Open water swimming has become the go to for my training lately.  In large part I am doing open water swimming as a way to recover from the Lake Martin 100, but at the same time I need to improve in this facet of triathlon otherwise Ironman Chattanooga is going to take longer than it should.  In the past training cycles for Ironman races I have swum every Friday with members of the FWTri Club.  This training was extremely helpful when it comes to not just getting into the open water but also in dealing with panic attacks, which I seem to suffer from at the start of these triathlon. Last week I was a part of two open water swimming meet-ups and had another one this morning.  While having my face buried into the cold water that is both Lake Grapevine and Lake Benbrook I found myself truly focusing on form.  I took stock of where my head was along with where I was pulling from.  I would also ensure that I was swimming with a high elbow.  All of this was being done so that I was getting the full benefit of open water swimming so early in the season. These last two weeks were the first times I was in the lakes of North Texas since September of last year.  This is exactly why I would make the obvious statement that open water swimming is not like riding a bike.  The cliché that it is like riding a bike is because one a skill is learned it is not forgotten.  I can attest to the fact that open water swimming is NOTHING LIKE RIDING A BIKE.  There are so many differences between swimming in a pool and swimming in the open water that not jumping into the lake can certainly lead one to forgetting that skill. During the different open water swimming sessions I noticed the following 3 items which I will have to work on during the lead up to IMTN:

  1. Counting Strokes: In the pool you can play 'golf' and try to lengthen your stroke and be more efficient.  Unfortunately, for me, in the open water there is no wall and so counting strokes becomes even more imperative to setting a rhythm.  Ensuring that I am swimming on a rhythm will help me know when to look up to sight.
  2. Bi-Lateral Breathing: In the pool while swimming I can breathe to both sides but the moment I get into the lake that skill goes out the window and I do not even attempt to breathe to both sides.  Not having this skill in the open water leads to a more difficult time sighting for me as well as making the loop we do always seem longer on the way out and shorter on the way in.  Balancing my breathing will allow me to balance out the feeling of 'WHERE AM I?' while in the water.
  3. Pool Endurance and Open Water Swimming Endurance: Not the same……Swimming in the pool you have the wall to break up the monotony but also to give you a break.  If you swim a 100 yard or meter set fast you typically take a break and then go again.  The endurance that you are working on is not exactly the same and so getting used to pacing in the lake is something that I am working on.  I always feel great the moment I hit start on my watch and then 400 to 500 meters in I am looking for the lifeguard.  Starting out a tad slower and allowing myself to build up the endurance needs to be a focus.

Yes, open water swimming is not like riding a bike at all.  It is also not like swimming in a pool and it in itself a skill that has to be developed then sharpened with repeated trips to the lake.  In order for me to get more efficient at swimming I have to make a concerted effort to get to the lake when the OWS Swim Club decides it is time to go.  As of right now we are planning every Friday morning at 6:30am and maybe if we get a wild hair going on other days as well, but time will tell there. Open Water Swimming - north texas - grapevine - benbrook Open Water Swimming - north texas - grapevine - benbrook Open Water Swimming - north texas - grapevine - benbrook   At the ver least the spots were my open water swimming training takes place are at least gorgeous.  

