For many first-time triathletes, an open water swim can be intimidating. With no pool-bottom stripes to guide you and the frenzy of the other athletes splashing around you, an open water swim is a whole other experience! It is not a swimming pool with a bottom you can touch or even see, many times it is cold. Those qualities are enough to freak out even the toughest athletes. We all have stories about our first open water swim experience. My first triathlon was my first open water swim experience. The water was dirty and warm. I just wanted to swim as fast as I could because I could not see anything and was pretty freaked out. I did not have a wetsuit.
With the right kind of preparation, the swim can be the easiest part of your event! The cardinal rule of triathlon is “Never do anything new on race day.” This includes swimming in open water! Try to find some open water to practice in and take a buddy with you.
Slowly wade out into the water until you’re about waist deep. Go under once to get wet and get used to the temperature, especially if it’s cold. Breathing (exhale immediately under water before you inhale). Exhale completely before coming up. Do this a few times until it’s comfortable
- Practice sighting the buoy with “alligator eyes.” Lift your chin so your goggles clear the water looking forward while exhaling then inhale to the side. Try not to lift your head completely out of the water as this will cause your hips and legs to sink. Best to sight frequently until you round the first buoy.
- Wetsuits will certainly keep you warmer in cold water, but the added buoyancy will also keep you high in the water. There are two common styles of triathlon wetsuits: full sleeve and sleeveless. With the additional coverage, a full sleeve wetsuit will be faster, warmer, and more buoyant in the water than a sleeveless one.
- Race-day consider lining up on the outside edge of your wave to get a clearer view for the swim. You can also wait a few seconds after the start for an easier swimming position. That way people are less likely to run into you in the water.
Practice. Each time will give you a different experience and you will learn something from each one.