By Brenton Ford.
- Practice open water skills in the pool
There’s a big difference between swimming fast in the pool and swimming fast in open water.
Just like bike-handling skills require regular practice and experience, the same thing goes for open water skills. Getting comfortable sighting regularly (every 6-12 strokes), swimming in a pack and being confident in choppy conditions come only from practice. Most of these things can be done in the pool, and I’ll often have the squads I coach do pack swimming at the end of their session once a week. A set of 8×50’s at race pace in group of 5-10 people can help increase your con dence being surrounded by other swimmers.
If you’re having trouble sighting comfortably and easily you might be doing it wrong. Using the ‘sight and breathe’ is much easier than sighting after you breathe. There are a lot of videos online to show you how to do this.
- Get out in the open
Swimming in the ocean or lake can be a very different experience than in the pool. The best way to gain confidence and get better at it is to do it.
Across Australia there are many groups and clubs you can swim with in a safe and supportive environment like Manly’s ‘Bold and the Beautiful’.
Don’t leave it until race day, especially if you are racing in a wetsuit. Swim at least three times in your wetsuit before racing in it to get used to the extra buoyancy and how it might affect your arm recovery.
- One race pace set per week
Most weekends we run freestyle stroke correction clinics around Australia, and one of the most common things I hear from triathletes is that they ‘only have one speed’. This is often caused by training at one speed, also know as the ‘grey zone’.
Many swimmers will do their fast efforts too slow and their slow efforts too fast.
One of my favourite ways to develop the strength, fitness and pacing to maintain a quicker speed in races are race pace swim sets at your race distance. For example if your next race is an Olympic distance triathlon with a 1500m swim, a main set once a week of 15x100m at your target race pace (e.g. 1:40/100m) with 20 seconds rest after each 100m can help get you there.
- Plan (for the good and the bad)
Before each race the very best swimmers will scope out the course; where the buoys are, what land markers they can line up with while swimming to make it easier to sight and how deep the entry and exit points are. Having a race plan can help you pace the swim correctly and avoid being caught up in someone else’s race.
In the last two triathlons I raced at, the same swimmer tried to swim with me for the first 500m, but he ended up fatiguing quickly and getting swallowed by the pack behind. He would have been better taking the first 500m easier to avoid ‘blowing up’ so early in the swim. Finding an athlete of a similar or slightly quicker speed to you at the start line is a good way to find someone early to draft off. That is if you trust they can swim straight! If you’re less confident in open water, start to the side of the pack to avoid being swam over.
When I’m coaching triathletes, during the main set I’ll often ask them to picture themselves in their most important event for the year. I want them to visualise how they will feel, the effort they’ll be putting in and how they expect to be swimming.
This is an effective strategy for reducing your nerves on race day because you’ll feel like you’ve been in that situation many times before. At smaller races I have my athletes visualise the key moments of their race prior to starting.