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Coach Steve being aero! SWIM OPEN WATER: I remember my first attempt at swimming, not just moving through the water any way I could, but going non-stop for a distance with some control and style. My first few awkward strokes were in the ocean, not a pool. The water was not flat and there was no line to follow on the bottom, but he ocean was a good place to learn as it forced me to cope with the feel of open-water from the beginning.

Open-water swims should be part of every triathlete's swim workouts, at least during race season. Inevitably on race day you'll be swimming where you won't be able to stand up, and the water will probably be too dark to see anything except perhaps your hand in front of you. To control your direction you'll have to lift your head and sight; you may have to lift your head higher than in a pool to sight because of waves. In the ocean on a rough day you could be knocked-around by currents and waves so your stroke will have to power you through turbulence.

If you fear any of the potential adversity listed above you must get over it in training—before race day. You're not alone if lake or ocean swims make you nervous; I've coached athletes who swam in pools for many years, but still fear open-water swims.

You must practice sight breathing in training. I the pool you can swim laps where sighting to the wall is required once each length. The moment you lift your head should be just after your arm enters out front, not when you breathe. Sighting and breathing should be two separate motions (when breathing your head should follow body which is rolling to the side; you should not be lifting your head to breathe). When you lift your head to sight forward, lift it as little as possible, as every time your head lifts your hips and legs will drop, slowing you down. If the water is flat you shouldn't need to lift your head more than to nose level. With chop or waves lift as high as you need to see buoys and be sure of your direction.

In lakes or the ocean many athletes panic for fear of the unknown below. Several athletes have told me: "Not knowing what's down there" stresses them out. Others hyperventilate or freeze-up during crowded swim starts with potential contact.

The only sure way to get over this is gradually by repetition. Each time you go through the stressful process it should get progressively easier to deal with. You can simulate race conditions in training by swimming in a lake or the ocean. If you can find a crowd to run in with you like race day, even better.

If the crowding of swim starts causes you stress my advice is to line-up on the side and move in as the pack spreads out. You may swim a little farther, but you can avoid flailing arms and legs for a while.
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