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Open Water Swimming

Open water swimming is never boring. Whether you are an accomplished swimmer or a first timer, there is never the “same” open water swim. Variables are always changing such as water temperature, air temperature, currents, river speed, wind, waves, not to mention a possible two hundred bodies starting at the same time and trying to get to the same end point. In as minimal words as possible (I talked for an hour and a half to a group in a hotel conference room on this topic and I still could have discussed the finer points of open water swimming), here are a few pointers, which help alleviate some of your race morning anxieties.

Know how to swim correctly.

Proper stroke technique can only help. The more efficient you are in the water, the less energy you use to get to a certain point at the same rate of perceived effort. Find a coach or a master’s swim program to learn, and watch, correct swim technique. It is also good to get videotaped to see yourself swim and thus give you a visual. The main principles I stress for the freestyle stroke are:

* Balanced head position – the head dictates the rest of the stroke.

* Don’t cross the midline of your body from hand entry through hand exit.

* Pull at a 90-degree angle. This is where you get your power. Don’t worry about the

sculling movement.

* Breathe towards the “corner” of the pool where you are swimming to, not from. Don’t

breathe back and under the armpit.

* Kicking helps to balance the body, sprinting and gapping.

Know the swim course.

It is good to see the course the day before or at least the morning of to see where you are going. Warming up on the course is also beneficial. While you are on the course, you can look for landmarks to help your orientation while racing. Notice how many buoys are on the course and at what angle you must make your turn around the buoy to go to the next one.

During warm up, you can also see what direction the current is going to help your race line positioning. If you are unable to warm up, then look at others in the water and see where the water is pulling them. Warming up or previewing the course allows you to feel the river or ocean bottom at the start. There is nothing more surprising then a run into the water and then sinking in a foot of mud on the fifth step. If the course is shallower in areas, use that to your advantage to have a longer run in before swimming. I had an experience once at a race where I didn’t preview the start. I positioned myself on the start line in the most direct distance to the first buoy. About three quarters of the other pros were far to my right. The gun sounded and after ten meters of running into the water, I started to swim. I breathed to my right and I still saw all of the other pros running in shallow water. They gapped twenty seconds worth of swimming with only ten seconds of running.

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