Training for my First open water (ocean) mile swim. Any tips?

I am a seasoned swimmer, but I'm used to the pool.  I'm training for my first open water (ocean) swim; I welcome any advice anyone has.  I'm nervous, but this is on my bucket list, so I'm also excited to try something different.

  • Don’t take this the wrong way…but over the years I’ve encountered very qualified and successful pool swimmers (h.s. and collegiate) who get completely freaked out trying to swim in the open water. They think they can do an event without previous open water exposure. But then when they do get in, they immediately get it into their head that everything is going to attack them. That is not the case!!! If you can…try to get in some open water swims in water conditions that will be similar to what you’ll experience in the event — i.e. wave and chop conditions, tidal currents from the side, or head-on if that’s a possibility, wind conditions. Also good to experience where the sun will be during the event.  That being said…open water swim organizers usually plan start time so that tidal flow doesn’t impact the swimmers, or so that it’s to the swimmers’ advantage. If there is a current, or wind, you may want to take that into consideration for the angle you swim from turn-to-turn/finish. Currents can really take you off course. Obviously swimmers won’t be restricted to lanes, so expect collisions with other swimmers. And, those collisions can knock your goggles off. You may want to practice putting them back on while treading water. You’ll hear swimmers talk about “sighting”…that is navigating your way through the course. If you can breathe bi-laterally that’s a bonus. But you’ll need to look up a bit every few strokes to make sure you’re on course. Don’t necessarily rely on other swimmers. They may be off course too. Bi-lat breathing also comes in handy for when you unexpectedly take a wave to the face just as you inhale. Or, you can constantly breathe to the side opposite of where the waves are coming from…which may not be the natural side for you to breathe on. I’m sure the presence of aquatic life will cross your mind. You may encounter a jellyfish, see small fish, etc. But over the decades, in all the open water events I’ve participated in…I have never seen anything beyond that. There’s likely to be aquatic plant life too. And if you swim into a clump of seaweed you’ll think you’re being attacked. Your view of the bottom is likely to be murky. You’ll see clumps of plants at the bottom that you’re SURE is some animal. Or…depending on the angle of he sun…you may see your own shadow (or the shadow of a fellow swimmer close by) and swear that something is stalking you. All these things can become easier to handle with more open water swimming. Good luck and have fun. — Dan

  • If it's possible, you'd want to start doing your swim workouts in the water that you will be competing in. Hopefully there is a buoy somewhere in the water to give you a course and to practice sighting. If you go to my web site, at the bottom of the page I have links to three free pdf's on open water swimming which can help you.

    In the pool, I'd recommend head-up freestyle, swimming entire lengths looking at the opposite wall, making sure to maintain a strong kick to prevent your lower body from sinking. Your eyes can be just above the water, and you can still take breaths to the sides. The saltwater buoyancy of the ocean will make this easier than in the pool. Here is some additional advice noting a key difference between pool and open water swimming:

    Walls vs. No Walls: Turns at the ends of pool lanes allow swimmers to propel themselves with their legs pushing off the wall, giving the arms a momentary rest, and briefly picking up speed with the push. Without the pool wall, the arms are always working until you decide to rest. The net effect is that swimming in open water without walls is slower than in the pool by 10–30%. Therefore, when you look at a map and see a 1-km swim that in the pool might take you 18 minutes, you should calculate 20 minutes or more in open water under ideal conditions.”

    Excerpt From
    Crete Swim - An insider's guide to sightseeing from the water
    Paul Kalas

  • Dan

    You are one of the guru of open water swimming in Newport..  Great advice.