Swimmers asked for a full set of coaching notes from the latest open water clinic, so here they are:
Top 8 skills for a Safe and Enjoyable Open Water Swim Experience
Open Water Swim Clinic
Lake 288, Houston, July 14th 2019
Peter Foster, TenWestTriathlon.com
Always show up to an open water swim event with a personal plan and be assertive in its execution.
Much of the anxiety about open water swimming is not knowing what you are going to do and being influenced by those around you who have different abilities and experience. Your plan could be to hang back from the crowd, take it easy and learn from the race. Or it could be to race hard to the first buoy and lead the group out of the swim. Whatever it is, make it yours and do not be persuaded to deviate from your plan on race morning. A personal plan will instill confidence and serve as a deflector shield from the BS and pity parties that you hear on the start lines of a typical triathlon.
When you arrive at the location, orient yourself to the environment and take stock of the W.E.T conditions:
Wind, waves, water, wildlife.
Note wind direction, strength and whether that will impact your breathing pattern or sighting. Observe the wave conditions and how you may have to enter from a beach or deal with swells on the course. Look at the water – is it clear or murky, warm or cold. Wildlife is a common phobia: be assured that the sound and sight of hundreds of swimmers splashing through the water will scare away any critters.
Entry, exit, emergency
Look at the race entry and exit points: off a dock or ramp, sloping beach, muddy bank. Consider how this will that effect your footing. Where can you seek refuge in case of emergency: does the course keep you close to the beach, can you reach a shoreline or island, are there safety kayaks? Are you practiced in treading water or flipping on your back if you run into distress. Overall, be prepared!
Be confident in your training and your ability to complete the distance. Ignore the war stories at the start line from other athletes. Remember your plan.
Get your heart rate up beforehand with a decent warm-up.
One of the issues impacting many triathletes is the sudden loss of breath after about a minute into the swim. They have rapidly gone from a resting position on the beach to a high-powered swim. This is an enormous shock to the system and a great cause of anxiety and stress, both physical and mental. The best way to avoid this problem is to do a decent warm-up routine to ramp up your heart rate and get your body moving beforehand. Ideally as close to race time as possible, this will get your body prepared for race conditions. A suitable routine includes:
5-10 minute jog if the ground conditions and layout of the transition are suitable, followed by 20 push-ups, 30 squats. Add burpees or crunches if you like.
Stretch and mobilize the major swimming muscle groups with arm rotations (10 forward, 10 back on each side), shoulder rolls/shrugs (10 forward,10 back), trunk rotations (10 left, 10 right), neck rolls and stetches (hold 20 secs on each side), hamstring stretch (hold for 20-30 secs each leg)
Swim starts can be of two types: mass start or rolling start. The rolling start is easier to deal with, as everyone crosses a timing mat and enters the water individually without being part of a huge group. This tends to be safer. These tips are for mass starts:
Treading water. Athletes will be called to the start in age groups and may be waiting at the start line for a few minutes. Learn how to tread water or hang back and slowly swim side to side across the start area, ready to go when the gun fires.
Positioning. If you are a novice and unsure of your ability – hang back and take it easy at the rear of the group. Podium contenders will want to be up front to be first at the buoy turn, others will be happy in mid pack.
Drill: 300 yd swim after mass start of all swimmers, EZ pace after first 10 strokes.
Many triathlete swimmers tend to veer off course to the left or right, because of physical and technique imbalances. The ability to breathe on alternate sides can help reduce this effect. Ideally, in calm conditions, swimmers should adopt a 5, 10 or 20 stroke pattern of alternate breathing to the left and right. The ability to breathe on either side also helps to manage wind or waves, whichever direction they come from. It is better to breathe on the downwind side when conditions are rough, to avoid being slapped in the face by wind, waves. If you are breathing on one side, take extra care in sighting.
Drill: 300 yd swim focused on alternate breathing.
Sighting, on the breath pattern.
There are two ways to keep on track in an open water swim. Firstly, keep with the swim pack and assume someone knows where they are going, or take a look every 10 to 15 strokes to make sure you are still on the right line. The simplest way to sight is to replace your breathing action with a quick look forward. Instead of turning to left or right to take a breath, in the same pattern of movement slightly raise your head, just so your chin is still touching the water and take a look forward. You might need to do
this twice, in case your view was obscured or your orientation was unclear. Do this every 10 to 20 strokes.
Drill: 300 yd swim focused on sighting technique.
Turns: keep wide, keep momentum
Unless you are leading a swim pack into a turn buoy, and can take a very tight turn, it is advisable to take a wide berth of a couple of body lengths to keep your own momentum and avoid other swimmers. The turns are a huge drain on speed if you get caught up in a crowd and are forced to take evasive measures or switch to another stroke.
Drill: 300 yd focused on swimming as a tight group around multiple buoy turns.
This is the source of free speed in the water. A swimmer leaves a wake just like a boat, and athletes should take advantage of this effect by swimming close to the hips or feet of other swimmers to reduce their own effort in the water. There is a question of etiquette here. There are no holds barred in a competitive event if you are in the pack and fighting for a podium spot. Further back in the pack, some athletes don’t like having their toes tickled by following swimmers, or others getting too close. But you can be within an arm’s length, avoid contact and still get the drafting advantage.
Drill: 300 yd swim, practice drafting off each other.