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open water swim - not happy

I survived, rather than swam, the 400m of open water swim at the Eton Super Sprint. I thought I'd be OK/happy in the water, but ended up breast-stroking, nearly hyperventilating, breathing in lots of water, etc, etc. What should I have done? got in the water earlier to swim? I did swim at the back at the start.

Any help much appreciated before I try swimming up river 800m at the Windsor sprint.


  • rebborebbo Posts: 58
    sorry to hear that! There's another thread about tips for open-water swimming though, which should help.

  • i had a look through the forums but didn't find anything that sets out how to warm up before and breathe in choppy water (compared to a pool). cheers
  • jojojojo Posts: 76
    hi custard

    I sympathise and I was/am exactly the same. I think swimming in a pool and then going into open water is really different and a bit scary. Firstly there's the current and then I tended to panic as soon as a bit of water got into my goggles or I took in some saltwater.

    Basically it's all about staying calm, getting into your stroke and not panicing and most importantly practising. If you can get into the sea/open water as many times before your event then you'll soon get used to it.

    I take it you're wearing a wet suit - it really helps.

    Good luck

  • loonytoonloonytoon Posts: 673
    Hi custard,

    Not done an open water swim yet either there are few on here that are old hands who I am sure will be along soon to give some advice...

    ..however 220 this month has a feature on open water swimming only just got my copy so haven't read it yet but I am fairly sure it will help


  • madnursemadnurse Posts: 782
    Hi Custard !

    Look at the super sprint as something you can learn from rather than get disheartened by. Swimming in a wetsuit generally makes things alot easier especailly as you expend less energy in maintaing bouyancy however wetsuits are designed around an assumption that the wearer wil be using crawl rather than breast stroke. I spent some time playng around with my swimmming with & without the suit. I found my swim improved only by working on stroke technique through use of drills (total immersion is one method that will help with this). Breast stroke is a useful tool to have in your bag of tricks to fall back upon shuold you need it & therefore shuold still be inclusive within your swim practise. Is all too easy to spend weeks or even months training your crawl & ignore the breast stroke come race day when you might need to switch strokes for a while you find your muscles aren't as tuned to swim both strokes as effectively. When swimming breast apply similar principles of long and slow with a relaxed breathing pattern as you would do with crawl. The other thing that will help is swim most days to build on your swim fitness & improve technique ... its that old thing of practise practise practise ..

    madnurse (phil)
  • LegacyUserLegacyUser Posts: 0
    I'm doing the Eton novice in June and have been told the water is really cold and takes your breath away - is this what you found Custard?
  • JeromeJerome Posts: 2
    I did Eton on sunday and the shock of the cold water wasnt too bad due to some open water practise at Liquid Leisure Lake. Although the first time you do enter open water there can be a tendency to hyperventilate!

    One top tip is to make sure your zip on your wet suit is secured correctly. This might prevent someone unzipping your wet suit during the initial scrum at the start. Which happened on sunday as someone swam over me and used my zip cord as part of their stroke.

    Sadly I thought I had forgotten how to swim rather than realising that my wet suit was letting half the lake in everytime I tried to lift my arm out of the water! Didnt take long to get the wet suit off though!!
  • Thanks for all the advice above - I've read a bit about the cold water increasing your heart rate involuntarily since - still not quite sure what to do about it though. I didn't honestly think that the Eton lake water was that cold, but add on the adrenaline of a first event, no mass start experience etc etc and I think you begin to get the picture of why I floundered.

    I'll be sure to add some breaststroke practice into any swimming I do

    So for the Windsor 800m I'll be better mentally prepared and might be able to get in a session at Datchet before hand - just for a bit more experience. practice, experience, practice - as ever is going to win the day
  • RobRob Posts: 209
    Custard, did my first open water at the weekend & followed the advice on the other thread about 'first open water swim'. I've never been the most confident person in the water, & was kind of expecting exactly the same troubles that you had. They are all things I've experienced in the past in a pool, let alone open water.

    I went into it with a positive mental attitude. If you think you're going to have problems, then you're more likely to, self fulfilling prophecy it's called. For your next event, you could go into it with the scars of this one weighing heavily on your mind. But you need to be positive, analyse the mistakes you made, think about why you hyperventilated, why you ended up drinking half the lake. I suspect you started off a bit too quick? That would cause you to start hyperventilating. That then affects your stroke, you're not clearing your mouth out of the water enough, you swallow some water, cough, lose more breath & so it snowballs. Try & look at some positives from your swim, a)you didn't drown(!), b)you had the sense to breaststroke when you were in trouble, c)you did actually finish it.

