First OWS Event!

Hi! I’m  new to OWS and currently training for my first event (1 mile in a lake). What do you wish you knew when you first started open water swimming? Training tips? Other tips? Thank you all! 

  • How crowded it can be, and that you can potentially get your goggles knocked off, or at least kicked and inadvertently hit.


  • Good luck Kathryn,

    The best way to answer your question is to encourage you to make the time to do some OWS before your race.  Then, almost all shall be reveals, so-to-speak.  Slight smile

    1. As Force mentions, OWS can be a contact sport (incidental).  Unless you expect to be in contention for a medal, hang back at the start or start off to the side to avoid the mayhem of the start.  Then, pick a pace that is comfortable and not overly hard until you settle in.
    2. Some people warm-up before the race. Depends on your conditioning and the water temp.
    3. Get used to lifting your head to look forward for sighting your location.  Sighting can be done during a freestyle pull or simply switching to breaststroke.  If the water is really clear, you might be able to follow others who are swimming a straight line.
    4. You might have to pee before the race and don't have time to run to the toilet, so get used to peeing in your suit/wetsuit. Wade into the water.
    5. The water surface could be choppy - unlike a pool.  Expect to swallow water or choke from time to time.  Bilateral breathing can be helpful in especially choppy water.  
    6. If the water is a bit murky, not being able to see very far can be disconcerting for those new to OWS.  Alcatraz is among the worst.  Conversely, if the water is really clear, you might see things you don't want to see (fish, weeds, etc.).  Just get used to it.
    7. Do more non-stop swims of 500+ yards.  Even work up to a mile non-stop, so you know you are capable of it.
    8. If the water will be chilly and you expect to be cold after the race, bring hot water.  Or, buy a wetsuit or a neoprene cap to keep warm during the race.  bring warm clothes for after the race - just in case.
    9. For a mile swim you don't need to worry about hydrating or nourishment during the race.

    Have fun -   Paul

  • I got the impression that you were looking for just our #1 suggestion. But Windrath’s list is spot-on. I would add:
    If possible, try to get accustom to the specific course. Does it have lots of flotsam that you may encounter? Even a fresh water lake can have seaweed, sticks/branches, etc. Swimming into a clump of seaweed may be startling, but not otherwise painful. Swimming into a branch or log can be painful. I guess you don’t have to worry about stinging or biting things too much…unless it’s a lake where gators and snakes can be present. But those things generally shy away from crowds. Is it a man-made lake, or associated with a river, and has a current? Will you have to swim against that current (on an out-and-back course)? You probably want to experience that current beforehand. If you’re against the current on the second half of the swim…it will required some fortitude to swim against it. Also be aware of what the weather will be doing during your event. The wind can cause noticeable chop and turbulence, even in a lake, that can really impact swimmers. You may want to experience that prior to your event also. Head-on into the wind AND the current is a double whammy.  And the Sun. Where will it be while you’re swimming? If you have to look right into it while you’re trying to sight/navigate, that can be difficult. I use dark goggles to help reduce the glare. Good luck, and have fun.
  • Thank you all! This is so helpful. I also appreciate the encouragement. 

    • I've gotten to do a fair amount of OWS this summer and should have access to a lake for practice 1-2 days a week most weeks pre-race.
    • When I don't have access to open water, I'm swimming longer distances in the pool, up to a mile most days of the week.
    • The lake I am training in has less visibility than the one for the event. I won't be able to get into the event lake until the weekend of the event.
    • I am nervous about the start and contact sport elements you all mention. Thank you for the suggestions to "avoid the mayhem,' as Paul puts it.

    I'll let you all know how it goes in about 8 weeks! 

    All my best, Kathryn

  • Thank you all! The event went great! I appreciate the encouragement and advice. All my best, Kathryn

  • Thank you! I am looking at an indoor swim meet this winter. It will be my first meet in 25 years! I'd also love to train for another OWS next summer. Any midwest recommendations between 1 mile - 5K?

  • Good luck at the meet! Keep it up!

    Here are a few 2023 USMS sanctioned open water events in the Midwest. Open water events will typically start to appear on the USMS Calendar early in the year (once they've sanctioned and are getting ready to open entries) so stay tuned!