I took up swimming in earnest at the end of last year. Knowing I had wanted to take part in a couple of triathlons this season, I figured I better work on my swimming. Never having swum as a kid , I was pretty much self taught. Even though I had swum before my freestyle technique was in need of a lot of work. So starting in November 2011, I worked religiously on going to the pool and both improving my endurance and technique. Looking back I can say I progressed pretty far.
Your not in the Pool anymore..
The two biggest challenges of open water swimming are navigating (sighting) and dealing with the close proximity of the other swimmers.
- Navigation (Sighting): Seeing where your going, sounds so easy. But when your head down in water,blinding sun-glare off the water plus bobby up and down in swells all the while being pummeled by a flurry of arms and legs, easy is not the word the first comes to mind.
- Swimmer Contact: In the pool your not likely to bang into people very often, but out on the race course, its a whole different store.
Open Water = Full contact sport
One of the first things you realize after you do a couple of these open water swims. Its a full contact sport., don’t let anyone kid you, you will get hit and you’ll likely bang into someone, typically at the start of the race. But it could happen anytime. I actually expect to get jostled all the time, the anticipation makes it easier to handle when it happens. Most of the time contact lasts a second or two and the other swimmer moves away.. sometimes they run over or around you, sometimes you run over them. Or a kick to the head or shoulders is common. I actually got pissed a few times, stopped swimming and barked a couple of obscenities , but then you realize in the water they can’t hear you and your just wasting your energy and losing time getting frustrated.. Its part of the sport and its more of an annoyance than a danger.
Open Water Swim races..a recap
My first swimming race was an open water race in Lavalette, NJ. I wanted to do a swimming race prior to doing triathlons to both improve my confidence and develop more open water swimming experience.. The day was overcast rainy (doesn’t matter much your’re already wet, so rain is less of an issue). This race was a 1.2 mile circuit in a relatively calm inlet along the Raritan bay. I decided only to wear wetsuit bottoms (T1 speedtube), since it wasn’t too cold and I really just needed it for the buoyancy. The race was pretty good and my time was unusually fast, but later learned that everyone had a strong current to help move us along.
My next Open water swim was a week later the Nave-Sink-or-Swim, this was another 1.2 mile swim in the Nave sink river. The day was beautiful and this race was very well attended and organized. I elected to wear the full wetsuit for this race. I was off in the first wave, which is always nice, since you have a lot less traffic all the way through. The course was a reverse P shape, swim out about 300 yd, turn left, swim up about half a mile and then return. The return side was a pretty close to the posts along the waterfront piers, and several swimmers got caught up in those posts. coming back the sun glare was atrocious, , and you need to just follow the pack. Solar glare is one of the most irritating things about open water swimming, especially in the morning races when the sun is close to the horizon. The turn for home was fun and the crowd and music made for an energizing finish. This was perhaps the best organized open water swim and I will certainly be doing it again next year.
My final open water ( not part of a triathlon swim), was the Belmar Ocean mile in August. This would be my first race of the year out in the ocean, so I was looking forward to it. I again swam using only my T1 tube bottom (wetsuit). The race was not chip-timed and the start was right on the beach. After getting into the water and dealing with the waves , it became appears that the ocean swells were going to make it a challenge to navigate. I actually got a little sea-sick (kind of ironic isn’t it) because of the ocean swells and bobby up and down. But it wasn’t too bad and luckily for most of the course there wasn’t too much glare. The water seemed calmer on the return leg, and when all was said and done I ran up the beach under my goal time of 30 minutes..
Open water becoming a favorite
With that said, my swimming has improved a lot and I’m actually growing fond of swimming races. While I originally did them to better prepare for triathlons, I’m now genuinely interested in them for their own sake. They are so different from the other forms of racing, they add so many new challenges, sighting and navigating is crucially import and its a skill that can literally shave minutes off your time. Also drafting plays a big part in open water swimming, be able to swim directly behind or right along side a slightly fast swimmer is a great way to improve your performance. Dealing with all the physical contact and solar glare issues.. Finally the realization that I was crazy and capable enough to swim miles out into the open ocean or lake for fun, really gives you a sense of accomplishment..
I think it goes back to when I was a kid at the beach, I would occasionally see lifeguards out swimming in the ocean for what seemed like forever, and was always awe-struck by how they could do that..Now I can do that too.. cool beans!
If you’re inspired or interested check out this site that has worlds top 100 open water swims.