Lately, I have posted quite a lot of endurance related articles. This is simply because I like my blog to reflect my personal activities, which, following my first London Marathon, have taken a turn towards entering my first triathlon. Triathletes do not have a physique which everyone desires. They are often very lean and broad, but the combination of three cardio disciplines does not have to result in such a physique. It is perfectly fine to carry more muscle or more fat than serious triathletes and still enter these events! I love the multi-disciplinary aspect and the all-round health benefits triathlon can offer. I’m confident in my running, so it was time to give swimming a go…
There’s something very primal about open water swimming (even in a wetsuit!). Taking on the elements face to face beats the pool any day for me. Pool swimming will often make up the bulk of our swim training but I urge you to get out in the open water when you have the chance. When you do, here are some useful open water swimming points to note which have helped me to date.
Geared up before a 1.4 mile sea swim event! You’ve got to try to look the part too right?
Even if you are swimming in crystal clear sea water (very unlikely in the UK), there are no black lines to guide you like in the pool. This makes sighting a vital skill when in the open water. Sighting is the practice of looking ahead of you, eyes just above water level, to assess where you are in the water relative to where you want to be going. There are a couple of techniques but I think the easiest is to sight just before you turn your head to breath. This should form one smooth movement as you push down slightly with your leading arm to bring your eyes just above water surface level and then swiftly turn your head left to breath. The key is to decide how often you sight. Sight too often and it will slow you down as your hips drag in the water creating resistance, but sight too little and you may waste time swimming off course. I like to sight about once every 8 strokes. It takes practice to improve this skill, so give it time.
Wetsuits are compulsory in some events and given their buoyancy, many swimmers like to use them in races regardless. It takes some getting used to but it is important to get a suit that fits and does not restrict your movement too much (especially around your shoulders). I like to use a straight arm recovery when I am in my wetsuit so that my shoulders do not get too tired working against the material in a bent arm recovery. In a triathlon, you need to be able to whip your suit off with ease at the transition, so it’s a good idea to lube up (with non-petroleum based lubricant) in the right places and practice, practice, practice taking off your wetsuit quickly for a transition.
-Learn how to breathe bilaterally: This is a pain for most people who have a dominant breathing side but it can help straighten out your stroke, saving you time from either sighting more often or swimming off course. It also comes in useful when you are swimming close to others and getting splashed in the face. Nobody likes to swallow sea water, so just turn and breathe to the other side.
-Don’t fight the water: If you are swimming in choppy, or rough waters then it is tempting to tighten up and try to swim harder. This is often a wasted effort. Keep a smooth and relaxed stroke. By working with the natural forces, keeping good hip rotation, you can save yourself time and energy.
-Nutrition: It’s true that a bit of extra body fat can help to keep you warm but with wetsuits to do that job for us, I’m afraid we cannot use swimming as an easy excuse to eat junk food. Swimming in open water is calorie consuming stuff. I usually go for slow digesting carbohydrates before a swim (e.g. porridge oats), and quicker digesting carbohydrate to help my body recover after a swim (think banana, apples etc). I recently learnt that a drink of coke after your swim can help kill off any nasty bacteria that you may have wallowed from the water too!
Finally, practice makes perfect. I have learnt that the only way to become a good open water swimmer is to swim often in open water environments. It’s as simple as that – and remember it is always best practice to go accompanied by another person! SwimSmooth is one of my favourite swimming websites so check it out.
Oh, for your information my first 1.4 mile open water swim was the British Heart Foundation Bournemouth Pier to Pier Swim. It went well, without any major problems and I came in after 53 minutes – The snappers got a picture of me exhausted! I entered with my swimming companion, Chris Thomas, in fact, and he has kindly offered a write-up of the event, which will hopefully persuade you to get in that water yourself! His account of the race will be coming soon to LMD Fitness, so keep your eyes out for it!