Open water swim…my 1st experience

Alan Fletcher
Open Water Swimming

New to wetsuits….it’s unlikely you’ll have ever worn anything so tight in your life before; I found it worryingly tight & restrictive. Take advice given on movement exercises prior to going in the water.

Pool swimming….you’ve trained & trained in the pool; can probably swim 1km / 2km non stop…but…

The water in the pool is at a known depth; even if it’s too deep to stand in you can see the bottom & in your mind you can always drop down & push yourself back up again. It was murky in my 1st openwater & I couldn’t see more than 2m so I couldn’t see the bottom or know how deep it was. Mind games start.

Club pool lengths commonly 20m / 25m / 30m / 50m etc. You only have to swim that length before you get a break / rest on your turn around. (even if your pool turnarounds are fluent you still get a bit of a rest); in openwater this distance before rest can be infinitely further. Also in a pool you can swim a very short distance to the side of that pool for a rest if required; probably not the case in openwater. This made me feel very uncomfortable.

Swimming Pool temperature is extremely comfortable; my 1st openwater swim took my breath away & supposedly, to the experienced, conditions were quite pleasant! I couldn’t believe how cold my head was. I swam quicker than normal to try to warm up; then became noticeably tired, then panicked as then the prior paragraphs kicked in! Doing it again I’d take a lot more time to acclimatise in the shallows rather than hoping I’d acclimatise while swimming.

Swimming straight: I found that after 4 or 5 strokes I was 30 degrees off course; I couldn’t believe I was veering that far off target; I could have swam round in large circles without knowing about it. That was unnerving as I’d have to stop, (in an unknown depth of water), re align myself & get going again. What helped greatly was advice to pick out something on the skyline to aim for & look up every 3 or 4 strokes. As I was reminded…”There’s no black lines on the bottom to follow in openwater”.

Buoyancy: You’ve been swimming in the pool in trunks / swimsuit & adapting to your natural buoyancy. Now you have a wetsuit on & that changes your position in the water; you are more horizontal & need to lift your head higher to take in air. Takes some getting used to when say alternating to breast stroke, especially when combined with the previous experiences I was having too.

Take a rest at the buoys. Hang on to them they will support you comfortably.

Learn to float still on your back in your new wetsuit 1st. This gives you great confidence that you can’t possibly sink because of the buoyancy the wetsuit gives you.

A mouthful of pool water nobody worries about; lake water I felt more conscious of & that combined with the different buoyancy complicated the issue as it was easier to take on an unwanted mouthful.

My next swim I’ll be aiming to swim ‘straight’ to the 1st buoy, (40m ish), take a breather & then return ‘straight’ to shore; then repeat as many times as I can to get confident.

This experience really took me outside my comfort zone, a lot more than I imagined it would.

So glad I did it in a well organised group.


6 Responses to “Open water swim…my 1st experience”

  1. I’ve swam open water for years now but I can honestly say it took me years to feel really comfortable. I love it now and enjoy swimming in many different waters. Give yourself time you’ve made valid points on how you felt and I think acknowledging the difference from pool swimming is half the battle! Good luck and see you in 2 weeks!


  2. john hardiman May 16, 2017 at 8:18 pm

    Yes, I didn’t know I couldn’t swim straight without Pool lines! That shocked me last night, my first outing too, sorry to the gent I swam into! Thanks to those who organised and helped out, and for the flapjack, oh the best flapjack thanks! 😀


  3. Danny Rogerson May 16, 2017 at 9:12 pm

    Excellent report Alan – May temperatures will have added to the challenge.


  4. Gwendolyn Sim May 16, 2017 at 9:42 pm

    I’m relatively new to Lancaster (and the UK) and would love to do a triathlon in this country at some point. I’ve only done sprints in tropical climate so I’m not quite sure how cold the water is here. Thanks for the detailed report! I would love to join your trainings at some point if possible? Thank you!


    • Thanks for the comment. Our openwater swim sessions are available to non members if you want to come along and try it out. More details on the swim page under “Training”. Membership, however, is very reasonable – just click on the “Join COLT” link on the Membership menu.


  5. I was happy to find this post! I had my first open water experience at the Capenwray Tri just gone (I did the aquathon). I had no idea it would be so different from pool swimming. I’m quite a confident swimmer in the pool, and thought it would be quite similar, if a bit colder. How wrong could I be! I’m slightly ashamed to say I had a panic attack about half way and had to breast stroke/ backstroke myself back, then run 5k on adrenaline! The cold, low visibility, different swimming position and pack swimming all added to my panic I think. Next time I’ll take time to acclimatise too, and hang back so I don’t get cought in the pack. Hoping to come along to the next COLT open water swim to get this open water swimming thing sorted 🙂


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