There Are Sea Monsters In Here!
It was 9pm at Ohio Street Beach as these thoughts drifted through my mind. I had just hit hour number two in my long swim for Ironman Preparation. The only thing guiding me was my pure desire to go the distance and the eerie street lights off of Lake Shore Drive. Shadows danced across the bottom as I crept forward. Even with 30 years of swimming experience, Coach K was certain someone's pet crocodile had it in for me. It was even scarier when I faced planted someone 5 strokes later...both of us laughing and crying since we both felt the monsters around us. But in the end of course, it was just the two of us doing our IronWork. "Nothing to fear, but fear itself"
With open water swimming, fear is indeed an element that triathletes battle with. Whether it be afraid of the darkness below or the thrashing other swimmers around you, anxiety is high in the deep blue. For years now, I've gone in and out of lakes and oceans battling the open waters. From smooth crystal-clear conditions to four foot swells, gagging you with every breath. In the end, you never know what you are going to get.
So what do you do? How do you conquer the challenge of open water swimming, especially during a race!
Here's a few of Coach K's tips:
1 - Know your stroke: Be comfortable with how you swim. Know your rhythm and breathing pattern before you get in the open water. That means practicing in the pool!
2 - Get used to your wetsuit before you go to the open water. That's right, get in the pool with it, see how it feels. Most people are claustrophobic at first. Troubled breathing and restricted movement. This is nice to know before you are floating out in the middle of a lake. Get used to it first. And, the answer is YES. Chlorine will ruin your wetsuit if you leave it floating in the pool, so just be sure to rinse it off good (Cold water will do the trick).
3 - In your wetsuit, pull your legs and sleeves tight to the groin and arm pits to promote better range of motion. Even if the sleeve is high on the arm, don't worry, your shoulders will thank you!
4 - Practice sighting in and out of the pool. Don't just practice in the lake. Dedicate swim sets to sighting. Get your shoulders and stroke used to the elevated head position. Tarzan swimming (Head Up) is one of my favorite!
5 - To Catch Up or Not to Catch Up: In open water with 2000 friends trying to kick you in the face, catch up can serve as a great self defense stroke. If you feel slow with it, just pick up the tempo while holding onto the catch up.
I hope this helps you in your Open Water adventures. To fine tune your open water skills even more be sure to sign up for my swim class: Swim Tech III: Open Water Swim.