Open Water Swimming: Preparing For Your First Event

by James Eacott

Open Water Swimming: Preparing For Your First Event

Open water swimming offers an exciting blend of adventure and physical challenge, drawing enthusiasts to embrace tnature beyond the comfort of a swimming pool. Whether you're intrigued by the expansive horizons of lakes and seas or motivated by events like the Big Cotswold Swim, embarking on this journey requires a blend of preparation, training and an adventurous spirit. Here's your guide to getting started and eventually mastering the waves for your first open water event.

Starting Your Open Water Swimming Journey

  1. Acclimate to Open Water: The transition from pool to open water can be nerve-wracking due to variable temperatures particularly in the UK. Add to this reduced visibility and the absence of lane lines and it can be panic-inducing. Begin by finding a local open water clinic or group that welcomes beginners such as our friends at Swim South West. Swimming in a group not only boosts confidence but also ensures safety
  2. Focus on Technique: In open water, efficiency trumps speed. Work on a smooth, sustainable stroke and efficient breathing. Unlike the pool, where you might breathe every three strokes, open water conditions may require you to adjust your breathing pattern based on waves, wind and fatigue levels
  3. Equip Yourself Properly: A well-fitted wetsuit can significantly enhance your open water swimming experience by providing warmth and buoyancy. Additionally, invest in a brightly colored swim cap and a safety buoy. These are not just for visibility; the buoy offers a resting spot if needed
  4. Learn to Navigate: Without the clear-cut lanes of a pool, navigation becomes crucial in open water (you don't want to swim any longer than you 'have' to!). Practice 'sighting'—lifting your eyes from the water to spot landmarks or buoys while maintaining your swim rhythm. This skill prevents you from veering off course and saves energy in the long run

Preparing for the Big Cotswold Swim

Once you've dipped your toes into the basics of open water swimming, the next wave of your journey involves gearing up for a specific event like the Big Cotswold Swim. Here's how to refine your training:

  • Gradually Increase Distance: Start by establishing a comfortable baseline distance and incrementally increase it. If one of the distances on offer at the Big Cotswold Swim is your goal, tailor your training to exceed the event's distance. This builds endurance and confidence
  • Simulate Race Conditions: Try to train in conditions similar to those expected on race day. If the event takes place in a lake, prioritise lake swims. Familiarise yourself with water temperatures and practice swimming in a group to mimic race start scenarios
  • Incorporate Open Water Skills: Allocate parts of your training sessions to practice specific open water skills such as mass starts, turning around buoys and drafting behind others. These can all significantly improve your speed (and enjoyment!) on race day
  • Plan Your Nutrition and Hydration: Unlike pool swimming, you'll need to consider your nutrition and hydration strategy for longer open water events. For longer swims, you might want to practice using energy gels or drinks to find what works best for you

Embracing the Open Water Community

The open water swimming community is renowned for its camaraderie and support. Engaging with this community through social media, forums and local clubs can provide motivation, advice and friendship. Sharing experiences and challenges with fellow swimmers enriches the journey and strengthens your resolve.

Safety First

While the allure of open water swimming is undeniable, it's paramount to prioritise safety. Always swim with a buddy or group, inform someone of your swim plans and pay attention to weather and water conditions. Respecting nature's unpredictability ensures that your open water adventures remain joyful and safe.

The Finish Line Awaits

Transitioning from a beginner in open water swimming to participating in an event like the Big Cotswold Swim is a testament to personal growth, resilience and the spirit of adventure. The journey from pool to pond, lake or sea offers a unique blend of physical challenge and natural beauty. As you glide through open waters, remember that every stroke brings you closer to not just the finish line but also to becoming a more adept, confident and joyful swimmer.

Whether you're motivated by the thrill of competition, the quest for personal achievement, or the sheer love of nature, open water swimming offers a deeply rewarding experience. By preparing thoughtfully, training purposefully, and embracing the open water community, you're setting the stage for an incredible aquatic adventure. Dive in—the water's fine, and the horizon is limitless.

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