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Learn all about world-class open water swimming.
For additional articles, visit www.10kswimmer.com.

▪ Incredibly Scenic Utah Open Water Swims
▪ Best Open Water Swimming Suits
▪ Commonalities Between Birds and Open Water Swimmers
▪ A New Zealand Open Water Hero
▪ How Far is a Marathon Swim?
▪ 7 Essentials of Open Water Success
▪ History of the Serpentine
▪ Salukis in the Open Water
▪ America's Most Competitive Open Water Swims
▪ Championship Mindset Open Water Swimming Tips

More Articles


Incredibly Scenic Utah Open Water Swims

Incredibly Scenic Utah Open Water Swims

The global open water swimming community is familiar with events like the Great Chesapeake Bay Swim on the East Coast and the La Jolla Rough Water Swim in California. Additionally, open water swims like the Pennock Island Challenge in Alaska and the Cascade Lakes Swim Series in Oregon are attracting an increasing number of participants and media attention.

Incredibly Scenic Utah Open Water Swims

Now Utah has joined the open water swimming community with a safe, enjoyable event. An enjoyable and beautiful open water swimming event is held in Deer Creek State Park in the state of Utah in August. The Deer Creek Open Water Marathon Swim offers 1-mile, 5K, 10K and 10-mile races in flat 72°F (22°C) water at 5,400-feet altitude (1,645 meters).

The Deer Creek Open Water Marathon Swim is held near Provo, south of Salt Lake City. Renowned for great fishing, Deer Creek is set within the Wasatch and Uinta ranges on the western edge of the Rocky Mountains.

This year, Karen Sigler won the 1-mile race in 32:50. Marta Stepanczuk won the 5K swim in 1:20:29. Will Reeves won the 10K swim in 2:45:07 and James Jonson won the 10-mile swim in 4:46:38.

Upper photo taken by Jason Ream, a volunteer paddler, with Mount Timpanogos in the background.

Lower photo provided by race director James Hubbard.

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Best Open Water Swimming Suits

Best Open Water Swimming Suits

At the 2008 World Open Water Swimming Championships in Seville, arguably the most pressure-packed, competitive, fast-paced open water swimming race in history, other than the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim, it was interesting to note the types of swim suits worn by the athletes.

On the women’s side, I was able to confirm the following competitive suits that the athletes wore in the 10K Olympic qualification swim:

Speedo – 22
blueseventy – 7
TYR – 5
Arena – 4
Adidas – 2
NIKE – 1
Diana – 1

On the men’s side, I was able to confirm the following swim suits that the athletes wore:

Speedo – 12
blueseventy – 12
Arena – 8
TYR – 3
Adidas – 3

It must be noted that I was only able to confirm the suits of 42 of the 51 female swimmers in the competition and 38 of the 55 male swimmers due to the myriad activities at the start and finish of the event. I observed these suits with a colleague while we were standing near the starting dock before each of the 10K races on May 3rd (women) and May 4th (men), 2008

NOTE: this information should NOT be taken as definitive information or an implied or explicit endorsement of any particular suit style or manufacturer. As any manufacturer, coach, swimmer or data analyst knows, the unknown information on the remaining 9 female swimmers and the remaining 17 male swimmers can change the interpretation of the information presented. Additionally, some federations had required swimmers to wear certain swim suits, while other federations left the decision up to the athletes.

Upper photo taken just before the start of the women's Olympic 10K qualification race at the 2008 World Open Water Swimming Championships.

Lower photo taken by Giorgio Scala of Deep Blue Media.

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Commonalities Between Birds and Open Water Swimmers

Birds and Open Water Swimmers

When it comes to working efficiently, birds, cyclists and open water swimmers have something important in common.

In a article in Wired Magazine, Ken Thompson has a theory called organizational biomimetics. According to this theory, geese and other animals naturally form groups whose principles that are widely known and used by cyclists and open water swimmers.

