Things to consider for your first open water swim

It may not feel like it yet but Open Water Swimming Season is less than three months away! This is the time that a lot of people start getting the itch to consider a big challenge of some kind. It may be a 400m swim as part of a triathlon or something even bigger but now is the time to start planning your time for the best chances of success. Here we will explore a few tips on how to get it right!

Where to start

The first thing to do is to plan your event, training and to understand fully what preparation you need to do. Swimming in Open Water is very different to swimming in a pool. It can be cold, murky and disorientating. It can be hard to know where you are or what direction you are swimming in. Having lots of other people around you can also be uncomfortable and sometimes lead to a panicky sensation. Do not let these things put you off!

Challenges are supposed to be hard and overcoming them is an incredibly euphoric feeling. That is why most people go back again and again, for that sense of achievement and adrenaline rush. Just remember that when thinking of the obstacles and everything will find it’s perspective.

Where to swim

Although you are going to be doing an open water swim, training indoors for part of your training plan is absolutely fine. In fact I would go as far as to say it is essential. You will be in your comfort zone there and can put your focus onto interval training to increase your stamina. It is also a perfect place to work on your technique so try and find a good coach to make sure you are swimming as efficiently as possible with rhythmic breathing and minimal effort. We run a drop in session every Monday evening at Abbey Pool in Cambridge to develop excellent freestyle technique so come and see us any time! Details can be viewed here.

Swimming in a swimming pool is very different to swimming in open water but you can still practice a lot of skills that will translate into open water. Try and master sighting (the ability to lift the eyes above the water every few strokes to see where you are going.) This is an essential skill for open water swimming and your goal should be to do it fluidly without breaking the rhythm of the stroke. You can also practice skills like drafting (swimming behind someone else to get a boost!) and of course continuous lap swimming to try and simulate the distance.

As the outdoor air and water temperature start to warm up (mid April is the norm) then that is the time you should start transitioning to outdoor training. Even then it does not have to be 100% out door training so keep a bit of indoor swimming going to keep a good balance. This will most likely involve investing in a wetsuit. You can hire or buy them on line but for the best results try and find a local triathlon shop (like Advance Performance on Huntingdon Rd in Cambridge) who can do a wetsuit fitting for you. Getting the perfect fit will save you a lot of discomfort and pain later down the line so it is worth doing it right!

Next you will need to find some outdoor locations to train in. Most town’s now have specialist open water lakes where you can swim safely as part of a structured group. We are lucky to have our main office based in the ground of Milton Country park which has a fantastic private swim lake. There are various sessions held here all season ranging from weekly drop in sessions on wednesday evenings to half day intensive technique clinics. As a novice it is wise to have as much safety support and structure as possible which is why guided sessions like ours are so popular. Never swim in open water on your own and always put safety first.

Swimming outdoors has so many health benefits both physically and mentally. The more you immerse yourself in the community of open water swimmers the more you will experience these incredible effects. The camaraderie of meeting other people doing similar events will also work wonders for your mental state so make sure to get as involved as possible.

Finding the right event

If you are new to open water swimming then make sure to start small. Perhaps just a 400m swim and then work up from there. Your local triathlon club will have a big list of events as will the local swimming community so find one that you like the sound of and then make sure to enter! Open Water Swimmer magazine (who we write for sometimes) also has a comprehensive list of events all over the country which can be viewed here. The sooner you enter an event, the sooner you are mentally committed and accountable to yourself. This will really help get you in the right head space for effective training so do not leave entry to the last minute.

Top tips for preparing for your first event

Preparation for your event is the key to success. Do not neglect your open water training and the ability to perform the necessary skills such as sighting and swimming without relying on touching a wall. Make sure to acclimatise to the cold early in the season as well and make sure your technique is as efficient as possible. When the day of your event arrives, relax, know you have prepared and most importantly enjoy the experience. It will be over before you know it and you can start planning your next one!