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by Kristen Marchant

I have had many conversations with people who have trouble swimming open water in race situations, for various reasons, so I thought I would compile a list of tips to help you get through the first leg of the race.

Dealing with the sun

Because races start early, it is quite often that you will be facing a blinding sun at some point in the swim, making it difficult if not impossible to see the buoys up ahead. It is important to take note of this before you start, and count how many buoys you need to pass before you hit the turn buoy. Then you need to trust that you are swimming in a straight line (if there are a lot of people ahead of you it’s easier, but that’s not always the case). By counting how many buoys you have passed you will know if you need to keep swimming straight or if you are supposed to turn (the sun can make it hard to distinguish colours too).

Dealing with SO MANY PEOPLE

This is the most often heard issue. 2000+ athletes in the water means it’s going to be crowded. There are a couple of ways to minimize the stress. If you are a slower swimmer, wait 10 seconds after the gun goes off to start swimming. This will put you behind the chaos and you will be more relaxed, making for an easier, more enjoyable, and faster swim. If you are a mid-pack swimmer you can choose to swim to the sides. Staying way to the outside will inevitably lead to a longer swim, so it is better to go on the inside of the buoys. The only buoys you need to pass on the outside are the turn buoys, so by swimming on the inside during the straight sections, there will be far fewer people and sighting will be easier. If you are a front-pack swimmer and don’t like swimming with people, swim faster ;)

Not being able to see

There are times when the lake you are swimming in is dark, and you can’t see much around you. This can be very unnerving for some people. There is really no substitute here for practice. The more you swim outside, the more comfortable you will become with it. You need to trust your stroke even if you can’t see your arms, and trust that where you are swimming is safe to do so (if it’s a triathlon venue, you can be certain they’ve already verified the safety).

Tips to be comfortable on race day

- PRACTICE!!! Of course, the obvious, the more you swim in open water, the more comfortable you will become with it

- practice sighting- there is an art if you will, to incorporating sighting into a smooth swim stroke. Think of crocodile eyes to sight, then breathe to the side

- be comfortable with bilateral breathing- you never know which way the waves will be coming from, so it is important to be able to breathe to both sides

- swim in the water before race day- if possible, check out the swim the day before the race. This will allow you to test the temperature of the water, see if there is a current, and if there are things in the water to be aware of (weeds, logs, fish). Then there will be no surprises on race day

-warm-up properly- especially important if the water is cold. Getting your body used to the temperature of the water before the race starts will help to keep your heart rate relaxed when you start