Birds and Open Water Swimmers

For example, when geese fly together in a V formation, the birds rotate in and out of the lead position. This is both to conserve energy and because no single bird has memorized the flock’s entire route. According to Thompson, collective leadership is the norm in much of the animal world.

Birds and Open Water Swimmers

The open water swimming community knows that those behind the lead swimmer conserve energy and the task of leading the group falls upon the lead swimmer. As the lead swimmers or cyclists rotate out of the lead position, the group itself can maintain a higher pace and greater efficiency in achieving its goal.

Underwater photo of open water swimmers at the European Open Water Swimming Championships demonstrate these principles and were taken by Giorgio Scala.

Above-water photo of open water swimmers at the 2008 World Open Water Swimming Championships was taken by Javier Blazquez.

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A New Zealand Open Water Hero

A New Zealand Open Water Hero

As open water swimming continues to expand and develop around the world, it is often refreshing to look back at the sport's past and remember what individuals helped make the sport what it is today.

Philip Rush is one of these individuals whose broad shoulders, forceful determination and cheerful personality embody the sport.

Rush, now a 45-year-old firefighter from Wellington, New Zealand, remains the world record holder for the fastest two- and three-way crossings of the English Channel. In his epic 1987 swim, he swam his first leg in 7 hours 55 minutes, his second leg in 8 hours 15 minutes and his third leg in 12 hours 11 minutes for a double-crossing record of 16 hours 10 minutes and a triple-crossing record of 28 hours 21 minutes.

Judging from his split times, one would guess that Rush significantly slowed on his third leg, but people who were on his escort boat recall that the tides simply turned on him and it was tough going on the third leg.

Only two other individuals have completed an English Channel triple crossing and they are very well-known in the annals of marathon swimming: Jon Erikson in 1981 and Alison Streeter in 1990.

Besides his incredible triple crossing, Rush, an inductee in the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame, also completed a 17 hour 56 minute double-crossing of English Channel in 1985, two double-crossings of the cold and treacherous 16-mile Cook Strait in New Zealand (16 hours 16 minutes in 1984 and 18 hours 37 minutes in 1988) and had two extraordinarily tough Lac St-Jean double-crossing professional races against the legendary Claudio Plit.

Some of his other marathon swimming highlights include:

1. Crossing the English Channel 10 times
2. Crossing the Cook Strait (North to South) in 8 hours 56 minutes in 1979.
3. Placing 2nd in a 38K international race in the Nile River, Egypt in 1979.
4. Placing 3rd in the 30K world championships in Italy in 1979.
5. Placing 3rd in the 30K world championships in Italy in 1981.
6. Finishing 7th in the 42K Lac St-Jean pro race in 1981.
7. Winning the 22K Wellington Harbour, New Zealand race in 1982.
8. Winning the 22K Otago Harbour, New Zealand race in 1982.
9. Winning the 24K Australian Championships in 1982.
10. Crossing the 32K Catalina Channel in 8 hours 2 minutes in 1982.
11. Finishing 5th in the 22-mile Atlantic City pro race in 1983.
12. Finishing 5th in the 42K Lac St-Jean pro race in 1983.
13. Finishing 4th in the 48K Lac Memphremagog pro race in 1983.
14. Winning the 29K Paspediac, Canada race in 1983.
15. Finishing 5th in the 22-mile Atlantic City pro race in 1984.
16. Finishing 8th in the 48K Lac Memphremagog pro race in 1984.
17. Finishing 4th in the 42K Lac St-Jean pro race in 1984.
18. Finishing 2nd in the 29K Paspediac, Canada race in 1984.
19. 1st double-crossing of 84K Lake Taupo in 23 hours 6 minutes in 1985.
20. Doing the Ironman Enduro Rotorua (included 10 hours of swimming) in 1985.
21. Finishing 6th in the 48K Lac Memphremagog pro race in 1985.
22. Finishing 2nd in the 62K Lac St-Jean Double-Crossing pro race in 1985.
23. Finishing 4th in the 48K Lac Memphremagog pro race in 1986.
24. Finishing 2nd in the 62K Lac St-Jean Double-Crossing pro race in 1986.
25. Finishing 2nd in the 48K Lac Memphremagog pro race in 1987.
26. Finishing 7th in the 48K Lac Memphremagog pro race in 1988.
27. Crossing Maori Kapiti Island to d'Uurville Island.

