Having success in an open water swim in triathlon involves several key components. Last week, in Part 1, I talked about the key things to do before the race starts. This week, we look at what to do during the race to find success in the open water.
First, line up at the start line according to your swimming ability. Just like at the start line of a 5K, you don’t want to be at the front of the pack if you are gonna get run or swum over right out of the shoot. Inexperienced, slower, cautious or anxious swimmers should line up towards the back and outside edges of the wave group. Strong swimmers should be at the front. And all athletes should be mindful of any current as discussed in Part 1.
Second, calm your nerves as quickly as possible and find your groove. For most athletes, adrenaline usually starts pumping when gathering with your wave group. Add to that the shot of the gun and arms and legs flying, and it really shoots up. Harness that rush for a strong start, but then take control and find your groove as soon as possible. Focus on your breathing to get calm and in control, then repeat a catch phrase that will keep you swimming steady. Some examples are “just keep swimming”, “reach and pull”, “splish, splash”. Find a phrase that resonates with you and make it your mantra.
Third, draft off a swimmer in front of you. Just like on the bike, you can gain some speed without working any harder by drafting. One method is to swim on the feet, or in the bubbles, of another athlete. Another method is to swim just to the side of and very close to the other swimmer, but it requires practice so as not to clash arms. If you have practiced drafting prior to race day and can hook up to another athlete, you will gain a definite speed advantage without more energy expenditure and come out of the water feeling fresh.
Fourth, adjust your technique to account for conditions. High surf may necessitate a higher arm during recovery phase in order to get through the chop. Waves and swells coming in one direction may necessitate breathing only to one side, to not get a mouth full of water. Likewise, the direction of the sun may cause one-sided breathing. Race conditions vary dramatically, so be ready and able to adjust your swim technique to account for any scenario.
Fifth, swim straight. Sounds obvious and easy, right? With no black line on the bottom to follow, swimming straight can be difficult. Sight often as a beginner. Use tall, stationary objects beyond the buoy to site on, as they can often be easier to see than the buoy on the water.
Sixth, have a smart exit strategy. Time your swimming with the waves if possible to have them carry you into shore. Swim until your fingers scrape sand. Swimming is much faster than walking in the water. Stand up and run out of the water, hopping over the surf. Make sure to avoid that trough that you noticed in your pre-race recon!
Following a systematic pre-race plan as well as these smart strategies during the swim will allow you to exit the water feeling good and geared up to hop on your bike.