There is a distinct difference between pool and open water swimming.
To improve you must jump into the open water and swim to better your swim time. Fact. Open water swimming is very different from pool lap swimming. Many triathletes religiously complete their pool swim sessions each week in prep for their upcoming race, but many don’t incorporate open water swimming. I’m guilty of this. Race day comes around and they wonder why they didn’t swim fast or why they didn’t hold the same pace they do in the pool? The reason. You haven’t been practicing open water skills to make you an effective and efficient open water swimmer.
What you need to consider about open water swimming.
Pool swimming is protected, safe, single file swimming. An environment to practice your technique, perform drills and get your swimming miles up. Open water swimming exposes the athlete to external elements. Which way is the current, is there chop or waves, lack of visibility both in the water and glare from the sun, tight and rough pack swimming, manoeuvring buoys, deep water or run starts, crocodile sighting, choosing the fastest race lines, drafting, water temperatures, wearing a wetsuit and believe it or not considering the marine life.
# Assess the current.
# If the water is choppy shorten your stroke. Sight at the top of each wave.
# Use landmarks for sighting.
# Manoeuvring buoys are where you can make up a lot of ground. 15 – 20 metres before your turn pick up the pace. Turn as close as possible.
# Practice both deep water and run starts.
# Use crocodile sighting, just lifting your eyes out of the water every 6 to 8 strokes.
# Know your course and swim it tight. Take the closest line to the buoys. Generally speaking shallow water will produce a faster swim time so if possible swim the banks (if a canal swim) so long as this is an efficient race line.
# Drafting is a massive topic and a lot could be said. In layman’s terms find a faster swimmer and stick either just behind or on their hip. Let them drag you and reduce your effort by 30%. Don’t rely on them to sight. This is still your responsibility.
# Water temperatures do vary. Know the temperature and what to expect before you race. Wet suit legal or not?
# You must practice swimming in a wet suit and most importantly make sure it’s worn correctly.
# Forget the marine life. When was the last time your heard a triathlete taken by a croc!