For swimmers who spend most of their training in the controlled environment of a pool, adjusting to the unpredictable open water can be a challenge.
Before you hit the open water, incorporate specific activities into your training to make the transition easier--and safer.
Of course, the best way to adjust is to swim in the open water as much as possible before heading out with a large group or participating in a triathlon with a mass start. Not only will you get to practice using large landmarks to swim straight, your workout won't be interrupted by stopping and turning at a wall.
Since most of us don't have that option, here are some easy-to-implement drills you can do in the pool to become a better open water swimmer. Best of all, you can do them without adding any additional time to your typical pool workout.
Move Away From the Wall
Deep-water starts are common in triathlons. Even if it's a beach start, you may stop to rest during the swim and need a way to quickly get back into a rhythm. Practice deep-water starts by moving a few yards away from the wall so you can't use it to push off.
Allow your body to settle somewhere between vertical and horizontal, just like you would right before the gun goes off. Take off quickly, get into your rhythm and swim at least a full lap before stopping. Do anywhere from 6 to 10 repetitions, at least once a week, in the last 6 to 8 weeks before your key race.
Play with Some Speed
Fartlek, or speed play, is an excellent way to mimic what really happens during an open water swim. Whether you need to swim around a slower swimmer or pick up the pace to draft another person or group, it's easy to incorporate this into your regular training without adding time.
For example, during your long swim sessions, crank-up the pace for short bursts--anywhere from 25 to 100 yards--then settle back into your planned session pace. For the best results, start when you're away from the wall to simulate being in the open water as much as possible.
It's also a good idea to occasionally stop during one of these repeats, just like you might during your race. This way, you can practice a deep water start and speed play at the same time.