Open Water Swim Speed vs Pool
Swimming in open water can be as different from lap swimming as the bike trainer is to the road. Many times skilled swimmers struggle with translating their fast pool splits to the open water. When swimming in the pool, you are in a nice, controlled, and placid environment (unless you have the aqua-zumba class exercising one lane over), but in the open water, it feels completely different. In addition to having to deal with the elemental difficulties like temperature, current, and chop, you also have to overcome the psychological changes of possibly not having to see the bottom of the pool and conceptualizing length and time without periodic flip turns. The open water is a pretty scary place!
Where people lose the most time when switching to open water is going off course, panicking, running into people, letting their form collapse, not being used to a wetsuit, and making the transition to the bike. To counter these flaws, try to:
- Practice outside as much as you can (but not too much): As I said before, continue to swim 3-4 times a week but as the race approaches take one of those swims and do it in open water if you can. This is also a good opportunity to dust off and test out the wetsuit. Don’t forget the body glide!
- Form focus first: When first venturing into the open water, focus on form and sighting. Good drills to do is high elbow, focusing a lot on the recovery phase, pop-up to help with sighting, and catch-up to prevent thrashing of the arms and crossing over. Most importantly, continue imagining reaching for the 2 o’clock position and keeping your head down. Many people raise their heads in the open water because they are afraid of running into others; maintain a neutral position.
- Mix it up: As you become more comfortable or if you are already comfortable with open water then definitely do time or buoy based intervals where you do race pace for 5-10min or from one buoy to another then easy for 2 min for 5 rounds.
- Swim with others: This is not only a safety precaution but also a way to get in drafting practice and swimming in large groups. The start of open water races can be like a rugby scrum, so you need to practice getting your legs pulled, face kicked, and goggles popping off.
- Simulate conditions: While not always possible, trying to swim in various conditions prepares you for what may occur in races. Sometimes the race will be as placid as a pool while other times there will be white caps and foam so expect the worst and be pleasantly surprised if your race is easier.
- Bricks: Swim/bike bricks are very helpful in getting your body used to switching to hard bike efforts after being horizontal in the water for so long. Keep your bike in the car or with a friend, and in the last 200m of your swim do a race pace interval, emerge from the water, sprint to your bike, strip the wetsuit off, and get riding for 5 to 15min at a hard effort then for the next 15 min gradually decrease your effort as you let your heart rate come back down.
However, even though you race in the open water, you should still keep up your tri- and quad-weekly pool workouts. Pool swims are important to develop speed and perfect technique without the distractions. Please remember to be safe, swim with others, wear a bright, luminescent swim cap, and embrace the wildness of open water.
Coach Chris and Kev