Fortunately, for the sport, Rush continues to play a valuable role as he coaches and advises swimmers who challenge the Cook Strait (see photo above). To date, he has coached 27 swimmers successfully across the Cook Strait and, most recently, has started to help develop New Zealand's open water swimming program.

Rush, a beacon of the past and a standard-bearer for the future.

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How Far is a Marathon Swim?

How Far is a Marathon Swim?

FINA has defined a marathon swim to be 10 kilometers in length.

The Atlantic City Around-the-Island Marathon Swim is 37 kilometers (22.5 miles) in length.

The Tampa Bay Marathon Swim is 38.6 kilometers (24 miles) in length.

The Manhattan Island Marathon Swim is 46 kilometers (28.5 miles) in length.

The IOC showcased a 10 kilometer race, known as the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim, at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

According to the venerable Ted Erikson, in the 1960's, 16 kilometers (10 miles) was referred to as a marathon swim because of the relative times involved for completion.

Wikipedia refers to marathon swimming as 10 kilometers in distance, referring to the FINA definition.

Timothy Johnson describes a slew of marathon swims of various lengths in his authoritative book, History of Open Water Marathon Swimming.

Conrad Wennerberg also provides a rich description of marathon swims in his book, Wind, Waves, and Sunburn: A Brief History of Marathon Swimming.

The Self-Transcendence Marathon Swim is 26.4 kilometers in length.

The Canadian Encyclopedia defines marathon swimming as swimming in open water for distances in excess of 1500 meters.

The Encyclopedia of New Zealand defines marathon swims as longer than 10 kilometers.

Neither US Masters Swimming nor USA Swimming define marathon swimming.

The PT109 Commemorative Swim Marathon is a 5 kilometer swim in the Solomon Islands.

The World Professional Marathon Swimming Federation was formed in 1963 by professional marathon swimmers themselves and was the effective governing body of the sport for several decades. Its shortest swim was 16 kilometers in length.

Sports Illustrated has written about marathon swimming over the years. In one article, the magazine described one marathon swim by by Diane Nyad as 10 miles in length.

The International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame defines marathon swimming as 25 kilometers in length.

Tony Lyons has a specific definition of a marathon swim: he is going to swim 42 kilometers (26 miles) or 1688 laps in a 25-meter pool in British Columbia, Canada in March 2009 to raise funds for the CKNW Orphan’s Fund.

Others define marathon swims as the distance of the English Channel (33 kilometers).

From our perspective here at 10KSwimmer, everyone has a good reason or valid justification for believing their definition of a marathon swim is correct.

At the same time, given the exposure that marathon swimming has received from its inclusion in the Olympics, the sport may be best served by keeping in line with FINA and the IOC.

Footnote: a 10-kilometer swim done by a world-class swimmer is comparable in time to a marathon run done by world-class marathon runners. It should be noted that the marathon run distance was standardized in 1921 after various distances had been debated since the 1st century AD. We are hopeful the marathon swimming community will come to an agreement in a shorter time frame than its running counterparts.

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7 Essentials of Open Water Success

7 Essentials of Open Water Success

John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach, is renowned for being a great educator who created one of the most profound definitions of success: the Pyramid of Success. Wooden's Pyramid of Success includes 15 blocks, from industriousness to enthusiasm.

Using Wooden's Pyramid of Success concept, the Seven Essentials to Open Water Success describes the optimal training regimen for a successful open water swimmer, whether the athlete is aiming to do a ½-mile swim for the first time, cross the English Channel or win the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim.


The cornerstones of the Open Water Pyramid comprises of Base Training, Speed Training and Distance Tolerance. These training fundamentals, referred to as the base, are well-known and understood by pool coaches and are rooted in the distance pool training methodologies used since the early 1970s.

