9 Tips and Techniques for a Better Open Water Swim
I want to help you be confident as you take on your Iron Distance swim. For most athletes, the swim typically causes the most stress and apprehension compared to the other disciplines. I've talked to numerous athletes over the years, and for many, the swim can be the greatest deterrent to the sport of triathlon. This doesn't have to be the case, however.
So I am giving you some of my best Open Water Techniques/Tips based on the Ironman University certification course that I completed this fall.
Breathing: The open water swim is much different than a pool swim. The water may be choppy and athletes will need to rotate the body and turn the head looking up toward the sky to clear the water when taking a breath. This requires being able to balance sideways in the water. A good drill for this position is the nose up/nose down drill or any drill that requires a rotation of the body and head.
Sighting: The most effective technique for sighting is lifting the head slightly out of the water, taking a breath then rotating the head back toward the water without letting hips and feet sink too low in the water. In other words, sight while the head is turning to breath and keep moving forward. Forward sighting- lift your head only as high as necessary to maintain forward progress and keep hips and legs from dropping. Athletes should try to sight both forward and laterally whenever possible as lateral sighting saves energy and helps maintain good form and speed.
Accurate sighting can save you time and much needed energy.
Turning: It's always best to try and be as close to the inside of the buoy as possible when turning around the buoys. Practice turning both solo and in small groups to simulate the race situation.
Drafting: This can reduce energy output by almost 30%. Swimming on another swimmer's hip or directly behind them is the best way to draft in the open water. Be respectful of other athletes and do not draft so close that you are making physical contact with other swimmers.
Learning the Course: Take time to learn where the buoys are, which way the currents are moving, the position of the sun, and identify a few landmarks if at all possible. If there is a swim practice prior to race day I highly advise you to participate in that.
Rest: If you become uncomfortable, tired, or panicking and need to rest at any time during the swim, this is perfectly fine and legal. Athletes are allowed to stand if the water is shallow, but do so off to the side to avoid forward progressing swimmers. Hanging on to a kayak or buoy is perfectly legal as long as no forward progression is made.
Strokes: All strokes are permitted during an Ironman swim. Side stroking or breast stroking is fine if an athlete needs to rest and get air. Treading water is also fine if an athlete needs to fix goggles, but do so out of the way of other swimmers.
Transition 1 Tips
*An athlete's HR is often the highest coming out of the water and into transition.* This is because of the adjustment from going from horizontal to vertical and blood flow going from shoulders and upper body to the legs. As you approach the last 200 yards or so of the swim, remember that when exiting the water you will feel like you are in Z4 or Z5. Do not be alarmed as this is normal and things will calm down once you get on the bike.
Lift goggles off of your eyes, but leave cap and goggles on your head to keep the hands free. Remember, DO NOT drop cap and goggles on the course as this is against Ironman Rules. If the race is wetsuit legal, there will be volunteers to help with wetsuit removal- I highly recommend you take advantage of this!
At Ironman and some Ironman 70.3 races there will be changing tents available. Per Ironman Rules there is no public nudity permitted.
Nutrition: Stick to the nutrition you trained with, as it's never a good idea to eat or drink something new during transition.