1. Experience Counts: Swimming open water is a different experience to the pool. If it’s your first time, or it’s been a while since you went open, seek out the experts with experience of open water swimming to support your new challenge.
2. Join a Club: There are a huge number of open water swim centres around the country offering support, guidance and a great social experience. Rather than going it alone, find your nearest open water group and join in the fun.
3. To suit or not to suit: Open water skins veterans can sometimes be a little bit disparaging of the wetsuit. However, if you’re a newcomer, the extra buoyancy and reduced impact of the cold can often ease your baptism into open water making it a more pleasant experience that will keep you going. You can always lose the suit when you’ve conquered open water.
4. Acclimatise: One of the key issues with open water is the temperature. In cold water we often experience a ‘cold shock response’ which, amongst other things, leads to hyperventilation. This can be a real problem however; the response will be significantly diminished after around 5 exposures to cold water. In the meantime, make sure you splash your face before getting in, this will help dampen the response (I still do it now!).
5. Slowly does it: Rome wasn’t built in a day and you can’t expect to become an expert open water swimmer in a single session. Start out by just getting used to being in open water before gradually increasing the distance and intensity.
6. Environmental change: Open water swimming comes in a variety of flavours and making sure you take into account the different environments is key to your safety and enjoyment. Lakes are often the best place to start your open water career as the water conditions tend to be fairly constant. I love the river but you do have to take into account the current; it may take you alot longer to get back home if you start off with the flow! The sea can be the most unpredictable with currents and waves changing the environment rapidly. Know your environment before taking the plunge.
7. Lube up: If you are wearing a wetsuit and/or are swimming in the sea you are likely to suffer from rubs, particularly under your arms, on your neck and between your legs! Make sure you use grease, or one of the multitude of commercially available swimming lube’s, before you swim. In addition to being uncomfortable, the rubs can easily become open wounds and become infected; prevention is better than cure!
8. Monitoring progress: Unlike the pool, there are no turns, no clocks on the wall and it is very difficult to gauge how fast you are swimming. Investing in wearable tech is a fantastic way to get the feedback you need during your swim and monitor progress across time.
9. Stay healthy: Water born bugs are more of a problem in open water compared with the pool. Make sure you shower after swimming. If you wear contact lenses, make sure you take them out and clean or dispose of them. Wearing ear plugs can help avoid ear infections and enhance your experience. If you get an infection (i.e. stomach, ear or skin) make sure you take appropriate action and seek expert advice if required.
10. NEVER swim alone: This should probably be No. 1 on the list! Irrespective of how competent you are or how safe you think it is, you should never swim open water alone. You don’t have to be joined in the water, just having someone close by, on the bank or beach, to make sure you’re safe. I never swim alone.