At the mid-level of the Open Water Pyramid, the key components of success are Race Specific Training, Skill Training and Open Water Acclimatization. These three training fundamentals are less well-known and rarely emphasized by coaches or athletes in their daily training regimens.

At the apex of the Pyramid is Tactical Education. This is the knowledge and understanding of what to do in a dynamic environment where one's competitors and the water conditions are variable. Athletes need to plan for, anticipate, adapt and respond to the ever-changing environment during competition. This education, which is vital to success, can only come from real-world experiences, observation and study.

The seven essentials include the following:

1. Base Training: Getting in shape during pre- and mid-season by swimming hundreds of miles through daily and repeated aerobic training sets (e.g., 6,000 – 10,000 meter workouts). This is a basic component of competitive pool training programs.

2. Speed Training: Improving one's speed by focusing on up tempo swims including anaerobic training sets. This is another basic component of competitive pool training programs.

3. Distance Tolerance: Developing one's ability to swim the specific distance of one's chosen open water distance (e.g., 1500 meters, 10K or 20 miles). This is another basic component of distance freestyle training groups of competitive pool training programs.

4. Race Specific Training: Simulating open water race conditions in the pool or acclimating the swimmer to such conditions during open water training sessions. This includes pace-line sets, leap-frog sets and deck-ups. Pace-line sets are where groups of swimmers closely draft off of one another in the pool, changing pace and leaders throughout the set (e.g., 3 x 1000 with a change of leader every 100). Leap-frog sets are another example where the last swimmer sprints to the front of the group every 100 meters. Deck-up sets (10 x 100 @ 1:30) are where swimmers must immediately pull themselves out of the water and dive back into the pool after every 100. This simulates on-the-beach finishes when an athlete is swimming horizontally for a length of time and then must suddenly go vertical to run up to the open water finish. Deck-ups also assist the swimmer's preparation to make quick tactical moves during a race or in response to unexpected tactical moves by one's competitors because there are often heart rate spikes during a race.

5. Skill Training: Teaching the fine points of open water racing techniques requires feedings, sightings, starts, turns, positioning and navigation practices during pool practices or, ideally, in the open water. For feeding, swimmers can place gel packs in their swim suits to practice fluid in-take during main sets. For navigation and sightings, swimmers can do 6 x 400, but they must lift up their heads twice every fourth lap to sight balloons on the pool deck, moved around by the coach. For turns, swimmers can touch the wall, without doing a flip turn or pushing off the wall, during the last 2 laps of 5 x 200. For drafting, three swimmers can swim together with one swimmer slightly behind drafting for a set of 9 x 300 with a draft every third lap and descending by groups of three. To replicate start and finish conditions, swimmers sprint short distances (25's or 50's) with three swimmers per lane starting at the same time.

6. Open Water Acclimatization: Especially for newcomers to the sport, acclimatization is required to get swimmers familiar with the open water environment. This includes getting used to cold water, warm water and rough water. This also includes understanding – and experiencing – jellyfish, marine life, wind chop, boat fumes, oil slicks, kelp, fog and rain as well as swimming through waves and currents before one's race. It also includes "aggressive swimming" sets when a group of swimmers in a tight pack practices buoy turns and finish sprints where the swimmers purposefully knock off the goggles or swim cap of one chosen swimmer. These types of experiences are parts of open water races at one point or another. To be successful, these experiences must be encountered and mastered during training.

7. Tactical Education: Most importantly, swimmers must study and understand the dynamics of open water racing and know why and how packs get formed and why they take on certain shapes. Swimmers and coaches must understand, for example, why and how packs get strung out, where swimmers should tactically place themselves in the pack at different points during the race and the importance of hydration and feeding station techniques. These tactics should be reviewed while observing successful open water swimmers through film so questions can be asked and different scenarios can be studied. An example of who best to study is Olympic 10K champion Larisa Ilchenko, who is not the fastest 800-meter swimmer in open water competitions, but who never loses a major competition.

