How to conquer open water - advice from Guy Crawford, aka 'Captain Awesome'

Guy is a Professional Triathlete from Auckland New-Zealand who specializes in half iron/70.3 distance. He currently lives in the beautiful city of Perth in Western Australia and spends most of his racing season in the USA. Guy is a longtime blueseventy athletes and in the second of his blog series he talks about how to conquer open water.

The open water. 

The love of many, freedom for some and Panic for others.

Most of the time when your swimming in the open water (racing or not) it's generally in a wetsuit. If your lucky enough to live in a warm climate then the other option is a swimskin, but we'll talk about how these things help you a bit later on. If you’re an open water swimmer or new to it, hopefully you'll get something out of this article.

Many people swim in pools and are quite comfortable/competent swimmers, but when they transition to open water it can leave them panicked and distressed? Why?

The open space can be a major influence on why some swimmers panic. Also your mind drifting to thoughts of ‘what’s underneath’. Other issues can be temperature changes and poor equipment choices. Ways of getting over this can be as simple as swimming weekly or regularly in the open water, swimming in groups in safe locations and making sure you are suited up or fitted into a wetsuit or swimskins by professionals (local blueseventy dealer). Going from the pool straight to an open water race/triathlon is when people often feel panic, if you add open water sessions into you weekly or fortnightly routine this is almost guaranteed to change and will likely become a session you will look forward to.

I can't breathe in my wetsuit? 

Once again this is almost always due to poor fit. Making sure your wetsuit fits properly is one of the biggest factors in having a great swim ( Triathlon/swimming wetsuits are designed to fit snug to the body, but shouldn't cause discomfort or shortness of breathe. This can stem from anxiety and the best way I've found to remedy this to make sure I get in the water pre race/event and get comfortable with the water temperature, then I warm up by swimming a few hundred meters followed by a few hard sprints to get the heart rate up. I follow this routine for every race and thus far I haven't had an issue.

Sometimes it can be as simple as changing wetsuit sizes. The blueseventy wetsuit chart has a huge range of sizes, I personally fit into the Medium category and that works great for me. But sometimes people can fit in two sizes, so you need to be comfortable with the way it feels on.

Why do some people swim slower in the open water?

A lot of this comes down to sighting. While sighting in the pool is never necesssary as the black line means you seldom need to lift your head. When you hit the open water the black line is gone and this means you have to navigate for yourself. So how do you navigate and not slow down?

The best method is to continue breathing to the side and only lift your head until your goggles are just above the water line, with your mouth still under water. This means you don't drop your hips to much and therefore limit the breaking effect in the water. 

Also it's important to breathe to the side to avoid swallowing/choking on a mouth full of water. It's ideal to site about every 6 strokes. You can practice your sighting technique in the pool and transfer it to the open water.

Why is it that I beat people in the pool and then they swim with me in the open water?

Sometimes a swimmer might be faster in the pool than in open water and it's often a mystery to them as to why their peers swim much better in open water. Usually this is due to sighting mentioned above or drafting where they get a greater benefit from drafting behind you therefore coming out of the water with or near you. Remember that like cycling drafting impacts hugely on your swim times, you can save up to 20% by drafting another swimmer. The best thing you can do is find a swimmer that's just a little faster than you and swim on their feet. There are certain techniques used to get the perfect draft, practicing them will prefect your ability to draft. Practicing both in the pool and open water is ideal. 

Good luck and happy swimming.