Open water swimming can be one of the most enjoyable things to do. Escape from the confines of a pool, chlorine and changing rooms to swim with trees, sky and the sun on your back. However many swimmers find it a terrifying experience at first. Here’s a few tips to increase your confidence, relax and go with the flow.
We always recommend swimming in an organised open water swim venue. Never swim alone and always tell someone where you are and when you will be back.
1. One step at a time
Let’s face it, it’s going to be different from the controlled environment of the pool. No matter how often you swim in a pool the first time you put your face underwater in open water it’s probably going to scare you. Even many experienced open water swimmers still have to psych themselves up to put their face under at the start of a swim. Unless you are lucky to be somewhere nice and warm, the water will probably be cold, dark and you may not be able to see very far. Don’t dive in the first few times, lower yourself into the water. take your time and a few deep breaths. Don’t try to rush or you may panic, swimming can come later.
2, Don’t think about what’s below
I’ve been open water swimming for 10 years but still worry about what’s in the water with me. However in all that time I’ve never seen a fish bigger than my thumb, certainly nothing that may want a nibble. There may be things around but you are bigger than them and they will be more scared of you and stay away. No one I know has ever had a run in with another creature under the water. Don’t swim with sharks though!
3, Focus on yourself
Mass starts can be like swimming in a washing machine, it’s easy to get kicked or swam over. You will need confidence of your abilities to be able to hold your own. Make sure to start at the back or off to a side so you have clear water to move in and space.
Panic can happen to all of us. I’ve been swimming in open water for years but was in an amateur 5k race a couple of years ago when I got pushed and took in a few mouthfuls of cold water. Usually it wouldn’t bother me, I’ve swam in tougher, busier conditions but it was especially cold water and I just couldn’t get my breath. My wetsuit felt like it was crushing my neck, and I thought I was in trouble. The more you panic the harder it is to breathe and calm down and it just gets worse. I couldn’t swim, I had to tread water and try to compose myself whilst everyone else was swimming round me. The marshalls kept asking if I was ok and I almost called them over but thankfully I managed to slow down my breathing to relax enough to get back into my race. No matter how experienced you are it may happen, but now you know what to do.
5, Learn how to sight
There are no lane ropes to tell you where to go, just buoys a long way off. There are specific techniques for looking where you want to go whilst swimming. They will help smooth your stroke and improve efficiency. More importantly good sighting will stop you zigzagging down a course and swimming futher than you should. Check out open water sighting techniques online.
6, Find a solution
If there’s something that holding you back concentrate on finding a solution. Break it down into small pieces and conquer each thing one step at a time. It could be the thought of treading on small rough rocks- buy some neoprene socks to protect your feet. If you get a nasty icecream head in cold water, wear 2 swim caps on top of each other. If you are training for a swim somewhere different, try a couple of acclimatization swims in the same location first.
7, Have a hero
I have a couple of hero’s that have helped me through my sporting achievements. One was the late Jane Tomlinson CBE. Jane was the same age as me but had terminal cancer. It didn’t stop her completing the London Marathon, Ironman Triathlons and many other challenges whilst undergoing her treatment. She inspired me to begin exercising and sent me down the path I am on today. If she could do it, I can.
Find out more about Jane’s legacy at http://www.janetomlinsonappeal.com
Lisa Irlam has completed several Ironman Triathlons, a 14.5km River Thames swim. The Norseman extreme triathlon (nxtri) which involved jumping off a car ferry into an arctic Norwegian fjord before completing a mountain ironman distance triathlon.