"Base Training, Speed Training and Distance Tolerance are taught by pool coaches," Gerry Rodrigues, coach of UCLA Bruin Masters said. "But different types of skills and sets are needed for success in open water competitions, whether it is a local lake swim or the Olympic 10K. Race Specific Training, Skill Training and Open Water Acclimatization are three additional types of training required to properly prepare for open water racing which is becoming increasingly competitive."

"Football players and their coaches study film. The best race car drivers know when to slow down the field or speed up. These athletes have an arsenal of tools that is necessary for victory. Open water swimmers similarly need an arsenal of tools to win. Before they jump in the water, swimmers need to know how to deal with each possible scenario that can present itself during a race. Even though some swimmers may have an innate tactical IQ, most athletes will have to learn."

"Knowing what these tools are is the first step. Knowing when and how to use these tools is the next step. It is really a tactical education - an oft-overlooked aspect of open water training – that separates consistent winners from the rest of the pack. This know-how and skills must be developed and will become the most important tools in this rapidly growing sport," explained Rodrigues, who has won over 100 races during his lengthy career.

With proper focus on the Seven Essentials of Open Water Success, swimmers can best position themselves for success in the open water.

 

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History of the Serpentine

History of the Serpentine
Lake Serpentine and the Serpentine Swimming Club members is from the Serpentine Swimming Club website

With the 2012 London Olympics Organizing Committee considering the Serpentine in the heart of London as the site for the 10K Marathon Swim, Alan Titmuss of the Serpentine Swimming Club provides some historical perspective:

The Serpentine was man-made by joining a series of small ponds together back in 1730, under the direction of Queen Caroline. One of the first competitions in the Serpentine was in 1837 promoted by a London wine merchant by collecting an entrance fee from competitors. A gold medal and the title of 'Champion of the Serpentine River' was first awarded in a 1838 Grand Match. Twelve athletes, including the Champion of England and the Champion of London, competed in front of 20,000 spectators over a distance of 1000 yards in a Bridge-to-Bridge race.

[Note: It is estimated that there will be at least ten times this number of spectators watching the 2012 London Olympic 10K Marathon Swim.]

In 1872, J.B. Johnson, the Captain of the Serpentine Club and reigning Champion of England, was recognised as the first man to attempt the English Channel (later successfully crossed for the first time by Captain Matthew Webb in 1875). Johnson, beat A. Truatz, the reigning American champion, in Long Branch, New Jersey in 1874 to become the Champion of the World, winning US$2,000 and a Tiffany cup.

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Salukis in the Open Water


Photos by Isabel Madeira of the SIU team at Little Grassy Lake
after a pre-season open water swim.

Rick Walker, has coached Southern Illinois University (SIU) for 21 years while also coaching at 11 USA Swimming national open water teams at various World Championships.

His unique experience as a college pool coach and national open water swimming coach allows him to incorporate the best practices of both disciplines for the good – and enjoyment – of his athletes.

For years, Walker has incorporated open water swimming into his NCAA Division I men’s and women’s programs, partly because the SIU (Cardondale campus) is conveniently located near four lakes where the SIU teams conduct pre-season open water training practices.

Coach Walker explains, "We start lake swims at the beginning of our season as a form of “dryland” training. Our swimmers enjoy the change of scenery and we like the aerobic base it builds. While we gain very quick aerobic capacities, we are also limit the injuries that athletes might get in running and/or biking."

The teams starts the season by going to the lake 1-2 times per week and ends their pre-season with a 5-7K open water swim. During their lake swims, the swimmers rotate fast cycles with easy cycles. The swimmers not only swim freestyle, but also incorporate other strokes in point-to-point swims. The swimmers also play catch-up between packs and have a practice-ending “bagel swim” where the fastest swimmers get their choice of bagels at the end of their open water practice.