    Jojo hit the nail on the head really, stay calm. Don't go off too quick, start off slow & build up the speed & in the words on the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy - DON'T PANIC. And get as much practice in open water as you can. Internalise. By that I mean ignore what everybody else is doing & just concentrate on you, & on your stroke, as you would in a pool.

    Let us know how the Windsor goes. Cheers.
  • plingbootplingboot Posts: 19
    My first open water swim (eton 2004) was a nightmare.

    gasping, drinking lake, being swum over, thinking i was going to sink without trace etc. etc.

    I was seriously affected by the whole experience and spent days mulling it over.

    The thing which worked for me was to hit it head on and do as many open water training sessions as possible.

    I did a beginner course at Heron Lake, then several 'turn up and swims'. This REALLY helps - in the practise makes perfect way.

    The experience is still daunting, but 90% of the field are feeling just as antsy too, so you're not alone.

    Jump in the water early, spend a minute floating around beathing long and deep, this WILL calm you down, then (at eton) swim out to the first buoy and back.

    If you're not a super strong swimmer, there's no shame in getting out to one side at the start and avoiding the 'washing machine'.

    In fact, if you know you're not coming out of the water towards the front, why not make a point of avoiding as much hassle as possible and concentrate on getting round 'in a race' without panicing?

    As the bunch heads off, swim into the slipstream of someone who's going at your pace and concentrate on staying there, swimming long smooth strokes and feeling calm.

    hope that helps a bit
  • BonusBBonusB Posts: 279
    Living up in Reigate, Brighton isn't to far away by train, so what I am wondering is this:

    Can I just crop up in Brighton, hit the beach and swim? I know this may sound silly but what with the Nanny State and all you never know about these things.
  • madnursemadnurse Posts: 782
    HI Bonus !!!! Intheory yeh great idea ... but you might want to consider a few sideline issues like safety. Ideally take a few mates from your tri club who have experience of open water swims esp in the sea. Don't be going out alone (billy no mates aint a safe option). TAke your wetsuit assuming you have one by now. It may almost be summer but this aint the barrier reef & it will get chilly. A loud swim cap is also a good option for people to spot you (oh look mummy at the drowning traithlete with the yellow head .....isnt he funny)

    am sure you get the point

    madnurse (phil)
  • guv001guv001 Posts: 227
    Yes you can there should be no restrictions to swimming in the sea apart from the tide being in or out. Just check locally at the beach for any dangerous or out of the ordinary currents, flows etc.
  • Thanks - like the idea of jumping in early and just relaxing into it, a few easy strokes. I'll do my best to get some practice in at Heron/Datchet beforehand. Beleive me - I won't be in the middle of the pack at the start.


    Custard Pie
  • BonusBBonusB Posts: 279
    Phil & Guv, thanks for the advice! Much appreciated.
  • Just a little update - I went to Heron Lake on Sunday morning. I took on-board all the advice above (and more) and went to face my demons. As i was by myself and not overconfident i went out and round the ski-jump as a trial, got out, drained out a little water, got back in and did a few laps out to the ski jump and back. Demons were faced and I think I'll survive the Windsor 800m now. Looking at swampy water thru goggles is a little wierd.

    Heron Lake is a great facility

    Thanks all again.
  • post event update - I'm a very happy man. The swim was a real suprise for me - I came out of the water in 11th, and I was overtaking people!! Thus the practice and preparation has worked - yahoo! The water was warm, which helped, and I hugged the eton bank going upstream, which was out of the stream and away from most swimmers. Bike section I held my own, but lost 4 minutes to the age group winner on the run - so bike run bricks need some practice.

