Open Water Swimming Technique – Issue #70

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Open Water Swimming Technique Newsletter

The Mental Side of Open Water Swim

As we are in the midst of race season here, I’m hearing a lot of talk about panicking during the open water portion of a triathlon. I’ve talked to people who have made vast improvements in their stroke, go into the race in top shape, yet they fall apart when the race starts!

Could this be you?

If so, keep reading. Open Water swims at the start of a race are much more mentally challenging than physically (although getting pounded in the pack sure is physical!)

It takes experience, planning, and most of all, the acceptance that 99% of the swimmers around you are just doing their thing, and mean you no harm (most are not hitting you, swimming over you, or getting in your way on purpose!).

Today, I have included an article I wrote in 2005 on the Surviving the Tri Start. These tips should help ease some of those nerves!


“Go forward confidently, energetically attack problems, expecting favorable outcomes.”
-Norman Vincent Peale

Surviving the Tri Start

by Kevin Koskella

The start of a triathlon can be nerve-wracking, tiring, intimidating, frustrating, and even discouraging (why do we do this sport??). But don’t let all this get to you! The start for everyone is a crazy cluster of splashing, starts and stops, physical contact, and swimmers trying to separate from each other. Here are some tips to deal with what some consider being the toughest part of any triathlon:

1.Expect the worst. Go into the event expecting that the start will not be easy. Know that you will bump into people, others will bump into you, but 99% of the time it is all by accident. Also know that the chaos at the beginning will not last for the entire swim, it will break up quickly as different speed swimmers separate.

2. Prepare. Learn the course before the gun goes off. There’s nothing worse than having to wonder which way to turn around the upcoming buoy.

3. Don’t panic. Keep your breathing from getting short. Stay as relaxed as you can while everyone else tries to get pole position. Don’t let others being frantic affect your state of mind, and realize that 99% of the other swimmers are just trying to find some open water and are not out to hurt you!

4. Stay to the outside. Many will try to stay to the inside, as close to in line with the first buoy as they can get. Don’t follow the pack. Start outside and work your way in as you approach buoy #1. You many not get perfectly clean water, but you will save yourself from much of the madness.

5. Run until the water level is at your knees. This will maximize your time on land without being slowed by running through water.

6. Use shorter strokes to get through the chop. If you are swimming in the ocean and it is a choppy day, this technique helps tremendously. Once you get to some smoother water, go back to long strokes to maximize efficiency and conserve energy.

7. Practice. Swim in the open water often when you are preparing for a race that has an open water start. The more experience you can develop getting used to the conditions and variables in open water vs. pool swimming, the better off you will be mentally on race day.

These 7 tips should help you to at least tolerate, if not enjoy, the beginning of a triathlon!

Tip of the Month- Swim Buddy

Some races offer Swim Buddies, particularly the beginner-focused races. If you are brand new to triathlon or just nervous about the swim, find out about getting a Swim Buddy, who will swim beside you for the entire race. This can boost your confidence and make the experience of your first or second triathlon much more enjoyable!