Published in Train
Sunday, 10 July 2011 12:48

Open Water Swim Tips

[caption id="attachment_3061" align="alignright" width="179" caption="Emerging From The Water At Toyota Us Open Championships 2010"]open-water-swimming-tips-tricks[/caption] There are a handful of races coming up and we will soon be entering into the fall race season and that means it is time to discuss open water swimming.  We all have a fear of the open water when we first get into the sport.  It could be the fact that there is no line to follow and no line to follow means we don't know where the bottom is.  There is the fact that the start of an open water swim could be like fighting Mike Tyson in his prime, or from Hangover, with fists and feet flying everywhere.  It might be that we breathe to one side and that we won't be able to spot the buoy because that is not the side we breathe to. Does this describe some of your fears of the open water as you enter into your race or maybe why you have not started to race triathlon?  I am not sure it matters how many races in the open water you do that fear will always be there, but that fear doesn't have to paralyze you.  You can use that fear and turn it into something that helps carry you through the water instead of sinking you in the water. Quick tale of my first open water swim race.  I lined up on the beach to the left away from everybody and also behind everybody.  I figured we were swimming clockwise so I was in great position.  The gun goes off and instead of holding back like I planned I gunned it into the water.  I ran hard and dove in and swam so hard you would have thought I had a motor.  Then I was gassed and I was not at the first buoy and from my right came about 400 other swimmers.  Oh no, this is not good.  I swam and swam as best I could.  I finally had  to flip over onto my back.  I backstroked and was being passed by everybody and then even by people in the next wave and the wave after that.  I wanted to grab that kayak but he looked to far away.  At this point I said to myself.....'Jason just finish the swim and then hit the bike and run'  I did just that....all on my back until I felt close enough to swim in.  My time for 500m in my first open water swim?  14+ minutes.  I was the 2nd to last person in my age group out of the water but I ran to the bike and pedaled and then transitioned to the run and ran my tail off.  I wound up finishing in the top 1/2 of my age group because I did not give up.  To this day I remember that experience and I will not let it deter me but instead I allow it to motivate me. Next weekend I am heading back to that race and I am somewhat nervous.  This time I am doing the Olympic distance and not the sprint but I am concerned about the beach start and running in and getting going.  Where do I line up?  Should I hold back and then go?  The answers to those questions is starting to come into clarity.  I am lining up on the right and right in the front and I am going to haul in the water.  I am going to try to get in the 2:30s for this Olympic race and that means that I need to swim in the 26-28 minute range for 1500 meters.  I just swam 31 minutes at CapTexTri so I know I can do this time and I am going to do it.  I am not allowing my fear to slow me down but instead to motivate and speed me through the water. We all have our stories, but here are some tips from an article that I found that discusses their Top 10 Open Water Swimming Tip for Triathlon.  The article was featured in and this article was written by Article by: Alan Kipping-Ruane - TriGuy Multisport Coaching, LLC - and can be found [HERE] ===================== Open Water Race Day Secrets That The Pros Won’t Tell You Sitting down to think about some great race day tips for new triathletes seems easy, but thinking about pre-race rituals and strategies I use made me realize the many things on race day that have become automatic. Below I have outlined some race day secrets, in the hope that it makes your transition to the open water much easier! [caption id="attachment_3055" align="alignright" width="100" caption="Exiting the open water after 1.2 miles at 70.3 Ironman California"]Ironman-California-Open-Water-Swim-Exit[/caption] 1. Get Rid Of Your Fear And Just Do It If you aren’t sure what your fear is in swimming, then why have fear at all? I’m terrified sometimes by swimming in the ocean by myself so I try to avoid that when possible, but when it comes time to racing my mind goes blank and I focus on racing and nothing else. When you race, there are kayaks, lifeguards, and boats that will help you, but if the unknown strikes fear in you, focus on something positive and/or something funny to make light of your situation. Changing your thought patterns externally and internally could create the performance you were looking for. 2. Start Away From The Group Being color blind makes it very difficult for me to sight in the water, but I drift right. When racing, I will start all the way on the left and in the front because drifting right will let me head straight towards a buoy while passing everyone. Figure out how you drift and start on the opposite side. If you’re a weak swimmer, start in the back. It will be easier for you to draft and have a better idea which way the current is pushing you. 3. Have 2 Pairs Of Goggles – 1 Black & 1 Clear Early morning races mean that you might have the sun in your face when starting or finishing your swim. Having a dark colored type of goggle will give you a chance to protect your eyes and allow you to see. However, with a clear goggle, you can wear them on a cloudy day and still see.  Along with having two pairs of goggles, they are the one thing you don’t want to find out race day morning they were stepped on or have the strap broken.  Along with goggles I want to add my next point   4. No Need For Full Face Goggles You see alot of triathletes use the Navy Seal type full face goggle which almost looks like a scuba mask. The argument for them is that you can see more around you, but why would you want to? If you’re only concentrating on the people around you, your stroke starts to suffer and your hips will drop. My second reason; since the mask is connected throughout, if it starts to leak the whole goggle leaks and can affect both eyes where as having a pair that separates the eyes will only affect one eye it’s alot easier to clear the water out and go. If you can’t stop then you still have 1 eye to see out of. 5.  Wear a full sleeve wetsuit when possible There is always a huge debate that wearing a sleeveless wetsuit can be better for swimming since it doesn’t restrict your arms. Newer wetsuit “Technology” has begun to emerge allowing a bigger range of use for your arms. The only thing that might stop this from happening is you not putting your wetsuit on correctly. Get a full wetsuit, which will make you a bit more buoyant and faster in the water, learn how to correctly put it on and take it off. My recommended wetsuit brands are 2XU and Xterra. [caption id="attachment_3059" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Pier 121 Marina - Greg and I practice our open water swimming"]Open-Water-Swimming-Practice[/caption] 6. Pacing yourself, well almost… Just like the run or bike, you don’t want to burn yourself out that you can’t get to transition. You have either gone to fast or you used up too much energy in the swim.  Solution? Pace yourself, well almost…. Swimming doesn’t really affect your legs as much, but it does affect your aerobic system. You can take bigger risks in the swim by going a tad faster and surging compared to running or biking. Remember, don’t go too hard where you dig yourself in a hole. Stay with someone who is slightly faster and you will guarantee a PR in your next race. 7. Warm-up and Get Ready Warming up is great, but not all races allow it, or if they do you can’t go in the water because the lifeguards aren’t on duty yet. For an early season race with cold water you want to get your body acclimated to the temperature. As with all triathlons, warming up your arms and lungs will get you ready, have less fear of being in the water, and help you go full gas from the start of the race. 8. Get a coach You can always hire me, but getting a local coach is a must to excel in swimming. Having someone help you with your stroke can be an invaluable asset to your arsenal of triathlon tools for race day. The better your technique is, the faster you are and the more efficient you become. Easier said then done right?… 9.  Practice, Practice, Practice Practicing skills, technique, and speed is still at the core of everything. If don’t put the time in at the pool, how can you expect a great result at a race? Practice not only in the water, but with a wetsuit, and sprinting out of the water to simulate T1. The more time in the water now, will help establish fitness that you can’t erase in the future. 10. Race My last tip for you is to race. Getting faster in the water, getting comfortable and everything I said above is great advice, but the more you race the better you become.  There is no way an Olympic triathlete only races a few times in their career to get where they are. They consistently practiced, prepared, and raced. They had failures and just as much success. Building on things you learn when you race can get you to that next level you might be seeking. Beginners should look for indoor pool swims to start out, then migrate to a lake or river, and then to the ocean. Find a race you like, train with your friends and race to have fun. Don’t let your training partners or anyone else make you second guess your training. If you follow these rules, you’ll see benefits not only for this year, but will build fitness and strength for the future. Just remember, having a coach will help you through all of these steps and more. ==================== I could not agree more with these 10 points but the ones that stick out the most to me are numbers 9 and 10.  When I started in triathlon I was swimming 1 to 2 times per week.  I managed do swim a 37 minutes 1500m Olympic in October 2010. I was thrilled with this time but back in May I swam a 31 minutes 1500m Olympic.  I am now looking to go sub-30. This is a result of swimming up to 4 times per week now.  I am not only swimming four times but each set has a purpose.  It may be speed, it may be aerobic but either way there is a purpose.  On Friday I had a great session that included both fast swimming and aerobic long swimming.  I loved every minute of it and can't wait to do it again. Not only am I racing more, but my races are open water races and I love them.  I can get the feel of the competition and the white wash and how to control my breathing and my emotions.  So racing more is just like practicing more and it is all beneficial.

