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Triathlon Magazine Canada - - CONTENTS - By Zsofi Balazs

Open Wa­ter Olympic Wis­dom

In her Olympic de­but, Hun­gar­ian-born Cana­dian Zsofi Balazs was the coun­try’s first fe­male to com­pete in the 10 km open-wa­ter swim­ming event which be­came an Olympic sport in 2008. She was only 22 years old and fin­ished 18th. Balazs is coached by open wa­ter guru and world-class coach Linda Kiefer. Here Balazs of­fers ad­vice to triath­letes want­ing to mas­ter the open wa­ter.

Set­tle the swim start

There’s noth­ing calm­ing about hun­dreds of people clos­ing in on you in a swim start. No mat­ter how many races I have done, the start and first turn still make me anx­ious. Know­ing you are not alone in feel­ing this can ac­tu­ally help you go with the f low. Fo­cus on get­ting your breath­ing un­der con­trol right away. There’s a ten­dency to start hy­per­ven­ti­lat­ing and sprint­ing but the two don’t work to­gether. To avoid pan­ick­ing I get out to the front as fast as I can and stay there un­til the pack set­tles, then I drop back so I am not the only one work­ing. When that’s not pos­si­ble, try keep­ing your head up for the first 30 to 50 m to avoid the hands and feet of those in front of you as this will also make you feel in con­trol. If all else fails, turn on your back and take a few strokes to grab some ex­tra oxy­gen. This will also let you see what’s around and get your bear­ings.

Stay men­tally sharp

I of­ten get asked what I think about while swim­ming for 10 km. I al­ways aim to stay hy­per aware and in the mo­ment. For those rac­ing the iron dis­tance, this is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant since there’s more time for the mind to wan­der and po­ten­tially, for ef­fort to wane. To avoid this, I fo­cus on what’s hap­pen­ing around me, keep­ing track of caps or the bod­ies be­side me. I count laps be­cause we typ­i­cally do four laps of 2.5 km. I also count the buoys be­cause it’s im­por­tant to know where I need to be in terms of po­si­tion so I don’t get caught in the mid­dle of things when the pack bunches up.

Sight well and ahead of time

To max­i­mize sight­ing in a race, I try to get on the swim course a few days be­fore the race and I stop at each turn or ma­jor buoy. I look around in each di­rec­tion and try and pick points that I can use to sight in the race. Look for big items such as build­ings, ho­tels or houses that have dif­fer­ent colours. If the­ses aren’t avail­able, pick two high points and aim in be­tween them. Many people think they need to take an ex­act line while sight­ing. But that’s not true. You just need a close enough di­rec­tion so if you make a mis­take you don’t need to swim a kilo­me­tre to cor­rect it. As you get closer to a turn or buoy you will be able to make the nec­es­sary cor­rec­tions. Be aware of cur­rents and waves. Depend­ing on those you might have to aim way off to go where you want to go. Have you ever played the game snakes and lad­ders? Cur­rents can be lad­ders when you know how to use them, but one mis­take and you snake on back down.

Grease up

One thing marathon swim­mers share with triath­letes is chaf­ing. Due to a bad ex­pe­ri­ence where gog­gles met Vase­line, I am against all grease when it comes to my races, but that means I am usu­ally the one bleed­ing at the end of a race. How­ever, if you avoid con­tact with your gog­gles, Vase­line is a great tool. Ap­ply it with rub­ber gloves to be ex­tra safe in case you need to ad­just those gog­gles be­fore the gun goes off. Be sure to cover every­where your suit rubs your skin with spe­cial at­ten­tion to un­der arms, around shoul­der straps and neck­line if you’re wear­ing a wet­suit.

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