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swim training
Open Water
Coyotes triathlon & bike club coordinates weekly open water workouts designed to aid in the fear of getting into the ocean and swimming in rough water and tackling the surf. The workouts are designed to incorporate all levels of swimmers from the beginner to the advanced. We also offer two different locations, one in the North County and one in La Jolla Cove.

Pool Workouts
Coyotes triathlon & bike club has 4 primary locations where they practice their pool workouts two in the North County, at the Encinitas YMCA and Carlsbad. Both pools offer excellent Masters programs. In the South Bay the preferred training places for our Coyotes is the Chula Vista YMCA and the 24 Hr. fitness on H street.


Get Comfortable
Admittedly, it is important to feel comfortable in open water before you can really enjoy it. And to feel comfortable, you have to understand what the water can do, what you can do, and have some confidence that you can handle whatever it throws at you. Don't go into the water with the attitude that you can depend upon someone else t o bail you out. Lifeguards, and other people, will do what they can to help you, but if seven other people also go in with the same attitude and have trouble at the same time you do….

Maintaining your composure
In almost every pool I know, it is impossible to be more than 4 lanes widths from a wall. And with lane ropes installed, there is always something within an arms reach for support in case you get a mouth full of water. That is not the case with open water.

Swimming alone or with a small group, there is often nothing right next to you to hang onto. At least in races, there are usually lifeguards on rescue boards or kayaks nearby to quickly lend assistance. How far you feel comfortable swimming without hanging onto something?

Think carefully about the question, because the answer is very important. In the pool, do you grab the wall at each turn in order to get a little rest or a little more breath? Can you swim longer distances without grabbing a wall? Can you stay afloat while coughing from getting a mouthful of water, or do you hang onto the lane rope? Can you keep swimming when you get a side stitch, calf cramp, or foot cramp? Can you swim underwater for a few seconds without feeling claustrophobic?

Although it is not uncommon for even very experienced swimmers to occasionally feel a little panicky in open water, panicking is about the worst thing you can do in open water (it isn't recommended in many other situations either). The biggest mental challenge to open water swimming is to maintain composure no mater what happens. This may require doing some breaststroke, or even treading water or floating for a little while. I have always valued my life a lot more than staying with the pack, a fast time, or riding a great wave. Find some way to keep afloat and to regain your composure. With this mental security, you will at least enable yourself to enter another event at a later date. With that in mind, I am not aware of any open water races that require you to swim any particular stroke, so do whatever stroke you feel most comfortable with.

Don't Swim Alone
Even if you have tried to prepare for every possible problem, it is always possible that something unexpected will happen and you find yourself needing help. That is not the time to be alone. If there are lifeguards, let them know your plans before you start swimming. If there are no lifeguards, then swim with someone else (keeping an eye on each other and knowing lifesaving will both help). Even if there are lifeguards, a partner will be able to get to you a lot sooner than a lifeguard.

Make yourself visible
Along those same lines, make yourself easy to see. Not only will it help people find you if you need help, but it may also help boats see you and only come close instead of running over you. Those bright swim caps they make you wear at the races aren't just for decoration!. The only times I ever wear a swim cap are in open water and cold water (like when the heater goes out in the pool).

