1) Goggle failure—fogging, leaking, or lost
Not being able to see well while swimming is not only unhelpful to swim straight, but can be anxiety provoking. There may be little you can do if there are grey skies, fog, rain, or smoke over the water while you swim, but there are potential solutions for leaking fogging, or lost goggles in an open water swim.
- Most current goggle brands are treated with an inner film that slowly loses its anti-fog properties over several uses, so it pays to use fairly new goggles for a distance swim event. Once you have found a brand of goggles that fit your face well, buy several pairs, using one for training, and a fresh new one for events.
Anti-fog products abound (e.g., Foggies wipes), try a few to see if they can enhance or renew the anti-fog properties of your existing goggles. When in a pinch, just rinsing the inside of your goggles while swimming can help, as can the use of spit, which can be as effective as any marketed product.
- If leaking is occurring in older goggles due to stiffened, aging gaskets—replace them. If leaking is happening because your swim cap is partly under one part of your goggle gasket, be careful about not pulling your swim cap too low over your forehead. If leaking occurs otherwise, you may not have seated the gasket well on your face, in which case you need only lift them off, reseat them, and apply light pressure to create a vacuum fit.
- Lost goggles. Swimmers can occasionally lose goggles while in an open water swim, due to contact with another swimmer, when a swim cap slips off (and takes the goggles with it), or if the strap breaks. Although swimming without goggles is commonly how kids are taught to swim, and was the norm before goggles became legal after the 1972 Olympics (Mark Spitz won all of his gold medals without using goggles), it can feel uncomfortable if you have not tried it, and create anxiety when your vision is not as good as with the use of goggles.
Drill #1: the Open Water Fix of Leaky Goggles
Lift your goggles off your face an put them back… badly, so that they are going to leak. Now swim a few strokes—you will realize that the leak is irritating and your vision is impaired.
Roll onto your back while kicking lightly, lift the goggles off your face to clear the water out of them and ten reseal them with light pressure securely over your eyes. Then adjust the strap behind your head if necessary. If they are just fogged up, you can use your thumbs to wipe the inside surfaces of the goggles before reapplying, or even take them right off, and dip them into water to clean the inside surface before following the same steps above.
Drill #2: Swim without goggles!
Although you may never lose your goggles while swimming, it is useful to experience swimming without goggles on. Can you swim without goggles? Of course you can! Surfers, water-skiers, and kite-boarders never wear goggles, kids and beachgoers rarely do either. We always have a few people do the Across The Lake Swim every year “au naturale”–commando style–without goggles on.
Put your goggles around your neck, and swim 25-50 meters without your goggles on. It may feel strange, even irritating, so you may want to close your eyes when your face is down, but be sure to open them when sighting!
2) Swimming in a crowd
Unlike pool swimming, open water swims and triathlons usually have mass starts, sometimes with thousands of swimmers starting at once, raising the anxiety of swimmers who are not used to this. Although some contact is inevitable, there are ways to minimize this, such as lining up off to one side, or just hanging back. This is called “self-seeding”—knowing where to place yourself in the beginning of a mass start. So, while the goal is to find your own piece of clear water to swim in, it is important to stay calm should contact occur.
Drill #3: Getting used to swimming in a crowd.
This drill can only be done with several other swimmers, and preferably in shallow water.
If your group is small, simply line up standing tightly beside each other, and swim for 50 meters to the next buoy. You should find yourself in close quarters with other swimmers’ arms and feet, although most contact should not be of much significance.
If the group is larger, two rows of swimmers can be created, with the second row instructed to swim through the first groups, which is instructed to swim slowly.
Two important skills need to be developed here:
First, when realizing that there is a swimmer very close to you, it becomes very important to protect your breathing and your head from a wayward arm-stroke or kick. Use the “catch-up” stroke, and widen your arm-strokes to create some space for yourself.
Second, you will need to increase your vigilance whenever in tight quarters. If you have mastered breathing flexibility, you can breathe more to the one side that is of concern to you, or alternate sides on which you breathe so you can keep an eye on other swimmers approaching you. When looking to one side or another, you will notice that is pretty easy to look behind you as well.
3) Swimming in deeper water
If you haven’t started swimming in deeper water to this point, developing your trust in your floatation with a wetsuit, your breathing control, and your sighting abilities need to be tested as you also confirm your endurance swimming abilities. Swim out to the inside of the outer “guard buoys”, most of which are marked with a blue stripe at their base. Make a point of keeping a look out for other swimmers, protecting and varying your breathing rhythm as necessary.
4) Sighting and breathing in chop, waves, and swells
(This lesson is dependent on suitable conditions)
With mild chop, wind or waves, breathing rhythm and sighting become more challenging. To sight effectively, you may need to either a) time your breathing and sighting to the top of a wave to get a good line of sight (which you have to feel for), b) lift your head slightly higher out of the water to find your target, or c) seek a more distant landmark that is in line with your swim target, such as a tree or building on land, or a mountain peak.
Since sighting and breathing at the top of a wave becomes critical to success in swimming in adverse open water conditions, breathing timing flexibility is critically important. Learning to delay a breath by gliding, and altering cadence are the main parts of this flexibility.
You also have to accept that you cannot maintain a regimented stroke in these conditions. Your swim strokes may even feel sloppy, until you learn to feel where you are in the water–whether you are in a trough, or on the crest of a wave or swell.
And finally, you will also need to determine if the waves are with you, against you, or aside of you. You may need to consider breathing on just one side; you may need to ride (body surf) waves that are following you (increasing your arm cadence with each wave), and dive through waves that you are swimming into head on.