While doing Ironman Arizona this past November I had a bad swim experience. There were many triathletes during the swim portion of the race that had no clue what they were doing. They were swimming sideways, backwards, in circles and everywhere, but forward. It sounds funny, but becomes annoying when you swim into a number of them. I came to the realization that many triathletes, though they might be good pool swimmers, don’t know how to swim in open water.
There is a huge difference when swimming in a pool versus in a lake, river, gulf or ocean. When a person swims in open water there is no black line, no wall to hold onto, no lane lines and flags. However, there are currents, waves, dark waters, marine life and it takes some getting used to. Training only in a pool and then expecting to navigate in open water is very difficult especially if you want to do well.
With that being said there is no substitute for swimming in more than just a pool. The biggest obstacle to master in OWS is sighting. Find a buoy in water, a building on shore, a tree on land, a bridge or any other fixed point to look at or “sight” every four or five strokes. You’ll be surprised to find out that you are not swimming as straight as you think. Do not lift your whole head out of the water, because this will slow you down. Just lift your eyes up and glance like an alligator or crocodile. Take “snap shots” with you eyes and your mind will create with a few glances a total picture. It takes practice.
If you do not live close by a body of open water you can practice sighting in a pool, too, by focusing on something on the pool deck such as a clock or a bench. However, take every opportunity you get to swim and practice in open water. The more you do it the better you get at it and the more comfortable you will be. Don’t think the skill and comfort is all of a sudden going to show up on race day. It won’t.
Also, there is something invigorating, refreshing and exciting about swimming in open water that a “bowl” of chlorinated water just can’t compare to. It would be a kin to riding a motorcycle or a bicycle versus a car. Driving a car is fun, but that wonderful sense of freedom is just not there. So swim to the horizon instead of the concrete wall. Enjoy!
USAT Florida Region Council Member