There’s a good reason the Telegraph named open water the swimming trend of 2015. Open water pushes swimmers like no other training environment.
Obviously, one should train mostly in the environments in which she would be competing. Change up too many elements in your training environment, and you may find yourself better adapted to the training environment than your competitive environment.
But, if you never work outside what you are accustomed to, then you miss out on the opportunity to develop other aspects of your game. Like these…
Let’s call it what it is: sharks. No matter where you swim, even in lakes, there is a moment where you think about sharks. If it isn’t sharks, then it’s big fish or other critters.
We can talk all day long about how dangerous the mosquito is compared to the silky creatures of the deep, but all you think about is Jaws. You get to be scared. Life is fully of scary.
What you don’t get to do is let scary rule your decision making. Sometimes you have to do things scared.
There is no better place to develop your ability to live with fear than the open water environment. If you can stay focused there, you can stay focused in the lane.
Just remember that you are in (80 times) more danger climbing into your car every day than swimming in the open water. In case you’re wondering, as of 2013, the odds of you dying in a car accident that year were 1 in 47,718, but shark attacks hover around 1 in 3,748,067.
No doubt, competition breeds toughness. You either get tough or you go home. While fear contributes to this, there is a physical side to toughness which the mind can only help.
Beating back waves, tides and rip currents, open water swimming strengthens your swimming immeasurably over paddling in the pool.
Out on the water, unless you’re sticking to the shallows, you are completely dependent on yourself to span the distance you aim to swim. If it’s across a bay, you have to know going into it that you can make that distance against every trial.
There will be elements you didn’t consider, far more pressing than what may lie underneath. A stray plastic bag could throw your stroke worse than an animal. Add to that, trying to sight in the open feels near impossible at first.
As you make your way across our fictional bay, you learn pretty quickly that if you don’t keep your sights in tune, you’re going to blow three times the energy crossing than if you could stay straight.
Get used to the idea that despite your best efforts, you are going to zig-zag. That’s okay, but fight to avoid it.
Start out right by finding an object you are confident you will be able to sight from the water level all the way across. If there is an island, boats in a marina, or any other obstacle, it’s going to really stink trying to find an equivalent spot in the middle of your training.
If you plan to swim the same spot more than once, try to find the same one every time.
Nothing will teach you to appreciate your lanes like swimming in the big blue. After one session, returning to your favorite Olympic pool will feel like driving a BMW after banging around in a tractor.
The water will feel very still, maybe even warm depending on where you live, but you can jump in knowing that you’ve braved far more difficult elements.
To the best of our knowledge, no shark attacks have taken place in the pool. No rip currents have ever caused swimmers to burn out swimming against the current.