"By the time we begin our cycle of training, we are totally prepared and in shape for the rigors of the season in front of us. The swimmers are thrilled at the variety and if they don’t like the open water swims, they sure do talk up some great stories about them the remainder of the year," said Coach Walker who is sometimes on an escort boat and sometimes gets in the water to demonstrate navigation or positioning tactics used at the Olympic 10K level. "The end result is we start much better at the beginning of the season, we have less shoulder issues and less ankle or back issues while doing the open water training."

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America's Most Competitive Open Water Swims


What are the most competitive open water swims in America? Ten potential swims in this category might include the following:

1. RCP Tiburon Mile, a 1.2-mile swim in San Francisco Bay that brings in many of the world's top pool and open water swimmers, including Olympians, Olympic medalists, world 5K, 10K and 25K open water swimming champions, English Channel swimmers and FINA World Cup and FINA Grand Prix pro swimmers from over 20 countries. Offers a winner-take-all $10,000 first prize for men and women.

2. Waikiki Roughwater Swim, 2.4-mile race in Honolulu, Hawaii, where dozens of accomplished swimmers from Australia and many 20 states in America compete.

3. Trans Tahoe Relay, a 11.5-mile 6-person relay in Lake Tahoe at 6,200 feet in altitude between the states of Nevada and California, that brings in many accomplished pool and open water swimmers including world open water swimming champions, FINA World Cup and FINA Grand Prix pro swimmers, and NCAA and Olympic Trial qualifiers and top masters swimmers from dozens of states and countries.

4. Maui Channel Swim, a 9.6-mile inter-island 6-person relay between Lanai and Maui in Hawaii, that annually brings in many accomplished pool and open water swimmers including world open water swimming champions, FINA World Cup and FINA Grand Prix champions, and NCAA and Olympic Trial qualifiers and top masters swimmers from dozens of states and countries.

5. La Jolla Rough Water Swim, a multi-distance event with a showcase 3-mile swim north of San Diego, California that brings in the most accomplished open water swimmers from across the western American states.

6. Great Chesapeake Bay Swim, a 4.4-mile race across Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay that brings in many top open water swimmers from the Midwest and East Coast.

7. Any USA Swimming national 5K or 10K championship event. These events are held in various locations across the U.S. and attract America's most accomplished open water swimmers. One example of these events is the Fort Myers Open Water Festival that includes 1000-yard, 1.5K, 2.5K, 1-mile, 5K, 10K and 25K swims.

8. Big Shoulders 5K, a race in Lake Michigan in Chicago, Illinois that draws the top open water swimmers across the Midwest states.

9. Any US Masters Swimming national championship event. These events are held in various locations across the U.S. and attract America's most accomplished masters open water swimmers in distances including 1 mile, 2 miles, 3 miles, 6 miles and 6+ miles.

10. Manhattan Island Marathon Swim, a 28.5-mile marathon swimming race around New York City that attracts many accomplished English Channel, Catalina Channel, Cook Strait, Gibraltar Strait swimmers as well as pro marathon swimmers and accomplished pool swimmers.

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Championship Mindset Open Water Swimming Tips


From the mid-1980's and the early 1990's, Shelley Taylor-Smith was the Larisa Ilchenko of her time. Like Ilchenko in contemporary times, Taylor-Smith completely dominated the sport of marathon swimming. Taylor-Smith was ranked No. 1 for 7 consecutive years by the World Professional Marathon Swimming Federation, won 4 world championship 25K races and even was ranked No. 1 - for both men and women - by the World Professional Marathon Swimming Federation in 1991.


Taylor-Smith, currently a motivational speaker and Honorary General of the FINA Technical Open Water Swimming Committee, gave her insight and advice on Open Water Swimming as the season gets underway in the Southern Hemisphere:

The Open Water Swim season is here and you’re getting ready to compete this morning. As you arrive at the event, there's a cool mist in the air. As you were driving to the event, you heard the weather report: perfect skies, sunny, and 25 degrees... You couldn't ask for better weather to compete.