    Thanks for all the encouragement above
  • madnursemadnurse Posts: 782
    nice one custard - facing fears n all that stuff sound like it paid off. my bike n run isnt half bad nor do i have a fear of the swim --- i just cant swim fast (its a fecker but hey) but amsure given time and lots of pool / lake time it will get quicker. You build on what you have just acheived and am sure you will go onto to better and better results / times

    "11th out of the water...." if only

    madnurse [:D]

  • RobRob Posts: 209
    Well done Custard. Madnurse, wht he didn't say was there were only 12 in the race!
  • ive done a few open water and everyone is in the same boat! i felt claustrophobic and was hyperventilating! my latest venture, or rather adventure was at the carlingford tri where we encountered a force 6 gale. the initial 5 minutes of acclimatisation was the worst and i found myself doubting my ability. i was being tossed about so i decided to re-group and breast stroke a while. i noticed very quickly that most of the competitors were struggling so i stopped feeling sorry for myself and began front crawl again. after the first buoy and turning left i could see the waves approaching and could adjust my breathing to avoid taking water-things were improving! at the last buoy and another left the wind was pushing me home which was great and i flew in. Basically, its uncomformtable at first but treat it as a challenge and the first five minutes are the busiest- you'll soon get into a rhythm and begin passing people which is a nice feeling. Good Luck
  • rpopper65rpopper65 Posts: 171
    Open Water swimming was a real challenge for me at first, but I was luck to have found some open-water training sessions through RG Active at the Roydon Lake in Essex (a long schlep for me, but worth it once you're there). I know there's also another group out to the west of London somewhere that does them, too, but that's too far for me.

    The three things I found most challenging are: swimming long distances in a wet suit and the extra weight and strain on the joints that brings (although they do help buoyancy and streamlining in the water, boy, do my arms get more tired in a wet suit); swimming in the middle of a pack of other swimmers (even if you try to stay away from the pack or to the outside, sometimes you just find yourself in a pack of other swimmers and it can be so demoralising if the your first thought is "get meout of here" instead of "okay, I'm going to swim through this"); swimming, breathing and maintaining rhythm with waves and choppy water (which is more of an issue if you're swimming in the sea, and I only did Dorney and London last summer which are not in the sea). The RG Active sessions helped me with the first 2 tremendously and the 3rd issue wasn't much of a problem for me (and I had a lovely week in Crete swimming long distances in the ocean every day to help me address that a little bit).

    It really is down to practice and it can be great if you can do it with other people. If you ever do any open water swimming on your ownin the ocean, it really is best not to just dive right in unless you know the waters really, really well. Always ask someone locally about the conditions and do some research before you go in the water. Always wear a brightly coloured swim cap (it's very surprising how easy it is for a boat to sneak up on you without you hearing it and without them seeing you). And always tell someone where and when you're going swimming and for about how long. I know it sounds very nanny-ish, but I've heard some horror stories from friends and acquaintances that might have been avoided had they heeded all that advice.

    And another thing on a related subject: I can't seem to find a swimming pool that will let me practice with my wet suit on (I train around Hackney, Islington, and Tower Hamlets if anyone has any positive experiences). That kind of ticks me off, because I don't really see the problem with swimming in a wet suit in a swimming pool (one place told me that it would make me more difficult to rescue if they tried to pull me out of the water - after I'd been swimming there every week for 2 years doing 1,000-2,000 meters without needing any help; another place told me that they were concerned that I would bring dirt and contaminants into the pool via my wet suit - after watching hundreds of people go in the swimming pool without showering first; another place told me that other swimmers complained about my appearance - but I never complained about the obese land mammals they let in with skimpy trunks and floral prints). Isn't this something the BTA or us triathletes ought to be campaigning for?
  • BonusBBonusB Posts: 279
    I've found one thing helpful in finding places where you can swim in a wet suit.

    Don't ask.

    I've done a few sessions in various pools now where I just go in and start swimming. Never been stopped, and few people want a confrontation so just leave you to it. (See the Courtney's gyms in Redhill and though I cantrecall the the other one I think it is in Horley, or at least near Gatwick)

    I fully agree with your comments r.e. people who enter the pool without showering first and then complaining about a wet suit and can only laugh about your comment and land whales. Who the hell has an issue with seeing someon in a wetsuit? Strange world.
  • rpopper65rpopper65 Posts: 171
    Yeah, I did that several times - just showed up and started swimming, ignoring the looks and remarks in the locker room - but in all 3 cases, staff eventually approached me after a few sessions with their awkwardly delivered requests not to swim in a wet suit (that last one, "Your appearance is causing some discomfort amongst some of our other patrons" really made me laugh at the time and I had to apologise to the poor schlub of a lifeguard, who was only about 17 or 18, and tell him that I wasn't laughing at him but laughing at such a lame complain). Must be that they're more uptight in East London.

    A friend tells me that if you join a gym with a swimming pool, then they don't complain about wet suits. Pay extra for the privilege, perhaps.
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