Triathlon Magazine Canada - - SWIM TRAINING - BY CLINT LIEN

WHILE MANY PEO­PLE com­plain about the “black line fever” associated with pool swim­ming, the “no bot­tom fever” from open wa­ter is worse. For oth­ers, the thought of that ini­tial cold slap to the face that sucks the breath out of your lungs and sends a jolt to your heart keeps them away from the shores un­til the sum­mer sun has had enough time to bring up the wa­ter tem­per­a­tures. For most Cana­di­ans, that of­ten comes after the first few races of the sea­son are al­ready in the books. An­other fac­tor that of­ten keeps peo­ple from open wa­ter swims is crowds. After months spent in a civ­i­lized pool leav­ing 10 sec­onds be­tween swim­mers, hav­ing peo­ple all around can be un­com­fort­able. The ear­lier you can get in the open wa­ter and be­gin pre­par­ing, the bet­ter off you’ll be.

The first “of­fi­cial” open wa­ter swim ses­sion here in Vic­to­ria took place on May 4. The wa­ter was a chilly 15.3 C. We had 23 brave souls show up. A week later, the wa­ter was 16.7 C and the num­ber of swim­mers rose to 35. By June we had 75 and the tem­per­a­tures were north of 18 C.

Cold wa­ter hacks

When it comes to deal­ing with the cold wa­ter, there are a num­ber of things you can do. A ther­mos of warm wa­ter poured down the wet­suit just prior to get­ting in can help the ini­tial tran­si­tion, or you can just drink lots of warm tea be­fore and create your own warm wa­ter (pee in your wet­suit) upon en­ter­ing the wa­ter. There are also neo­prene booties, gloves and caps avail­able. You can also dou­ble up sil­i­cone caps and ap­ply Vaseline on the cheeks, hands or feet. While it’s messy, it helps. One of my favourite tips to share is to use ear plugs. A sim­ple pair of ear plugs can make cold wa­ter con­sid­er­ably more com­fort­able. The colder the wa­ter, the more likely one is to ex­pe­ri­ence ver­tigo. Ear plugs can erase that ef­fect com­pletely. The foam ones used for noise re­duc­tion work great, but sil­i­cone is best.

An­other strat­egy is to have a “train­ing” wet­suit and a “rac­ing” suit. Rac­ing suits use thin­ner neo­prene wher­ever it’s needed for flex­i­bil­ity and heav­ier where it’s not. Gen­er­ally, a sin­gle-thick­ness suit is cheaper, more durable and warmer, but it’s slower. I like this so­lu­tion as it falls into the “train heavy, race light” phi­los­o­phy I be­lieve in.

Buddy up

Swim­ming alone in open wa­ter is never a great idea, but for some, it’s pos­i­tively ter­ri­fy­ing. If you’re some­one who has anx­i­ety over the “vast­ness” of open wa­ter, find oth­ers to join you. If that’s not an op­tion, then maybe a friend can pad­dle be­side you in a kayak. For most swim­mers, tack­ling this fear head-on will re­sult in its re­duc­tion after only a few ses­sions.

Crowd con­trol

Then there are those who are chal­lenged by the idea of get­ting in with too many oth­ers. The thrash­ing is scary. In a way, the so­lu­tion is the same as be­ing anx­ious about get­ting in alone. Get in with oth­ers and get used to hav­ing them close to you. It doesn’t take long to re­al­ize that the con­tact that comes in the heat of com­pe­ti­tion and train­ing is never as bad as your imag­i­na­tion.

Open wa­ter train­ing

And what do you do, once you’re in? Many ath­letes sim­ply get in and swim long, straight swims, where the level of ef­fort is pro­foundly lower than race ef­fort or the cu­mu­la­tive ef­fect of a pool ses­sion. For that rea­son, have a planned work­out ready. It’s ideal to have oth­ers with you. An ef­fec­tive lake ef­fort might look like this:

Open wa­ter swim­ming is an es­sen­tial part of a triathlete’s train­ing reg­i­men. Some have it eas­ier than oth­ers as far as ac­ces­si­bil­ity and con­di­tions, but with a few tricks and some de­ter­mi­na­tion al­most ev­ery Cana­dian should be able to take ad­van­tage of our beau­ti­ful lakes and oceans.

Clint Lien is the head coach of Mer­cury Ris­ing Triathlon in Vic­to­ria: mer­curyris­ing­

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