Top Tips for Open Water Swimming*

*Or, “So you’ve signed up to a Triathlon but now are having a meltdown at the thought of swimming in a lake,” but that would’ve been too long. I’ve written this as a guide for beginners to open water swimming (OWS) or those who are just generally nervous about getting in deep water.¬†

The ever growing popularity of multisport events like Triathlon in the past five to ten years means that many of us non-sporty types may know at least one person who has decided to swim in a lake or other OWS venues. The initial thought for many might be Eww why would you want to swim in a cold, dirty lake? and a few years ago I would have agreed. But reader, I have changed!


I wasn’t a sporty person and I would still struggle to call myself one, but when hubby started joining in on RG Active sessions I found myself going along. There’s no peer pressure like triathlete peer pressure and despite saying never never never to all three disciplines,¬†within a few years I had entered a Triathlon. Before that though I needed to be able to battle my fears of swimming and deep water.

If you are afraid of open water and don’t regularly swim in it – DON’T SIGN UP FOR AN OWS TRIATHLON WITHOUT EXPERIENCING IT FIRST!

Surely no one would do that I hear you say?! Such foolishness, much error! Indeed. Still happens though. For me personally it just couldn’t. I wasn’t a good swimmer in a pool and I was scared of the depth and cold. Thankfully the excellent team at RG Active built up my swim strength in the pool and my comfort in the water. I’m now more comfortable in a wetsuit in open water than in a cossie in a pool. (Well, at least when it’s warm!)

Love your wetsuit! It shouldn’t be a daunting thing to wear – it makes swimming easier, keeps you warm and lets you float, all good things. Make sure it is specifically for Triathlon, not surfing and that it fits well and yes, it should be tight. Putting it on is akin to wearing full body Spanx. GET USED TO IT; swimming in outdoor pools and lidos, putting it on and taking it off, wear it around the house if you so desire!

My first foray in the water was with a tri buddy who took their time getting me into what felt like the coldest depths of the Arctic. (Yep that’s me below, the shock caught on my face!) This was the best way for me to be introduced to it, with no expectations, minimal fuss and a very understanding and calming teacher, which helps when your brain is shouting at you to GET OUT, YOU LOON!


If walking in beach-style, then make sure to GET YOUR HANDS AND FACE IN THE WATER as soon as possible. A gentle blowing out of bubbles will help acclimatise you to the shock of the cold water on the face.

The next bit can be uncomfortable – when the water seeps in past the zip (I call it zip leak) and it feels like you have an Alaskan pipeline up your back. Lie back, face up and relax. Calm your breathing. Let the water go through the back of your suit. Flip over and breathe out bubbles. Now you’re ready to go swimming.

YOU CAN’T DROWN IN A WETSUIT – unless you really tried *shocked face* but mostly you will just float belly up. Test it, make sure you feel comfortable in the water.

I’m writing this bit of the post the evening before going in to the cold, dark waters of Stoke Newington West Reservoir. My first OWS of the year. *panic face* My brain has decided to remind me of all the terrible things I’m scared of when I’m near water and mostly it’s trying to get me to hyperventilate at the thought of the cold whilst I’m tucked up on a snug sofa. Nice brain, eh?

To ensure I can cope, I’ve packed a few training aids that will keep me comfy and as warm as possible so those pesky brain waves don’t have a chance to get a hold.

NEOPRENE SOCKS, GLOVES, HAT AND VEST all provide an extra layer of protection against the cold; the hat and vest are great against brain freeze and a chilly core. I tend to use the socks throughout the OWS season mainly because I don’t like anything weird touching my feet! You can’t use them in a race unfortunately.

Once you’re in, try and stay in. Keep moving so you don’t get cold and if you’re really panicking or having a sputter then switch to breast stroke – I prefer to lie on my back and go to my happy place.

Lying on your back (with your arm up) can be a distress signal for the safety crews in a race but I find it calms me quickly especially if I think of STROKING KITTENS, MICHAEL FASSBENDER AND FROLICKING PUPPY DOGS which are my go-to happy places; whatever will disrupt the brain waves and gets you to regulate your breathing to a calmer rate. Feel free to borrow those images or add your own!

