OCEAN SWIMMING HINTS
When in doubt, get out
If you’re in the water and something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Maybe the current is starting to get rough, a storm is approaching, or your body is struggling to keep up (due to muscle cramps, fatigue, exhaustion). Get out of the water and come back another day. Don’t try to fight nature, as this will tire yourself unnecessarily—and the tide will likely change in minutes.
You must be aware of what’s going on around you, and listen for motor sounds. Take your head out of the water and look straight ahead periodically to make sure you’re not headed toward something potentially dangerous, or that you’re not drifting too far from shore. The swim portions of triathlon are notoriously crowded. Look up to make sure you don’t swim into anyone or get kicked in the head.
Take a break if you need
It’s OK to, on occasion, flip on your back and enjoy some of the scenery during your open-water swims, especially if this is new for you. Also, if you swallow water, relax, slow down, and collect yourself while treading water for a few seconds, It’s common to feel panicked if you can’t get your breathing right at first—especially if you’re competing in a long-distance race for the first time. You want your strokes and pace to be controlled, so take time to reset yourself if things become a bit erratic.
Wear a wetsuit
While not totally necessary, wearing a wetsuit drastically improves your buoyancy and your body’s insulation. Full-body wetsuits are ideal for open-water swimming, especially if the water is cold. They can also help your body regulate its temperature, so you can focus on keeping your breathing and strokes controlled. If you’re freezing, you run the risk of rushing and becoming frenzied. If you get tired, the suit will also help you float so you don’t have to work as aggressively to tread water.
Learn when to draft and when to drift
Try to work with other swimmers by drafting (swimming within a few feet behind another swimmer or at their side) off each other. Unlike pool swimming, where everyone stays in their lane, open water can be much more physical but drafting can ease some of the toll by lessening the drag. Stay close but be respectful of other swimmers’ space (e.g., don’t claw your partner’s feet every other stroke). Also, be wary of hectic events, especially in race scenarios—triathlon swim starts can be very crowded. In this case, you might be most comfortable drifting to the outer edge of the race borders to limit congestion and gain a clear swim path.
If you’re a beginner, take your time and build your effort throughout the swim. Take regular freestyle ‘breaks’ by taking relaxed breaststroke or backstroke. You don’t want to blow your engines in the first 300 meters. Keep your tempo consistent and as high as possible, keeping in mind the distance of your race. When you see the finish line, start to build towards the end.