|By Dan Graham|
As with many of the less common disciplines in AR, swimming can be overlooked by competitors as an aspect of a race to train for – and therefore, a discipline where easy gains can be made.
Starting the Swim
The first thing to think about when entering cold water is the effects on the human body.
In a race situation, your heart rate & breathing rate are already likely to be elevated.
Dunking that body into cold water will elevate it even more – known as a “cold shock response”. Taking a few seconds to acclimatise to the water (flood your wetsuit if you have one on), and allowing your breathing to settle back down will save much more time than struggling to swim whilst hyperventilating.
Trying to acclimatise in standing depth water is safest, but not always possible. The slower you enter the water, the less the cold shock response will be. This response can be reduced even more by regular acclimatisation – taking a cold shower each day for a few weeks is enough – the more that your body can get used to cold water, the less trouble you will have when you enter it suddenly.
Diving straight into open water is a very stressful thing for your body to deal with. You are exposing your body to a huge cold stimulus – which makes you want to gasp in air, but you are underwater holding your breath. This has been shown (repeatedly) to lead to all sorts of funky (and not in a good way) heart rhythms. Take your time getting in, and don’t immerse your face & head until your breathing is under control.
When swimming in open water, you are going to get cold – there is not much open water in the world that is at human body temperature. How fast you get cold, depends on how cold the water is. Accept that you are going to get cold, and don’t try to fight it.
In the Water – Sighting
Generally, you are going to be swimming front crawl – it is the fastest stroke. Head-down front crawl is the way to go. Obviously, with your head down, you cannot see where you are going. So “sighting” is an important skill to master, which will save you time. There is a certain knack to getting the timing right, but basically you are looking to raise your head just enough that your eyes are at the surface of the water (think “crocodile eyes”), quickly spot the landmark you are aiming for and drop your head back down.