin: bef. 900; ME lif(e); OE līf; c. D lijf, G Leib body, ON līf life, body]. Synonym: sea creatures.
Seek and Spot (noun): the first rule of feeding when the swimmer heads toward the feeding pontoon and identifies his/her coach standing on the pontoon. The swimmer wanted to seek and spot his coach on the feeding pontoon before he cut in to feed.
Sighting (noun): the act of seeing in the open water races, generally towards landmarks, turn buoys, escort boats or the finish. Lifting the head to look ahead in order to decide the optimal direction to be swimming in an open water race; a view of the race course. The swimmer took frequent sightings as she raised her head every 25 strokes. [Middle English, from Old English sihth, gesiht, something seen; see sek in Indo-European roots]. Synonyms: view and look.
Slip streaming or drafting vessels (verb): intentionally taking advantage of the wake of escort boats or officiating watercraft on the course; rules prohibit this action by swimmers. The referee gave a yellow flag to the swimmer who was slip streaming behind the escort boat.
Solo swim (noun): an individual swim that is not part of an official race. More people have successfully climbed Mount Everest than have completed a solo swim of the English Channel. [Origin: 1685-95; <It<L sōlus alone]. Synonym: single swim.
Split time (noun): a time for a set distance within a race. His split time for the first loop was 29 minutes. Synonyms: interim time and split.
Starting platform (noun): a dock, pier or other floating structure where the swimmers stand to start an open water race; each swimmer is given about 60 centimeters or space on the starting platform. The 30 swimmers lined up on the starting platform to the roar of the crowd. Synonym: starting pontoon.
Starting pontoon (noun): a dock or floating structure where the swimmers stand to start an open water race; each swimmer is given about 60 centimeters or space on the starting platform. The starting pontoon was anchored to the ocean floor to create a stable start for the swimmers. Synonym: starting platform.
Strung out (verb): to become separated from one another during an open water race, especially in the later stages of the race after the swimmers have been swimming together in a pack. After the midway point, the top swimmer increased her pace causing the lead pack to get strung out.
Surface chop (noun): wave action at the surface of the water caused by wind. Small, frequent waves that are irritating to open water swimmers because they impede forward movement and can reduce visibility from the surface of the water. The surface chop was the reason why he went a bit off-course. Synonyms: chop and whitewater.
Swell (noun): a long wave or series of waves in the ocean that move continuously without breaking. The swells caused the swimmers to rise and fall during the first half of the race. [Middle English swellen, from Old English swellan]. Synonym: wave.
10K (noun): 6.2 miles or 10 kilometers, the standard distance of the Olympic marathon swim. The swimmers will swim four loops in the rowing basin during the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim.
Three-wide (noun): 3 swimmers swimming side-by-side during a race. There was a three-wide coming around the last turn buoy. [Origin: modern-day NASCAR term].
Toss and Turn (noun): the fourth rule of feeding when the swimmer quickly discards the fuel (e.g., gel pack) or hydration (e.g., water cup or bottle) received from his/her coach and immediately turns over on his/her stomach to begin swimming after a momentary feeding stop. The swimmer was ready to toss and turn after quickly gulping down the Gatorade.
Touch pad (noun): finish plates placed vertically (i.e., perpendicular to the surface of the water) at the end of open water races that identify the race finish and can be electronically tied to the official timing system. The two swimmers slapped the touch pad at nearly the exact same time. Synonyms: Finish, finish pads and finish line.
Transponder (noun): light, waterproof timing devices with GPS capabilities that are worn on both wrists of swimmers at FINA-sanctioned races. The swimmers were given transponders before the race by the officials. Synonym: timing chips.
Turn buoy (noun): a distinctively marked colored float in the water, anchored to mark the course for swimmers. There are four turn buoys throughout the race course that the swimmers must go around to finish. [Origin: 1425–75; late ME boye a float < MF *boie, boue(e) < Gmc]. Synonyms: guide, marker, beacon, signal and buoy.
Unsportsmanlike conduct (noun): inappropriate or unprofessional acts committed by swimmers during an open water race that can lead to a warning or disqualification by the referee or that are not in the spirit of the competition. These acts can include obstruction, interference or making intentional contact with another swimmer that can lead to a warning or disqualification by the lead referee, whether made by the swimmer or the swimmer’s escort boat or crew. The swimmer was disqualified for his unsportsmanlike conduct because he swam over the shoulders of his competitor at the finish. Synonym: unsporting behavior.
Vaseline (noun): a well-known trademark used for a brand of petroleum jelly that is used to coat the skin of swimmers, especially to friction points (e.g., underarms, inside thighs, chin and neck) in order to prevent chafing. The swimmer applied a thin coating of Vaseline around his neck. [1872, trademark for an ointment made from petroleum and marketed by Chesebrough Manufacturing Co., coined from Ger. Wasser "water" + Gk. elaion "oil" + scientific-sounded ending -ine. Robert Chesebrough was of the opinion that petroleum was a product of the underground decomposition of water]. Synonyms: grease, Body Glide, bag balm, PAM, Channel grease and Cramer Skin Lube.
Veer off course (verb): to swim not on the optimal path along an open water race. The swimmers were pushed by the strong currents and were gradually veering off course.
Wake (noun): the track of waves left by an escort boat, JetSki or other watercraft moving through the water or across the path of swimmers in an open water race or solo swim. The swimmers were bothered by the wake of the escort boat. [Origin: 1540–50; < MLG, D wake, or ON vǫk hole in the ice].
Whiteboard (noun): a smooth, glossy sheet of white plastic that can be written on with a colored pen or erasable marker in the manner of a blackboard. The white plastic is used by coaches or referees to provide instructions to swimmers during an open water race. The coach wrote “2K to go” on the whiteboard to show his swimmer. Synonym: chalk board.
Whitecaps (noun): small ocean surface waves that break offshore due to the wind that are irritating to open water swimmers because they tend to impede forward progress and reduce visibility. The winds picked up in the afternoon leading to an ocean full of whitecaps. Synonyms: whitewater, surface chop, chop, small waves and turbulence.
Yellow card (noun): a yellow-colored penalty card that indicates an official warning to a swimmer due to unsportsmanlike conduct or an infraction of the rules during an open water race. The head referee gave a yellow card to the swimmer who cut across the back of his competitor. Synonym: warning.
Yellow-carded (verb): to be warned by a referee during an open water race. The swimmer was yellow-carded by the referee after his unsportsmanlike conduct. Synonyms: warned and given a warning.