My first open water swim that I would consider as part of my triathlon training was in crystal clear waters in a protected swim area in Jamaica. The second two have been off the beach at Chesapeake Bay Foundation and I hope there are at least two more open water swim practices in my future before the day of the triathlon. Though the tropical conditions of the Jamaica water with colorful fish I could see below me and a high level of salinity helping to keep me afloat and the brackish dark water of Chesapeake Bay are drastically different, they do have one thing in common–there is no perfectly straight black line along the bottom to guide you.
Within the enclosed swim area in Jamaica my goal was to practice the drills for that session, sprints and threshold swims. I had marked off the distance and knew about how many “laps” I would have to do to complete the drills for that day’s training session. The plan was to swim to the rope at the far end of the area, turn around, and swim back to the beach as many times as necessary. No sooner did I start off to my target end of the rope than I was headed diagonally toward a different area entirely. Where I ended up is not at all where I had planned to be. Part of the training for that day then became practicing swimming in a straight line when there was no black line on the bottom to follow.
Back in Maryland, the open water swims we’ve done from the beach at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation are out to a red floating channel marker and back totaling about a half mile. The first swim out to the marker went ok. I think I was so focused on just trying to swim that I didn’t end up veering off course. I had also been practicing sighting in the pool and I believe that helped me reach the red channel marker with success. However, the return trip to the beach definitely had more of a zig zag pattern. The space in which to swim back is nice and wide and the beach is also long so while it’s hard to miss the end target it is tricky to swim in a straight line in a large space .
My second swim out to the same red channel marker with the same swimming buddies did not go according to plan. We all dove in at the same time and started out. On this second swim there was a stronger breeze than before and waves rolling in were stronger than we’d experienced. We were fighting the waves swimming out and my open water breathing drill definitely came in handy. Having practiced overrotating to breath made getting through the waves a tad easier though it was still a challenge. I lost momentum about halfway to the marker and had to breaststroke to sight the marker several times. Finally I reached it and turned around to swim back in. I was looking forward to the return swim because I knew I might be able to surf the waves a little bit.
It was when we all reached the beach that I learned I had swam to the wrong marker! As I had been sighting it on the swim out I had thought in the back of my mind that it was odd I didn’t see my friends anywhere but I figured the waves were preventing me from catching a glimpse of their swim caps. Nope. I didn’t see them because I was going totally crooked and slightly opposite of where they were headed. Needless to say I left that swim frustrated. I hadn’t performed as well as I had hoped, still couldn’t manage to swim freestyle the entire way in open water, and I went to the wrong mark entirely.
I realize during an actual triathlon there will be enough people that as long as I follow the crowd I should end up going around the correct course. My sense of direction has never been the best but I am good at sticking with a group. However, during the triathlon I do not want to be in the midst of everyone as they dive in. I hope to stay to the side and avoid getting kicked in the face for as long as possible. It will still be important to sight the mark and even if I still can’t swim in a straight line in open water, I should at least be able to follow the course.
Have you ever experienced this? If you have any other tricks or tips for sighting or swimming efficiently in open water, I’d love to hear them!