Sunday was my first ever Open Water Swim (OWS) practice during my triathlon training.  Wow, what an experience.

I signed up for the OWS clinic put on by One Step Beyond Multisport Coaching:  The owner and head coach of OSB is Marty Gaal.  At the very beginning of my journey to be a triathlete, I had some private swim lessons with Marty at the fabulous Triangle Aquatic Center in Cary, NC.  It is a great facility, and Marty taught me a ton in those sessions.  A few months later, I found myself once again under the tutalege of Marty and his wife (Bri).

The clinic included a training lecture to start, which was insightful – followed by some in water lessons/practice.  I will tell you, I was nervous getting into the lake for the first time.  I am so used to watching a black line move beneath me while I swim, but at the clinic I was looking at some seriously murky lake water.  I was also nervous about swimming out into the lake (deep water), sighting our turns and of course being able to swim the full distances.

Our practices started with a simple one at a time swim out and around someone on a surf board, then back to shore.  This first ‘lap’ was short, probably only 40 meters out and 40 back.  Simple – and I am certain designed to give all 30+ of us confidence.  The lesson we were practicing here included sighting our turn and swimming a good line.  I found myself able to sight fairly well, so my confidence was improved.   After doing this simple lap a couple of times, the distance was increased and we begun to learn how to draft off of someone.  Now we were sent out in pairs, with one person set to follow closely to get the draft.  This is a great concept, but fairly hard to practice in this situation.  The issue I had was that we were paired up at random.  This unfortunately meant that I was too fast for my partner.  When I was in the ‘lead’ position, I swam purposely slow, but by the time we were back to shore, I was a good 30 seconds in front of her.  Then during the next lap, she was to lead me – but pulled herself out for a goggle issue, so I was forced to swim on my own that lap.

After the follow behind drafting, we worked on the off the hip draft position.  This time we went a little further and with three people – one lead, and two drafters.  I was again paired up at random with two people.  This time it was a mother/daughter pair from Charlotte.  The mother was the lead first, so I swam right off of her right hip the whole way.  She wasn’t fast, but I was able to hold that position.  Then we rotated.  Unfortunately, I left the pair behind when I was in the lead – even with trying to swim a very slow pace.

With all of the drafting practice over, we began to work on starting and swimming in crowds.  Marty split the group into 2 groups and had 1/2 of us do a ‘mock start’.  We lined up, heard the word go and swam straight out to a turn around point.  We then treaded water for a minute or two, then received another ‘go’ and thus practiced a deep water start.  This was great.  I loved the start practice.  It is one thing that I was anxious about, but it turned out to not be too bad.  It is difficult of course, but my anxiety wasn’t too high.

After practicing the crowded starts – we transitioned into swimming a longer course (about 400-500 meters) out and around two turns before heading back to shore (sort of a strange looking triangle).  He broke the group up into boys and girls and sent us on our way.  This was tough.  My anxiety was fine at the start and I was able to sight the turn easily.  The issue came when we all reached that first turn.  The crowd was tough and I found myself expending a lot of extra energy just to round the turn.  The same thing happened on the 2nd turn, but not quite as bad.  I swam the rest of the way to the shore feeling fine, but a little short of breath.  — — After a 2 minute break… we were off again.  The same thing happened at the turns for me, although this time I did catch a left hook to my cheek.  That caused a little panic and caused me to lose some of my breath.  I made it around the 2nd turn and back to shore, but this time much more ‘spent’ than the time before.

We then had one more practice lap – this time a little further out, with a shorter ‘over’ and of course a longer back.  I enjoyed this lap since I was able to clear myself of the crowd before the first turn, which meant my anxiety was lowered due to less traffic.  I swam back to shore at a nice low effort pace.  I felt great getting out of the water.

We then had a second training lecture about swim workouts presented by Bri.  This was very informative and I will likely insert her suggestions into my workouts moving forward.

After that, it was time to pack up and head home.

Overall I am very pleased that I attended this swim clinic.  I think that for the money, it was definitely worth it.  Getting some expert advice and training in a simulated OWS race is extremely valuable.  I will carry this forward to my first Open Water Swim mile long race in August.

Thanks Marty and Bri!