You look around at your competitors and then gaze out over the ocean as you slip on your swim cap & goggles. You felt really relaxed and confident as you were driving here. You've been training for months and feel like today could be the day you set a new PB (personal best).

But then as you're staring out over the ocean, you start getting that old feeling again….

A feeling of nervousness and butterflies.

You start thinking about the distance you have to swim. You begin wondering what the water conditions will be like today. Will the water be smooth... or rough? Perfectly warm ... or shockingly cold? Are there any currents? Is it the tide coming in or on the way out?

You look around at everyone else getting ready for the swim. It looks like today's event will be ‘chock a block’ with competitors.

You remember your last open water swimming ‘experience’ and start thinking all of the splashing that happens as everyone hits the water at once with that dreaded beach start. There will be so many arms and legs flailing around you... you can't help but wonder if you'll get accidently bumped into by another swimmer and survive the first turn buoy.

You remember how tired you were after last time. As you were training, you kept telling yourself that this time, things would be different. You trained hard — probably the hardest you ever have.

But you never gave a second thought to thinking that open water swimming is that different to pool swimming.

….And you suddenly realise that it's always been that way…as it is in life…what separates the greats from the rest…EXPERIENCE….yikes!

…Well I am here to tell you it is not too late. The Open Water Swimming season is here and hotter than ever. Never before has there been so much interest in open water swimming since the 10km Marathon Swim made its debut in the Beijing Olympic Games in August 2008.

Let’s turn your ‘love-hate’ relationship of open water around with you becoming a passionate open water swimmer, begging for more than chlorine and that black line.

One of the first things to consider would be the difference in open water swimming (OWS) versus the pool where you probably have done most of your training. The big variable in OWS would be the conditions. You would rarely have 1 metre waves nor 50 others swimmers in your swim lane at your squad training or masters club practice.

The best tip for handling some of the conditions is experience. The more that you have been exposed to various conditions in open water the more comfortable you will feel on competition day. So with that being said here are a few additional tips to consider…

It’s time to Befriend the Swim with ‘Tips for Open Water Swimming’:

BEGINNERS: (you love the idea but you have a fear of the ocean; not being able to see or touch the bottom)

1. Pre-Competition Day – Never practice open water swimming alone. No matter how
good a swimmer you are you should never swim alone. Swim with another person or
swim at an area with a lifeguard. In addition to safety having another person around can help you with technique.

2. Getting Ready: Wear your goggles underneath your swim cap. This will avoid your
goggles being knocked off your head at the start and around the turn buoys. I always
raced with 2 swim caps. (First the cap, then the goggles and finally the 2nd swim cap.)

Wear bathers or approved skins (blueseventy) that you have worn previously. Avoid
wearing a brand new swim suit on competition day. Why? The salt will rub in places
you never thought it would. Trust me!

3. Know the Course: Look at the map of the swim or go to the lake, river or ocean itself and figure out which direction you will need to swim and when.

4. Review the Course: take another swimmer and have a light swim from the start to the first turn buoy and look down the course for your marker buoys that will guide you throughout the swim.

5. On Your Marks: Stay Relaxed. Don’t Panic. You’re Not Alone! Also cold water can make you breathe rapidly which may make you feel like you are so nervous your breathing is being impacted. If the water is cold and this happens, relax; your body is adjusting to the water temperature and with time will adjust. Concentrate on breathing deeply, visualise yourself handling each turn buoy calmly and seeing yourself completing the swim with a big grin!. This will help you greatly.

6. The Start: Talk to people who have previously done the race (in past years). Pay attention when the waves (groups of swimmers) in front of you go and watch the pattern they are swimming in. Start at the back of the pack and this will be less stressful for you.

7. Which stroke do I swim? – You are allowed to swim more than one stroke. Breaststroke, backstroke, and side stroke can all be used both to give you a rest from freestyle and help you to stay on course. Using breaststroke and backstroke can also help you adjust to the colder water.

8. Rounding the Turn Buoys – no breaststroke please. This helps avoid the person behind being kicked by you in the face or other private parts of the anatomy and you not having the guilts for the rest of the race.