Any Tips For Open Water Swimming?

How Have You Handled Open Water Swimming?

Published in Train
Tuesday, 03 May 2011 15:17

Performance Anxiety?

[caption id="attachment_1955" align="alignleft" width="276" caption="Source"][/caption] This type of performance will not be helped with a little blue pill that's for sure.  What I am talking about is the swim start of a triathlon.  We all know it is called a white wash, a swim scrum, pure craziness and lots of other items.  Well it's all true but there are ways that you can prepare yourself for it. You could have friends beat you with noodles while swimming in the pool.  You could toss yourself into a washing machine.  Heck you could have a shark chase you round and round but those all sound like a lot of work to me. It was this type of conversation I was having with a participant in Marathon Makeover when the idea of how I could help her hit me.  I invited her to our newest open water training sessions that Greg (Twitter: @tri2live) and I are going to be doing each Thursday.  Show her how to not be afraid of the water.  How you can learn to swim in the open water without having all of that anxiety attached to it.  So much can be learned by actually swimming in the open water that cannot be taught through words alone. On that path I received an email today from ESPN that was perfect.  The title of the article is:  Seven Ways To Get Over Open Water Anxiety.  Well that made it easy for me didn't it?  Well I figured I would share those ways with you as well in case you were facing your first open water triathlon this year or you are a veteran like Hillary Biscay (who is quoted in the article.) Here is the article with my thoughts in red: ====================================

