I come across many people who struggle with their breathing when faced with open water, It’s totally normal and will get easier with practice. It’s vital you know how to get your breathing under control – you need to be as relaxed and confident as possible in a race situation. Try ‘bubble breathing’ underwater. If you make yourself say the word ‘bubble’ as you put your face in, you will be forced to exhale, allowing you to inhale more naturally as you take your next breath.
Find a happy place
In a race situation, you will probably feel nervous at some point. It is important that you are able to bring everything back to a normal standing point, so that you can avoid getting into a panic state. For me, the best way to do this is to think about something that makes me feel great. It doesn’t have to be swimming related – it could be a holiday, a person or a moment that lifts your spirits. Do this in training so that it comes naturally when you need it in a race.
Get the right wetsuit
If you intend to race in a wetsuit, ensure you get one that fits you well as there is nothing worse than an ill-fitting wetsuit! Don’t be afraid to ask wetsuit companies if you can try on the wetsuits, and don’t hesitate to send your suit back if you’re not sure about the fit.
When training in open water, safety comes first. Never train alone, and if possible, try to join a group or a club who are familiar with the location and potential hazards. Just because the water looks calm, doesn’t always mean it is safe to swim in. You may wish to consider swimming with a tow float too, which will make you more visible in the water.
Sighting can take up quite a lot of energy if you are not comfortable with the movement. Try to practise sighting even when you are training in the pool. The better you become at incorporating sighting into your stroke, the easier you will find it in a race situation. When you sight, don’t worry if you don’t see what you are aiming for on your first look. Take a few more strokes, and look again.
Train your energy systems
It is easy to approach a training session with a simple distance goal in mind, such as: ‘I’m going to swim a mile today’. However, it is important that you mix up your training sessions so that you ‘train your energy systems’: mix sprints with tempo and distance work to get the best results. It may be that you need to be able to sprint at some point in your race, and you need to be prepared for this.
Plan your session before you hit the water. This will ensure you get the best from your time in the water, and that you remain engaged and motivated throughout.
Matt laminate is your friend!
If you matt laminate a piece of paper, you can write your session on this in pencil and re-use it on poolside.
Go out and practice drafting with a group of friends, or join an open water club session and team up with some swimmers to have a go at getting close in the water. Don’t be scared to swim right behind and just behind the hips of other swimmers, try it in training to get a feel for what is possible in a race environment.
Before your race, visualise the course in your head. Think your way through different circumstances, and what you will do if they occur – for example, what is your plan if you get cramp? What do you intend to do your goggles come off? What will you do if you feel much better in the water than you thought you would do?