Then, dear reader, you must simply practice, practice, practice. The more often you do it the better you’ll be. I’m writing this bit of the blog a few days after my first dip at Stoke Newington and I can safely say I HAD NOTHING TO PANIC ABOUT! In fact I’m gutted that I’ve not been back in – I was buzzing with post OWS joy as soon as I got home. There’s just something about being suspended in an element within the liminal space that makes my soul sing. Although it’s not like I wasn’t cold – my forearms ached and felt locked in to place but on the bright side my stroke was slightly better.

SWIM IN AS MANY OWS VENUES AS YOU CAN. By dealing with lots of variables you’ll be better equipped for your event. Try all manner of entries and exits, types of water and you’ll soon find you won’t be as afraid. A lido is not the same as a lake or pond; there’s something about being in a smallish man made structure that doesn’t play with the fears as much as a natural body of water – the Stoke Newington reservoir is large and deep enough to kick those fears up though!

I’m rather saddened that up until this moment, I’ve only been OWS twice this year. Oddly, my second time in the water started off very well but quickly ended up as a battle with my own mind. I couldn’t breathe properly, my shoulders were so tense, my head was all over the place and I wanted to get out. Somehow, I got round in a stupidly slow time (it was a race!) and got out feeling disappointed, especially as the water had been pristine and warm. The next day I dragged myself to the pool, swam 1.6 km and felt happy and free, making me realise the hang up was indeed all in my head.

The point I’m trying to make is that even if you love swimming, even if you’re in your happy place surrounded by friends, it’s still about you and the water; some days you will be fine, some days you will not. I’m looking forward to my third OWS of the season this weekend and hope to remember that I’m there because I want to be, it’s a beautiful way to exercise and a joy to be in, especially when the sun is shining, a swan flies overhead and all you can smell is the sweetness of the water.

WHY TRY A TRIATHLON GROUP? It’s an easy way to get coaching to improve your technique, amazing support and there’s nothing quite like a great coach or team to push yourself when you really don’t want to.

After you’ve swum, you should be filled with the joyous endorphins that accompany exercise perhaps with a few added perks of wobbly limbs and dizziness that I usually get from being in the water. Get in a hot shower and warm clothes as soon as possible (let’s face it, it’ll usually be colder out of the water than in) and my favourite thing is to have a second breakfast or treat from the local German bakery.

I’ve specifically not gone in to depth about techniques or things like that, that’s where your coaches will advise you, but if there’s anything you’d like advice on from someone who still consider themselves a newbie to OWS, then please do get in touch.

Happy swimming!

 

Reasons why I love F1…

The return of F1 this weekend heralds the return of another season filled equally with hope and despair, although technically it starts as soon as the engines are fired up for winter testing.  My social life goes into hibernation as everything gets checked against the FIA calendar and my social media goes into overdrive – you have been warned!

I’ve been a little more quiet this season as I don’t want to jinx my favourites plus there’s been so much chopping and changing with regulations and the powers-that-be seem intent on destroying the sport I love, that I’m loving it a little, teeny, tiny bit less nowadays. Like, 92% instead of my usual 100%. 

However, seeing the media circus restart down in Melbourne, plus going to a work event near Silverstone and being surrounded by F1 memorabilia has given me the tingles and I can’t wait for the madness to start again!

