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No pool? No problem. Open water swim training.

With pools across the country still closed, the good news for triathletes is that lakes are warming up.

For many Canadian triathletes open water swimming will be the only option for the forseeable future. Some tips to make the return to the water much easier.

While many people complain about the “black line fever” associated with pool swimming, the “no bottom fever” from open water can be worse. But right now if you want to swim, most likely your only option will be in a local lake. While temperatures might still be a bit cool in many parts of the country, many people are braving the cooler temperatures for the opportunity to get a swim. Some tips to make your return to the water that much easier.

Cold water hacks

When it comes to dealing with 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, ithelps. 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

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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:

Warm-Up             10 min easy swim
Main 4×40 seconds at start speed/rest 30 seconds between each effort
400 m (6 to 7 minutes) moderate/45 seconds rest
800 m (around 15 minutes) of steady draft work. Exchange the lead every 50 strokes-the leader
pulls over and the others swim past. This is best done in groups of three or four.
40 x 40 seconds surge/30 seconds easy between each effort
Cool-Down 400 m (7 to 8 minutes)

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.