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Five tips for open water swimming for triathletes

Allerthorpe Sprint Triathlon

The vast majority of triathletes are attracted to the sport after already mastering cycling and/or running.

A multi-discipline event is a great challenge for even the most accomplished single-discipline athletes. However, because cycling and running are far more popular fitness activities than swimming, it’s no surprise that the water-based discipline is by far the most despised out of the three disciplines. Thankfully, the swim is the shortest leg – not just in distance but also in the time it takes to complete. During the off-season, the swim tends to be the discipline that most triathletes tend to focus on improving. The warmth of an indoor swimming pool is certainly preferable to an icy run or a bike ride in the dark. While indoor swimming pools can help you improve your technique and stamina, they are certainly no replacement for outdoor swims. Few of us can brave the open water in winter weather, however. If you’re already looking ahead to next season’s open water triathlon events and remain concerned about the swim, read on for some of our top tips.

#1 Tackle your fears

The thought of open water swimming can be scary enough – you can’t see much below you, you don’t know how deep the water is, and there may be currents that throw you off course. It’s also trickier to judge distances. When you also add dozens of other swimmers into the equation, the thought of open water swimming can really be quite terrifying.

We’d like to say that all of these fears are unfounded, but we’d be lying. However, there are a number of steps you can take to control your fear and reduce your nerves. You can simulate the busyness of a mass swim start in the pool. Get used to being surrounded by swimmers. Practice maintaining your focus in this intense environment. Concentrate on yourself, and don’t think about the masses of swimmers around you. It’s important to remember than on race day there will be plenty of lifeguards and medical professionals on hand to assist you, should you run into any trouble.

#2 Consider your strategy

Do you plan to swim steadily for the entire leg, or aim to get off to a speedy start to try and distance yourself from the pack? Consider your strengths and weaknesses. Practice in the pool in a manner that reflects your strategy. You may also wish to consider swimming out at one side of the pack, or at the back of it, in order to reduce the amount of swimmers around you and to keep yourself calm.

#3 Work on navigation

For beginners to open water swimming, mastering the art of navigation is one of the greatest uses of your training time. The key to navigation is to give yourself plenty of opportunities to look up and sight ahead of you. Alter your technique so that sighting is integrated into your stroke – you can practice this in the pool by using a poolside object to focus on. Ideally you want to sight every 6-10 strokes, as you could easily veer off course after just a few strokes. Triathlons require you to conserve your energy – don’t make your swim any longer than it needs to be.

#4 Practice swimming in your wetsuit

You may not need to wear a wetsuit in the pool, but it’ll help your open water swim if you become accustomed to wearing it. First, you’ll need practice putting it on. Take a look at clips on YouTube to see how its done. Practice the ‘human shoehorn’ technique, and don’t forget to learn how to take it off quickly, too! During the swim itself, the wetsuit will stop you from freezing to death and will also provide extra buoyancy, but it’s also almost certain to impair your stroke. Practice makes perfect.

#5 Drafting

Unlike in the cycling stage of triathlons, you’re permitted to draft in the swim. This means that you can swim directly behind another competitor (or behind and to the side) and benefit from their slipstream. Studies show that you’ll expend up to 25% less energy through proper drafting. Drafting directly behind someone is the traditional method, but it tends to be slightly risky! Drafters frequently (and accidentally) make contact with the leader’s feet – something which might earn you a kick in the face as a riposte! Try drafting just behind and beside the leader, so that your head is in line with their chest. You must swim very close to the other swimmer for this technique to work – and also match your strokes with theirs. Practice this tricky technique with a training partner before testing it out in a race!

With some practice, you’ll be all set for an open water triathlon event in 2017! Take a look at what we’ve got planned for the season ahead…

Allerthorpe Super Sprint Triathlon