Open water can be daunting for beginners as it is vastly more unpredictable and uncomfortable than swimming in a pool. Here's some tips I wish somebody had to told me when I was starting out. Keep them in mind when you're out in the water this summer.
Prepare for the Elements
Weather is probably the most unpredictable factor associated with open water swimming.
Check the forecast in the days prior and even on the morning of the event, as it is important to be prepared for what the day has in store.
Being prepared will increase comfort throughout the day, making race preparation less stressful and chaotic.
Remember that it is better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it!
Some examples of this are:
- Protection against the wind/cold (eg. warm windproof clothing, tracksuit pants, hoodie, scarf, beanie, sunglasses)
- Protection against the rain (rain jacket, umbrella, tent)
- Protection against the sun/heat (sunglasses, hat, sunscreen, breathable long sleeve top, tent, umbrella)
An ocean swim can demand a lot of energy, so it is critical to prepare nutritionally for the race.
It's important to eat a meal with a good source of carbohydrates the night before the swim, like pasta or rice.
On the day itself, things can vary depending on what time the race is.
As a rule of thumb, I recommend eating meals as normal on the day of the swim, making sure they include some carbohydrate element and ensuring you do not overeat, as this can lead to bloating and discomfort.
What I do is eat a moderately sized carbohydrate meal (cereal, toast, oats etc.) around 3 hours before racing, and then a lighter snack (eg. banana) about 1 hour prior to the start of the swim.
Sometimes if my stomach is feeling a little uncomfortable due to nerves, I will eat food more frequently but in smaller doses. It is important to remember that the goal is to be well fuelled and to make sure that you are not feeling hungry, whilst also not overfeeding and becoming bloated.
If it is a slightly longer race or I think that the intensity is going to high, I will also have a sports gel anywhere between 0-15 minutes prior to the race.
It is also important to be well hydrated in even the days leading up to the race.
I personally go with water, and you would want to be adequately hydrated, not drinking too much as this provides little benefit and just leads to more trips to the bathroom.
The importance of being warmed up is often overlooked in race preparation, as this is probably the element of race prep that can slip through the cracks on a chaotic day when a person isn’t well prepared for the conditions or nutritionally.
I find it important to be active and moving around at least 60 minutes before race start, starting some dryland activation to get the heart rate up around 30-45 minutes beforehand and still allowing time to put a wetsuit on (if you wear one) and going for a warmup swim within the half hour prior to the race.
It is useful to create a routine for activating, putting a suit on, warming up and still getting some food and hydration in before the race, as it can be easy to forget things if you’re winging it.
Remember that some races have incredibly fast starts, so it is important to be well warmed up and ready to go right from the beginning.
Getting some carbs and hydration into your system shortly after finishing the swim will go a long way towards your next big effort and just restore your energy levels in general.
I look forward to seeing you all at the Victorian Open Water circuit this summer!