The Science of Swimming: Expect the Unexpected

Although physicists continue to explore fields covering the minute to the gigantic from Newtonian mechanics to quantum mechanics, the rules of physics are clear and absolute.

Conversely, the world of biology, a natural science concerned with the study of life, can have many exceptions and differences. Evolution, the albino, and the splitting of an egg to create identical twins are just a hint of the myriad variances found in living organisms.

In physics, you know what to expect, but in biology you can be surprised. The same applies to pool versus open water swimming.

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In the pool, you know what to expect and in the open water, you know to expect the unexpected. In a 400-meter freestyle in the pool, the race is eight lengths, with seven flip turns and a defined start and finish. You swim straight over a black line between parallel lane lines in a temperature-regulated, chemically-balanced stable environment. Pool swimming is clean and well-defined, like physics.

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Conversely, in an open-water swim, you could run into jellyfish, waves, winds and currents. You will likely swim more than 5K during an open-water 5K event, and you are not exactly sure how much—or even what—the water temperature or wind direction will be. Turns can be 45 degrees, 90 degrees or 180 degrees, done clockwise or counterclockwise, or in a large pack or solo. Open water swimming is often unpredictable and dynamic like biology.

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So, are you a physicist or biologist? Do you like the controlled, confined world of physics and stability of the chlorinated concrete world of pool swimming, or do you enjoy the unpredictability of the open-water world? Do you like to conduct your affairs in a specific order according to a regular timeline where uniformity is consistent, or do you enjoy not knowing exactly what will happen? Do you enjoy swimming in a controlled modification of Mother Nature or swimming in her whimsical self?

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