I have read a fair few race reports, post-race Facebook posts, and frustrated tweets along the lines of “I have shaved x time off my lap time, so why am I still slow in open water.” After my triathlon in Tempe, I myself wrote that I was upset that my race pace was only 1 minute faster than last year despite having put in a full winter in the pool and shaved 15 seconds off my average 100 time. Why was this not carrying over into open water?
The reason is that pool swimming and open water swimming are two very different types of swimming and require two different skill sets very much like how riding on a trainer and riding outside differ greatly. Pool swimming is a nice, perfectly controlled environment while open water is a constantly, changing and often scary place. In the pool, it is easier to swim in a straight line by following the black line and the lane’s black “T” that tells you exactly when to turn. In open water, however, all you have is darkness, and you have to sight often to stay on course. The pool also does not have the current or surf that many open water venues have–unless of course you are swimming next to the water Zumba class. All these factors can add time onto your open water swim and make it more difficult to go the same pace that you are accustomed to.
Because they are so different, it is hard to compare the two, and thus pointless to beat yourself up over not getting faster in open water when you have in the pool. What is the best way to get faster in open water? Swim more outside. It is difficult to get to open water so there are some great simulations that you can do in the pool, but, even then, you cannot replace the vast expanse and unique experience of swimming in open water.
Coach Chris and Kev