Can Open Water Swimming Be Dangerous?

Answer: In the same way that a bee sting, crossing the street, and juggling with fire can be.  The more experience you have, the better you can deal with the variations.

The death of an athlete in the Louisville, Kentucky Ironman last weekend has focused attention on the dangers of the open-water portion of such events. The forty-six year old male athlete from New York  experienced cardiac arrest and was pulled from the river just after he started the swimming portion. [read more…]

Nevertheless, the dangers, mostly related to the stresses of breathing in open water amid a mass of swimmers, have long been the fears of both triathletes and open water swimmers.

Where is that turn buoy?

“What do you do if you hyperventilate?” “What do you do if your goggles come off? If you bump into a boat? If someone swims over the top of you, kicks you in the face and other unpleasantness?”

If any of these things happen in the open water and you’re not prepared for it, you can panic and can get into real trouble.

So many things can go wrong in an open-water swim. Combine the open water with adrenaline and pushing yourself to your limits to achieve a PB and together they will raise your stress levels.

This leads me to the question for first timers, newbie’s and recreational swimmers and triathletes…

Where do you do your specific open water swimming training and race preparation?

This is one of my first questions in our clinics and I was shocked (but not anymore) that regardless of open water swimming being a key part of a triathlon most train 100% in a pool. This does not prepare you for the challenges of swimming with many people in an open and unstructured environment.

Factors to consider include the anxiety of a mass start, wearing a wetsuit, people kicking you in the face and maybe then you swallow some water or start to hyperventilate and you could get into a panic situation. If you’ve never done it before, it’s even worse.

No wonder the high stress levels and anxiety attacks. No wonder the numbers of people who come out of their first OWS event saying that was the worst experience of their life and will never return. No wonder that triathletes say “I would be a great triathlete if there was no open water swim section!”

This is the same case in our clinics when some people get out of the water and say, ‘I can’t do this.” But I talk to them, and they get back in for another 20-minute swim, and they’re fine. That’s because now they’ve experienced the chaos and are better able to deal with it.”

Acclimatisation is the fundamental key for all newcomers.

How do you acclimatise with an environment not found in the controlled swimming pool environment?

Introduction to Open Water!

To become more familiar with the environment of open water swimming, means spending more time in the water: becoming comfortable swimming in close proximity to other competitors, and the ability not to panic when dealing with incidents, such as collisions, kicks to the face, or losing goggles.

Many of the situations are exactly what we practice in the clinics in a hands on, in-your-face approach: teaching swimmers to deal with uncomfortable situations.  I do this with both Open Water Swimmers and triathletes with the number one commandment being safety first throughout.

I do not care how good of a swimmer you are in the pool. There is no cross transfer from pool swimming to the open water. You need to learn to handle not being able to see the bottom and having to “sight” without walls, lane ropes and that black line!

I have seen way too many inadequately prepared for open-water swimming. They don’t know how challenging it can be. I’ve seen fantastically gifted swimmers get into open water and freak out.

Everyone panics – myself included. It is just how you deal with the flood of incoming information (mass start, pack swimming, turn buoys, sighting, wind and waves) that determines the outcome.  Then you take your next stroke and deal with it all over again…..

Boost Your Confidence... Overcome Your Fear

There is no better way to become more comfortable with the environment than by training in the environment you will be competing in.  You will find clinics and squad sessions help you become more relaxed come race day, anxiety levels are reduced and nervous energy is not wasted.

Your call to action:

1. join a squad and head to your local open water venue to practice with group of athletes

2. gain confidence, experience and skillset by attending Open Water Swimming clinics

See you sea side!

Cheers Head Coach Shelley

PS: comment below if you require information on ows squads and clinics at beaches, lakes and rivers in your local area.

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