2015 has arrived; barging its way in with loud promises of fitness, sobriety and newfound happiness for the masses. Amongst the athletes the excited whispers of upcoming races, new gear and overhauled training plans.
What’s not to love? A new year, being able to “clear the slate” and write off anything you didn’t quite love about last year. The buzz doesn’t always arrive on time for some but that’s ok, as long as it shows up!
This year hundreds, thousands (I’d love to say hundreds of thousands but I can’t quite believe that many!) of new triathletes will sign up and commit to their first race; how exciting! How daunting! How to begin? How to continue?
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a seasoned triathlete or a newbie, there will be a huge group out there that just DREAD the swim. Perhaps you avoid open water swimming and go for the pool based tris so you don’t have to contend with potentially murky waters. Not. This. Year! You can change it around, you can make that open water swim. There’s that little voice (possibly the one who talked you into signing up for your first race) inside your head, nagging you, talking to you, persuading you “it can’t be that bad”.
So how can you do it?
What are those fears that prevent you from doing it?
“I’m not a strong swimmer”
“I won’t be able to touch the bottom”
“I can’t deal with deep water, anything could be down there”
(If you didn’t have those thoughts before, you’re welcome… they’ll be circling for the next couple of hours).
How can you prepare, and overcome those fears?
Just like with the training and preparation for the race, you’ve got the physical aspect and you’ve got the mental side of it. Both require time and effort.
Give yourself plenty of time to prepare for your race and to adjust to swimming in open water. You may want to give yourself a deadline for your goal by signing up for a race, you may want to hold off for a while until you’re more confident; whatever works for you!
Get yourself down to the local lake/ocean/river – wherever your local OWS train! If you’re in Houston; Lake 288, just south of Houston, are fab! If you’re a member of HRTC you can get in free on a Friday afternoon. Galveston is always an option for “choppy waters” – as I prepare more for Texas 70.3, I’ll be taking some day trips down there to bike and swim to adjust to the local waters. Take some friends with you and make an activity of it.
Support yourself with friends/company and also with a buoy. There’s no shame in swimming with a buoy (you just tighten the strap around your waist or ankle and it tows along behind you in case you need it). If you’re a very anxious swimmer, stick to the shallows in your first few visits to allow yourself to adjust. Swim around the edge if the deep middle bothers you.
Mimic your race when you know what you’re going for! Is it going to be wetsuit legal? Are you going to be wearing one? Then get practicing in one! Wetsuits give you more buoyancy so you float that bit easier. If you’re going to be swimming in the ocean, get out in the ocean more! (I’m sure you get the idea).
5. Start Small & Build
Baby steps are key – you wouldn’t run a marathon without training so why would you attempt an open water swim without training. Just go for 50 meters or 100m the first visit – whatever is best for you (it may even just be sitting in the water for 20 minutes before you try swimming). Each week add on a bit to make progress. (You should still keep up your pool sessions during the week).
If you’re buying a wetsuit – rent one first to see what sort of fit/shape/style you prefer first (if you’re only going to use it once or twice, you may just want to rent).
My own recommendation for a wetsuit would be a sleeveless one- it might feel good to have sleeves whilst you’re stood waiting on the shore but after a couple of hundred meters you will have burnt a few hundred extra calories of your reserve battling the arm strokes in those same arms.
I wore a sleeved suit for my 70.3 relay swim last year and all I could think of in the swim was “Never again”. Needless to say I’ve gone for a sleeveless suit now (an Xterra Vortex). I’ve kept my sleeved one just in case.
You might want to see if a local Tri club does OWS practices – join them! Morale in numbers and you might meet new people and make some friends as a bonus.
The local tri community may offer OWS clinics – I’m a big fan of doing pre race practice clinics to get an idea of what the actual day will be like.
If you’re still nervy come race day, get yourself a strapped buoy – they wrap around your thigh and inflate if you activate them (they do prevent you from placing but safety and peace of mind are way more important! – You’ll still get a medal at the end!). Swim IT have USAT approved devices and there are other companies coming up with ideas all the time.
If you’re swimming in open water with jet skis, boats etc. then invest in a buoy so they can spot something in the water and hopefully avoid you! ISHOF sell one for $39.95. (This can also serve as a rest point when you’re tired – just hold on and float!).
Hang back in the crowd at the start of the race. If you’re doing a running start, just wait for the keen beans to run ahead of you, if you’re starting in the water, hold onto the dock or whatever until the last minute, or stay to the back of the crowd.
Look for open spaces – nobody wants to be pulled or kicked or crossed in the race, neither do you!
Count in your head, it keeps me calm and it gives me a rhythm when swimming. I do it when I’m running too to keep me going. It’s as simple as 1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 2 etc.
Breathe rhythmically. If you favour one side, stick to it – there’s no point trying to start bilateral (both sides) breathing on race day. I favour my right whether I want to or not.
Slow down. Most people start off too fast and burn out. Maintain a steady pace and remember you’re doing this for you, not for anyone else.
If you panic, give yourself a pep talk, tell yourself you’re ok. The wetsuit feels too tight, it’s ok, it’s helping you float; the water is too deep, think about crossing that finish line; too many people, slow down or hang back a bit and let them pass; can’t swim crawl anymore, turn onto your back or side and keep going.
Mental stamina is about 80% of the battle whether in training or the race.
Whatever the situation, in the race there are lifeguards watching and monitoring to help, either as swimmers, kayaks or boats.
My strongest recommendation is to enjoy it, relax and go at your pace. Visualise yourself doing it and then do it!
(and if your foot hits some seaweed, do a T-Swizzle and shake it off! If there’s anything in that water, it will be terrified of the hundreds of splashing swimmers who are invading it’s home territory!)
Best of luck for your OWS and let me know how you get on!