Seven ways to get over open water anxiety

By Selene Yeager Getting kicked in the face. Having a panic attack. Umm ... drowning?! If the thought of freestyling through open, unlined, even murky water with 800 other athletes makes you queasy, rest assured: You're not alone. Heck, even the pros get nervous. Just ask Ironman champion Hillary Biscay, who recently blogged about her "yearly panic attack." "Two minutes into the swim, I found myself treading water, undoing my wetsuit, trying to get my breathing under control ... I spent the rest of the swim catching up," said Biscay, whose bouts of open water anxiety began with a bad mass swim start in a freezing lake in l'Alpe d'Huez in 2006. The good news is that bad starts, bad experiences and bad fears all can be overcome, said marathon swimmer Erica Sheckler. As head swim coach for Endurance Multisport, she helps swimphobics (like Biscay) overcome their anxieties. "About 90 percent of my nervous newcomers end up loving the swim," she said. More than just offering reassuring words, Sheckler has a game plan for conquering your H2O-phobia: Warm up. You always start pool sessions with kicking drills and warm up sets to elevate your heart rate, warm your muscles, and get a feel for the water. Doing the same before an open water swim will prepare your body and calm your nerves. I did exactly this prior to my first olympic distance race last October and it was perfect.  It was perfect because my first open water swim went exactly as most people expect it to.  Getting kicked, punched, hit, panic attack....all of the above.  I did not let it stop me but I was fearful of what was to come at the Olympic distance.  The warm-up was perfect as my body was ready to swim. Think efficient, not fast. "Often athletes will focus so much on going fast they don't realize how much effort they're wasting. Wasted energy means higher heart rate and higher likelihood for panic," said Sheckler. "Focus on your swim form and being smooth and controlled. You'll swim better ... and calmer." I have said this one million times and will continue to say it. Swimming is about form and not about turning your arms faster.  You will get nowhere that way, but with the proper form comes speed.  It has proven to be true time and time again and if I could give anybody one piece of advice about swimming it is just that.  Swim with better form and you will be faster. Breathe. High nerves lead to shallow breaths, which lead to panicky sensations. Take deep breaths before you get in the water and continue during the swim, blowing out and emptying your lungs each time, so you can draw a deep breath when you turn for air. And if you end up with a giant mouthful of water because of a wave or swimmer's wake, relax. Do a breaststroke or two to catch your breath and keep going. I have a technique that I use.  I blow out my nose as I turn to breathe.  I take in as much air as possible and breathe out with my face in the water and then as I turn I breathe out again using my nose.  I helps keep me in tune with my body. It provides me a rythym and I know when I don't do it I get thrown off.  Find a rhythym for yourself and practice it over and over. [caption id="attachment_1958" align="alignright" width="260" caption="Source"][/caption] Establish Plan P. Panic happens. Have a plan so you're prepared to handle it. Rule number one: ease up on the pace, said Biscay. "If you feel panic coming on, just slow down. It calms your breathing and allows you to continue." My plan P involved the catch-up drill and the finger tip drag drill combined.  This automatically slows me down and allows me to catch my breathe and eleviate any sense of panic.  It has taken me some time to get to that point and it didn't happen over night but with more and more practice I am now able to control myself better. Pick your position. Stay out of the swim start scrum by positioning yourself to the side or back of the pack. Really nervous? Stay in place and let the pack thin before starting out. Then enjoy swimming in the draft. This one I am not so sure about other than just hang back.  I started on the left hand side of a beach start and got trampled.  I have been involved in a drop in off a dock start and while you don't have tons of people on top of you there will be times when you hit arms and legs and when arms and legs hit you.  It happens and you need to be prepared for it.  I started 70.3 IMCA right at the front and had no issues with being run over.  I think it is just a matter of the race and it's participants. Watch your wetsuit. Wetsuits make you more buoyant, but can feel claustrophobic on land (and raise anxiety). Pull the suit high on your body, so it's not pressing on your neck, shoulders, and chest. "Add lubricant like Sportslick around the neck, so it moves freely," Sheckler said. I will say I have never heard of this one before but it makes total sense.  Without that added pressure you are capable of breathing more freely.  I use tri-slide and spray that everywhere but will remember this tip the next time I feel a panic attack coming on before I am in the water. Easy on the Starbucks. Java is a performance enhancer ... until you overdo it. "Limiting my caffeine helps me avoid the onset of panicky feelings," said Biscay. Skip anything with the word "Grande," "Venti" or, heaven forbid, "Trenta" attached to it. This goes without say in my world.  Never mind the nerve rattling, but what about the porto-potty rattling that could happen.  Enough said about this one. And because life has a way of being so kind to you sometimes I came across an article by Susan Lacke (Twitter:  @susanlacke --> follow her as she is a great source of motivation and inspiration) on the No Meat Athlete site titled 'How to Survice Your First Open Water Swim: 8 Tips for the New Triathlete' Susan attacks her topics with a great sense of humor and this article is no different but it is very helpful for not only those first time triathletes but for those of us who have been through the white was a few times as well. Here are Susan's 8 tips, and if you are interested in reading more then please do yourself a favor and click on the link above and read the entire article.  It will help you out.  

1) There is no such thing as a lake zombie.

2) There are, however, other creatures in the water. Deal with it.

3) Get the right gear.

4) Have a strategy.

5) Keep calm. When you're surrounded by other swimmers, especially during the mass start, you'll feel like you're in a washing machine with 700 ninjas. (Had to leave this here because of the Ninja factor.)

6) Breathe & blow.

7) Watch where you're going.

8 ) Make a smooth exit.


What are your tips and tricks for the open water swim?  How do you train for an open water swim?

Published in Train