Can you swim in the right direction when there is no line painted on the bottom?
    Looking up slows you down and tires you out. If you can stay on course, you will be much better off looking up every 20 strokes as opposed to every 6 strokes. Not looking up may speed you up, but that doesn't do much good if you start swimming in circles. The classic solution to this is to practice swimming a length of the pool with your eyes closed.
  • Know where to expect the buoy (I'll use the term buoy, even though you may end up using some other landmark) when you look. It is a whole lot easier to find the North Star if you start by looking generally north. Likewise, it is a whole lot easier to spot a buoy or some other target if you generally look in the right direction and know where to expect it. During swim practices in the pool, I look at the pace clock in the middle of swims. Because I am too far down the pool by my second breath off the wall, I get only one chance to read it. In order to get a good reading, I need to know where I expect to see the second hand.
  • Don't look for too long. If you don't spot your marker (buoy) quickly, take another stroke and look again then. Or you may have only gotten a glimpse of the buoy before you had to put your face back in the water. But this should help you spot it more quickly the next time you look. In choppy or rough water, you may be in the trough of a wave in one stroke, making a buoy impossible to see. But two strokes later, you may be on the crest and able to see for hundreds of yards. Note also that even though you may be on the crest of the wave, the buoy may be in a trough. Oh well, it is better to keep swimming in the direction where you think the buoy is located than to stop until you sight it. Although lifeguards swim with their heads up, we don't have to. A lifeguard's target is much more likely to disappear under the water than a big orange buoy (and have greater consequences, too).
  • Follow others. If you are swimming with others, and they appear to be swimming in a straight line, just follow them. But even though they will probably not intentionally veer off course, you should still check periodically.
  • Find things to the side that you can use as markers. Although at 4.4 miles, the Great Chesapeake Bay Swim is one of the longer popular open water swims, it is quite easy navigationally. The swim goes from the western shore of the bay to the eastern shore between the two spans of the bridge. I rarely had to look forward in this swim. I saw the south span whenever I breathed on my right and the north span when I breathed on my left. Likewise, you can use the shore to keep you on target.
  • Use your imagination. There are lots of things around that can help you stay in a straight line without looking up too often. I have used the direction that the rays of sunlight are entering the water to help me stay in a straight line. It certainly isn't perfect, but if it allows me to look up only every 20 strokes instead of 6, it is worth it.
  • Don't make big adjustments to your position. If you find yourself quite a ways to the side of the course, change your direction to slowly move back. Remember that the shortest distance from your current position to the next turn is a straight line, no matter where you are. Don't bother swimming straight back to the other swimmers before heading for the next turn; just go for the next turn. You really do not swim much further if you gradually move away from the shortest path and then gradually move back. On an out and back 1.5K swim, you can swim over 40 meters to the side on each leg of the swim, and still swim only an additional 10 meters for the entire swim.
Racing with Others
Racing in open water is not quite the same as just swimming in open water. There are lots of other people around. Do you feel comfortable swimming in the midst of 400 flailing arms and legs? Do you prefer having a little space around you? Keep this in mind during the swim. You almost always have the ability to control how large of a pack you are swimming in. If there are too many arms and legs, move to the outside of the course. I recommend the outside of the course over the inside of the course because of turns. At turns, everybody bunches up as close to the buoy as they can. If you are on the inside, you must work your way into that group in order to swim around the buoy (rules generally frown upon swimming to the inside of the turn buoy). If you are on the outside, you can remain just to the outside as everybody else fights to get within touching distance of the buoy.

Although there are advantages to be gained from drafting other swimmers, you have to be careful in doing so - there are some pitfalls also. When I am drafting someone else, I often notice that my stroke is much choppier as I am struggling to stay in the proper position. If the swimmer is the same speed as me, I find this choppiness just makes me more tired without any additional speed. Occasionally, I will find a swimmer or group of swimmers who I can draft, but I probably spend most of my time in open water races looking for open water where I can stretch out my stroke and cruise. Don't convince yourself that you have to draft just because it is faster; it may not be worth it, so examine each situation.

Race Start (finding/creating space)
Take a handful of spaghetti (uncooked is much less messy) and hold it so all the noodles are resting vertically on the table. (If you are at the office, you can go to the supply cabinet and use a handful of pens as a substitute) They can all be contained in a pretty small circle on the table. Now let them all fall over in the same direction. They are now all over each other and take up much more space on the table. Now imagine a whole bunch of swimmers/triathletes standing on the beach or treading water behind the starting line. They are contained in a pretty small area. Now sound the starting horn and what happens? They all go from being vertical to being horizontal and, just like the spaghetti, are now all over each other. No wonder we always get mercilessly kicked and elbowed at the beginning of races; there just isn't enough room for everybody until after we start to spread out.

If you don't want to be a part of all those flying arms and legs, then plan your escape route before the race starts. Don't start in the middle of the front. Start in the the back, where nobody else will really want your space in the water. The only trouble is that as people get tired after the initial sprint, you will have to navigate through them (or over them, but I don't think Miss Manners would approve). Another option is to start near one side or the other. You can always just swim a little further to the outside to get away from the elbows, yet there aren't as many people to swim through after they tire from their sprint. If you want to mix it up with the other swimmers, then be prepared to do a little fighting to maintain your space. A bigger, more forceful kick is one method of getting a little more room. The splash acts as discouragement for those around you. Even if they are not afraid of getting kicked, I don't know of many swimmers who like to take a breath while getting splashed in the face. Another trick that is not too obnoxious is simply to make your pull a little wider and hold your forearm close to vertical. This allows you to use your forearm to keep other swimmers a slight distance to your side.

This article is Copyright (c) 1995 by John F. Walker.

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