July 18, 2022

A Guide to Open Water Swims: Four Tips from Our Team

A Guide to Open Water Swims: Four Tips from Our Team

Love it or hate it, open water swims are a frequent part of triathlete life. While some triathletes thrive in an open water swim, open water is a serious source of anxiety. Our team is here to help boost your open water swim game with a few things we’ve learned along the way. 

Let us help you learn from our experiences, instead of having to figure them out on your own- up next, our guide to open water swimming. Keep reading for four tips from our team to help you crush tomorrow, and your next open water swim.

Avoid Open Water Panic

Sounds easy enough, right? If you’ve experienced open water swim anxiety in the water, you know this is much, much easier said than done. Setting yourself up for success with a well planned swim is the best way to keep yourself cool, calm, and collected in the water. 

Visualization and meditation are the best ways to prevent negative, anxiety-causing thoughts from creeping into your zen zone. Our chief hound, Sam Chi, suggests envisioning yourself completing smooth strokes while you get into the flow. Also, choosing a mantra to repeat over and over again will help keep you focused. 

When you recite a mantra over and over again, it can also help you maintain your pace. A phrase that you recite over and over again, whether it’s “keep calm and swim on” or something as simple as “don’t panic,” for some, just the rhythm of the words can be soothing. 

Before you begin your swim, pick an object within your sight range, preferably along the horizon, to focus on. This will help prevent any disorientation or getting lost. Each time you see the object, you’ll reassure yourself that you’re a-ok.

Make the Most of the Buoys

Buoys are there to help you navigate the course, so use them wisely. This is so incredibly important- do your research on each open water swim and gather as much pre-race intel as possible. It’s essential to understand each course, as they’re all a little bit different. 

Do your buoy investigation as far in advance as possible, to give yourself enough time to fully absorb the information. Even if you’re not able to visit the site until race day, it’s better than nothing. 

Here are a few things to look for when you’re checking out the buoys, according to our own seasoned swimmer, Mike Buenting:

  • Different buoy colors- what does each one mean?
  • Note where the sight buoys are located vs. turn buoys.
  • How many sight buoys are between each turn buoy?

Really zeroing in on the buoys will also help you with orientation during your swim, another important focus for any open water swim. The bottom line here, buoys are clearly much more than just floating things in the water, and they should definitely not be ignored. They’re there to help you and knowing how to use them properly will be a huge advantage to you.

We’re kind of into the whole open water swim thing, and we want everyone else to love it just as much as we do. To help, we’ve created a swim buoy/dry bag combo that keeps all of your belongings dry, plus it’s made out of highly visible, incredibly durable material so you really can’t lose it, even if you wanted to. Not to mention, they store very easily! 

Don’t Ignore Your Wetsuit

Wetsuits. Can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em. But they don’t have to be the bane of your triathlon existence. So many people make the mistake of ignoring their wetsuit until the last minute, which is a huge mistake! You wetsuit actually requires quite a bit of attention weeks before the race starts. 

For starters, you should wear your wetsuit to train as much as possible, especially if you’re not used to wearing a wetsuit, or you’ve just gotten a new one. There’s a fair amount of stretching, chafing, and just all around uncomfiness that comes along with wetsuits, so the more you wear it before the race, the more you can work out the kinks before the big day.

If your still experiencing discomfort in some areas, our team, including Sam, Mike, and Coleen Udovich, have a few suggestions to make wetsuit life a little less irritating:

  • Get greasy: use plastic bags over your legs or a wetsuit lubricant to help slide it on, then roll the wetsuit on kind of like you would a really long pair of socks. Trust us, you want to expand as little energy as possible slipping this thing on.
  • Let the water in: wetsuits are of course going to fit really snug, but if you can let a little water in through the neck hole, you’ll have a little more wiggle room to stretch and move.
    • Skip the suit: if you’re just not comfy in your wetsuit, skip it! Of course, not all races allow you to go sans wetsuit, but if it’s legal to not wear a wetsuit and you don’t want to, just don’t do it. If you’re already feeling anxious and you’re trying to squeeze into a wetsuit, it’ll only make things worse. 

    Test the Waters

    The actual water itself is naturally a huge factor in open water swims. And again, every swim is different. Bodies of water are subject to Mother Nature’s plans, and we all know she doesn’t always share those plans with the rest of us, and she’s rather unpredictable. 

    Do what you can ahead of time to outline the physical environment you’ll be swimming in, so you can prepare accordingly. If you’re a big time worrier, this can help you anticipate any potential issues and come up with solutions ahead of time. No surprises, right?

    Again, if it’s possible, go check out the water ahead of time… and get in there! If it’s only possible to dip your toes in and test the temp, then do it. But if you’re allowed to get some training done in the actual water, go for it! 

    You can’t write things down while you’re swimming, but you can when you’re done. So keep a mental list and transfer it to an actual list when you’re done in the water. 

    • What’s the temperature? 
    • Are there any potential outside factors that might change the temperature between now and race day (i.e. rain, extra hot weather, etc.)?
    • What color is the water?
    • What’s your visibility in this particular open water swim?
    • Is the bottom of this body of water rock, sand, or dirt?
    • What will this water potentially look like with hundreds of other swimmers churning up the waters?
    • What’s the wind and current situation, and how does it change from time to time?

    On actual race day, make the effort to get in the water if it’s allowed. If a quick dip to assess the conditions isn’t allowed, take the time to fully observe the water. 

    Final Thoughts 

    These are just a few helpful hints that our team always keeps in their back pocket for each open water swim. Of course, everyone is different and you should work on your open water swim techniques with your trainer to determine what’s the most efficient method. But, these are great foundational tips that you can adapt to fit your routine.