Open Water Practice
For the past two months, I've been lucky enough to live on a tiny coral atoll in the western Pacific. I've been swimming a mile or two every day along the reef. Because the northeast tradewinds pretty much blow nonstop at 15-25 mph, there's always at least some chop or wave action, although it's far more sheltered inside the reef where I swim than it is oceanside. My typical swim route starts out north, into the wind and waves, and returns southward, surfing the waves--great fun! You really get a surge of forward motion on each swell, and the waves are not at all in the way for good low breathing.
The swimming is wonderful--lots of manta rays, spotted eagle rays, sea turtles, colorful fish, and even sharks, amazing coral formations, warm clear water with 100' visibility--it really can't be beat.
Of course, usual markers like SPL are entirely missing now. So I have been much more focused on swimming intuitively, by feel. I've noticed a lot in a solid two months:
1. I've got my sighting down pretty well, and can grab a sight without disrupting my stroke or lifting my head too much. Simple repetition has made this much more comfortable than it ever has been for me before.
2. It's far easier to keep the head low to breathe when you're swimming in big waves. I'd say I'm at a level of conscious competence here--I can do it, but it is not automatic. When I do it, it works great. Occasionally when I turn to breathe I find a wave waiting for me instead of air, but now instead of lifting my head, I just put it back down and grab a breath on the next stroke instead.
3. Whatever my SL is, it seems remarkably consistent. I know this because there is a buoy about 400m off the beach, and it takes me 6 x 15 stroke cycles (3 strokes to one breath), plus another 18 strokes, to get there. For days now I've monitored this and am within 3 strokes of the same total every time.
4. I am (very roughly) estimating distances this way: I think that I am swimming at around 15 SPL (i.e. 15 strokes to cover 20m). So, 15 stroke cycles (3 strokes per breath) = 45 strokes = 60m. More simply, distance = 4 x the # of breaths (when breathing every 3 strokes), so 15 breaths = 60m.
I find it much easier to count breaths this way instead of counting strokes. My typical tune-up is about 400m in 60m increments (15 breaths). From there I continue along the reef in 200m increments (50 breaths). Between intervals I pause for a quick look around.
On the way back, with the wind and waves, I don't usually feel any need to stop--just keep surging along. So, that may be a mile or more nonstop swimming, great fun.
5. When it's really windy, I have adopted a 2-4 breathing pattern to allow one-sided breathing without breathing every 2 strokes, which seems too asymmetrical, and too choppy:
stroke-stroke+breath, stroke-stroke-stroke-stroke+ breath
This seems to work pretty well. It also encourages a higher SR, which I am accomplishing by using less overlap on my front quadrant timing. To do that, I have been directing all my attention toward launching into the recovery with absolutely no pause or slowing down. This also helps me keep my attention on the high-side arm.
Long post already--I'll add more later. Loving it! And wondering if this isn't the perfect opportunity (living here) to train for a really big event like the Tampa Bay Marathon (24 miles)--I could never train for that in Wisconsin, since it happens in April, leaving me no chance for open water training. But now...
OK, so what else have I noticed?
1. At times, there are bubbles caused by my left arm pressing motion. I am not sure if this is a case of simply letting too much slip into the arm motion (i.e. pulling through the rotation), or if it is related to something going on with my right-side breathing. I'm not entirely certain, but it seems to happen most often on breathing strokes where I have just finished breathing to the right.
(Funny, the right side used to be my "comfortable" breathing side--now the left feels lower and smoother).
At other times there are no bubbles at all. There are almost never any bubbles during my right-arm pressing motion, so clearly I am doing something different here, some asymmetry that can be addressed.
2. Salt water helps with balance and buoyancy. A lot.
3. A higher SR seems to generate smoother, more continuous power in the stroke, connecting hips/kick/rotation/spear really effectively. And I am getting this higher SR by focusing on making the recovery happen in a quick circling motion with no pause, even at hand entry.
4. I am swimming much straighter than I used to. (I think). When I take a sight I am always dead on a straight line between markers. I'm sure I wander a bit in between sights, but nothing like I used to. That suggests I have maybe fixed some fundamental issues in my stroke that were causing me to wander. I think this is related to my "discovery" of the proper kick/rotation timing.
OK, enough for now. I did go out for a swim before breakfast (about 2000m along the reef) and will probably swim again this afternoon--having lots of fun out here. The reef is amazing, and I'm really grateful to TI that I am comfortable enough to swim a mile or two or four, all by myself, in perfect comfort and control. I really don't feel there are any limits to how far I can go, though I may not be particularly fast.
Wow! Am very jealous for that environment! Although for my conditions it seems to be nearly stormy most times... No invisible and probably dangerous currents? Although if the waves are regularly I'd to shorten the swims to some 30min, because with regularly waves I'm becoming sea thick... Strange enough.
Admirable, that you're still able to work with FPs the TI-way in that environment with such sights under (and over?) water. Remember when scubadiving once upon a time ago in similar environments I most times forgot the time and my buddy had to tell me when to go up... (Was more being astonished and lucky to be able to be there...) Sometimes we have to realize that dreams are reality!
Terry often wished, not even bound to such enviroments: "May your strokes be as happy as mine." Seems you found some of such strokes. Preserve and increase.
Best jealous regards,
PS: Be aware always swimming TI-FS, because sharks sometimes have an eye on breast-strokers. Which is not surprising, because they look like injured frogs from downside....
thanks for the note. It really has been great swimming here.
As for the waves, these are surface waves caused by wind, but not big enough to make me seasick at all. Although its windy, the reef stops the big ocean swells--inside the lagoon where I swim, it's fairly sheltered. And of course once I turn downwind it's pure fun, with the waves helping me surf along.
Depending on the tide, there are some currents, but mainly just over the coral flats where the water is shallow. There the water is squeezed into a narrow area between coral and the surface, so it has to speed up. It can be fast enough that I can barely make any progress--my own endless pool!
In the deeper water inside the reef, the currents are much less noticeable--yes, it can slow you down a little (or make you faster), but nothing dangerous that wants to drag you offshore. So I usually swim there--though of course it's fun sometimes to swim over the coral flats, too. But not at low tide--then you'd have to walk, as the flats dry out completely.
Luckily the sharks have all been very shy so far! But it is neat to see them. The big aggressive sharks (tiger sharks) don't come into the lagoon--only nurse sharks and blacktip reef sharks--some as big as me, though, so it does feel a little scary to see them.
Any saltwater crocs?
Nope, no crocs--I'm in the Marshall Islands (western Pacific), so not in croc habitat. Thankfully!
thank you for sharing this with us
I got to swim quite a few time in open water lately whereas breathing is no issue to me clearly I will have to pratice sighting at the pool though the buyoancy is awesome.
As for the people swimming in area where they know they are dangerous aquatic beasts... That is crazy... I guess I've some genes in common with Nathan Adrian lol
The triathlon group I swim with had one of their colleagues taken by a shark a few years ago. They actually ended up pulling the body out. Naturally some members have been put right off. The rest including me continue. Chances are extremely small. About 15 of them exclusively open water swim all year about 6 days a week and the above attack was the only one in very many years.
I ask, because I remember when I did Scubadiving years ago looking up from deeper down, all breast-strokers and even some freestylers looked very hurt and a shark may not be able to recognize them as: Does not belong in my prey scheme.
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