9. Be prepared for the next wave of swimmers. Don't swim right on the course as there are more waves to come; especially if the swim is in age groups or time categories. You will most likely end up in collision with a pack of swimmers or with faster swimmers. It is easier just to stay to the side a little and not get run over.

10. Don't draft/slipstream if you have not practiced the skill or only practiced it a little bit. At least not yet as a beginner. As a beginner if you get to close to someone’s feet, you can end up getting kicked in the face and/or loose your goggles as noted in tip #7. It also doesn't allow you to enjoy the experience and concentrate on your swimming-your stroke and your pace.

INTERMEDIATE: (you’ve completed a few OWS events but not achieving your potential)

1. Know the Course - Check out the layout of the course. Locate the first and last buoys, wave conditions, swim direction, sun direction, etc. It is often beneficial to site those first buoys from water level so you will know what they will look like when the swim starts.

2. The Start - Don't start at the front or middle of your wave if you are not a strong swimmer. This is a frequent mistake made. The natural tendency is to start further up so that you have less distance to swim, but it can be quite rough in the front or middle of the pack if you don't have much experience with open water swimming. You might also swim the first part too fast and get tired. Also don't start right behind someone try to stagger yourself so you don't get kicked by their feet when you start.

3. Concentrate on technique or ‘form’. With all the other swimmers and trying to stay on course this can be tricky and you may only be able to focus on one element of technique to correct which is fine. It gets easier over time though.

4. Learn to breathe on both sides – Known as ‘bilateral breathing’; not only does it split the effort of certain muscle groups by 50%, but it’s good to be able to turn away from the sun while swimming with clear goggles and avoid the waves and wind smashing in from one direction.

5. Slipstreaming – There is no FINA rule for drafting. Think cycling and tuck in behind a competitor or mate that that you know is a slightly faster swimmer and this will reduce your overall effort. If you are close enough to feel the bubbles of their feet you are in a prime position. Just a few points of courtesy, don't tap their feet and be sure to thank them after the competition.

ADVANCED: (you think you know it all…but there’s always room to learn, improve or refresh)

1. Review the Course: Check for rips and currents when reviewing the course. Taking the fastest route via a ripe may not necessarily be the straight line off of the beach but it will get you to the turn buoy in record time.

2. The Start: Avoid that "centre field" "middle of the pack" position on the beach. Outside start position with a clear line to the first buoy is more advantageous.

3. Slipstreaming – the best position is on the outside preferably behind someone’s feet. Avoid getting boxed in the middle or you will get hammered on both sides. Think horse racing; the worst position is against the fence as you cannot get out. If you cannot get out; stop and duck under and out of the way and go to the back of the pack or onto the outside of the person next to you.

4. Open Water ‘Sighting’ - The key to proper navigation. Lifting your head, too often you will slow down, not enough and you may get off course. A good school of thought would be to ‘sight’ every 5 or 6 strokes. If you have a naturally straight swimming stoke you may go to every 10 strokes. Most swimmers ‘sight’ as exhaling, then lower their eyes back into the water, turn to the side for a normal breath. The key will be to only lift your eyes high enough to see the buoy or other landmark that you are using for sighting. It's good to practice this move in the pool. Practice the drill in the middle 20metres because the walls at either end can be less forgiving.

5. The Final Sprint – You’ve rounded the last turn buoy and you’re heading back into the beach/finish. This part of the swim is when the previous 90% can not be fair. So far you have been using primarily your upper body muscle group. Now it's time to bring in the legs and lower body. To help get the blood to move to the lower extremities increase your kick the last 100m of the swim. This will help you get your "running legs” for the finish quicker. Keep swimming until your hand touches the bottom, then you will be able to stand up and run more efficiently out of the water to the finish.

I hope that some of these tips will help you with your next open water swim. Certainly practice and experience will help you gain the confidence to perform more effectively in open water swimming.


© Champion Mindset Consulting 2008

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