Not seeing the straight line of a swimming pool, or swimming in turbulent water without seeing what’s under you makes that some swimmers keep themselves away from experimenting to swim outdoors.
I didn’t have the clue, but I’ll try to give some tips and advice to help all of you to go a step forward and get into open water and enjoy your swims.
1. BE CONFIDENT WITH YOUR SWIMMING.
Before jumping into a lake or dive into the sea, you have to be a solvent swimmer in a controlled environment like a pool. If you are not, all weaknesses will become fears.
You should have a proper swim technique that can permit you to swim a certain distance without excessive effort. Outdoors, water conditions change and you have to adapt to them and this requires an extra effort. You have to be prepared.
The essential open water skills you should be familiar with are Bilateral breathing and Sighting. You can practice them in your habitual training sessions; you just have to add them into your daily routines.
In case you are planning to take part in an OW event, then we should take into account a couple of skills more. Buoys turns and swim in the Chaos. These two things are easy to be practiced in a pool with your training buddies, it’s just a matter of organization and imagination.
For all these things, the best option is to find a swim coach near you. You will take profit of every single session and your improvement will be faster and solid. Better technique, improve ability, give advice,… are just some of its advantages.
And one last thing, if you’ll have to swim with a wetsuit, don’t wait until “The D DAY”, use it in your habitual pool and swim with it beforehand. Swimming with a wetsuit give you some advantages, but not everything that shines is gold… A wetsuit it’s not always confortable, it tightens and compress your body and muscles, so it’s much better to get familiar with it in a controlled environment that have to cope with it in a cold foggy morning in the lake or beach next to your hometown.
2. FROM THE POOL TO AN ENDLESS POOL (OW).
If our challenge is to swim outdoors in open water, there’s no way out, we must start doing it! But there are many ways to introduce yourself to swim in open water. Take your time, be confident with yourself and your capabilities, be patience and go for it.
The first time you introduce yourself to OW swimming, what we should look for is to have a good experience. Forget about the meters or miles you will swim, how fast you should do it, just look for good conditions and enjoying it as much as you can.
Take your time to get into the water to adapt to water temperature and your wetsuit in case you use it. Analyse the conditions (above all currents), look around and get some reference points to ease your swimming. Characteristic buildings, trees, mountains,… This will help you to make your orientation deal easer once you’ll be in the water.
An important advice for your first OW swim, start swimming parallel to the coast as far as you can stand and touch the ground in case you get nervous or get some trouble. This will give extra confidence at the beginning.
Then, there are a few safety tips that will be so useful to give you extra confidence. The best thing you can do is to swim with a partner, much better if it is your coach or training buddy. In case this is unable, make sure you have someone watching over you. The other important tip is to use a swim buoy. You will be more visible, if you feel tired, or in the worst case, if you get anxious you’ll be able to grab it, have some rest, calm down and get ready to keep on swimming after it. And use a swim cap to keep your head warm and to be more visible for the others. On cold waters you can even use a neoprene cap.
3. THE MENTAL GAME.
Use your training pool sessions to visualize you swimming outdoors and enjoying the experience.
As you are ready to go outdoors, stay positivE! Think you’ll find good conditions, that you’ll share a new-good experience with friends, you’ll feel the freedom to swim in a lake or the sea,… Every single positive thought is perfect to predispose yourself.
The KEY point is to avoid forbidden words & thoughts. They won’t take you anywhere, and if you know how to handle them, nothing and nobody will stop you!
“I can’t” should become “it’s hard but I’m strong enough to do it”.
“I’m not a good swimmer…” – “I’ve practiced so hard and I’m able to face any challenge”.
It’s not an easy technique but as much you practice the easier it comes. Change every NO to a YES!
And a really good tip to keep focus and to get the best of you is to have a MANTRA. Find a sentence to repeat yourself every time things get difficult or you lose confidence or even to keep focused in your skills and performance. What has been very useful for me in many occasions is to repeat myself: –“Every stroke count!”-. It helped me to keep focused on my challenge, and also helped me to remind to swim with a good technique and to be more efficient. Find yours! P.Ex. “Go, go, go, slide!!!”, “Keep on, just feel and swim!”.
If you have any fear or there is something that causes you anxiety, sit down a minute, focus on it and write down what it really is. When you know what really affects you it’s easier to find a strategy to change your perception and start working on it. I’m not going to extend in this because it will give us an entire article.
Face your fears (write down your strengths and skills to calm and get confidence).
4. LAST STEP, RACE READY?
Probably the final obstacle you may face is if you are ready or not to take part in an OW event.
To make sure you are ready, what you should do before hand is to register to an event. This will give you a dead line. When you know your “D Day”, excuses won’t fit well to your daily plans. Delay your preparation, in our case, to get enough confidence and get familiar with OW Skills, will not be an option. So let’s go and register to an event right now!
But be cautious, start with shorter events. You may feel confident with the distance. At the pool you should be able to swim at least a 125% of event’s distance.
As we said, use your training sessions (indoor and outdoor) to visualize and imagine you swimming with other, finding benchmarks and getting confident with OW skills.
As the “D Day” gets closer, you should build a race day strategy. Start with the previous days, plan your last training sessions (shorter with some quality), have enough rest, and pay attention with your food and hydration.
The day before make sure you have everything you’ll need ready and controlled. Timetable, swim stuff (cap, goggles, neoprene,…).
Race day: Wake up early and arrive with enough time to recognize the swim circuit if it’s possible. Take your time to put on your wetsuit, if it’s need it, and the warm up.
Find your place at the start. If you don’t have much confidence is better if you find your place at the back or side of the pack. Leave the expert swimmers to locate in leading positions. Doing this you will keep you away from blows, pulls and someone swimming over you. It will save you a lot of energy, nerves and anxiety.
On the turning points it’ll be better if you swim by the external side of the buoys. If you swim close to it you run the risk to get hit by other swimmers.
Get your rhythm, enjoy every stroke and before you can realize you’ll be on the finish line. Challenge accomplished! Congrats!!!