 

  • The ridiculously early starts for Free Practice, Qualifying and Race sessions – because waking up in the middle of the night, in the darkness and listening to cars on a track is actually brilliant and you learn how to function with broken sleep patterns for the flyaway races. 
  • The soap opera that is Formula One – complete with heroes (gentleman drivers that are funny, real and look like they’d be a great laugh on a night out) and villains (the crashers, the arrogant ones that spoil it for everyone else, those that believe their hype) and the wooden acting when discussing poor performance/rumours in the press pens!
  • The wheel to wheel racing – it’s like watching a game of chicken, approaching a turn at 250kph with just a wheel nut between them and someone has to brake first. *gasps* 
  • The fellow fanatics – I’ve been lucky to connect with some amazing people over the years. There’s something that bonds you close when you’re up in the dark hours or putting everything on hold “because quali’s on,” when you share a dislike for a particular driver or meeting up at different racing events. Only a fellow fan would be as excited as you are when you find a visor tear off on track. 
  • The history – nearly a hundred years of brave racers throwing themselves around a circuit at super fast speeds. Iconic tracks that have seen the birth and death of legends. Tradition and passion within names such as Hill, Villeneuve, Schumacher and Senna to name a few. Step on to a classic track and you will feel the magic within that Tarmac. 
  • The technology – you’ll see carbon fibre on absolutely everything nowadays but its roots are in Motorsport where strength and impact durability are paramount for driver safety. Start/Stop ignitions, flappy paddle gearboxes, wet weather tyres – the list goes on. What is first a development in F1 to create performance gains translates to the mass market making driving safer, efficient and more enjoyable. 
  •  The humour – we have a strange and ridiculous sense of humour often creating hashtags and memes. Check out those involving Pastor Maldonado or Kimi Raikkonen, or #placesalonsowouldratherbe for lols. 

      

    • The glamour – Formula One attracts big money and all the other trappings of wealth including gorgeous locations (maybe not Sochi) beautiful people (maybe not Bernie) and fast things (maybe not the back end of the grid). 
    • The underdog – there are teams and drivers that just get your support for being lovely people, or when something extraordinary happens and they beat established drivers. It upsets the apple cart in the best way because to finish first, first you must  finish!
    • The memories – the sound of the cars always reminds me of watching races in the summer with my grandfather. He would fall asleep in the middle of the race waking up just in time to see who had won. I still find the sound soothing. 

    The Good, The Bad and the Jiggly

    I can’t quite believe it’s only taken me 29 posts to talk about bras. Me, the bra queen and owner of many, many pieces of frouferie (nearly 200 at last count – it’s an addiction) and lover of all things supportive. 

    I was watching an SBC video on Instagram the other day (this isn’t a dig at them) and marvelled at how in this day and age, women still work out without wearing a supportive sports bra. I mean it’s 2016 for gawd’s sake!! We have amazing fabrics that can support the weight of an elephant (maybe) and wick away boob sweat as well as stopping them from moving around on your chest and yet women are still not wearing them! 

    Images like this are abundant on social media as to what a sports bra looks like – it makes my bra fitter blood boil!!

     

    I get it, there’s a sexy-glam aesthetic that the SBC and others want to follow, especially in the age of the gym selfie (taking a photo when I’m sweaty, gross and bright red isn’t my thing; each to their own I say though) and so sports bras become no more than a plunging crop top, but if you are jumping about and doing any kind of up down or side to side movement you need a proper sports bra (and here’s the kicker) NO MATTER WHAT SIZE YOU ARE!!

    In my humble opinion, if you are doing anything more strenuous than sitting on a sofa watching telly and are bigger than an A cup, then you should be wearing some form of support. When I say A cup, I mean a true A cup, with very little width or fullness to the bust. None of this 34A-when-you-should-really-be-wearing-a-30D-nonsense. I repeat, if you are moving – either using your arms or legs in a jumping/bouncing/up-down/side-to-side way then you need something more supportive than a glorified crop top. Really, you ask. Really, I reply. 

    Here comes the science bit – breasts are made up of skin and fat and don’t have any muscles, so they can’t be “trained” or get firmer with exercise. It’s a sad and ironic fact of life/kick in the teeth that when you’re exercising the rest of your body, your bust suffers from losing its fullness -the fat that makes it firm and full. By not being properly supported, you risk putting your bust through excessive movements because the connective tissues (Cooper’s ligaments) are delicate and not designed to spring back to shape. Once they stretch – that’s it. That’s what causes the sag. 

    Side note – this is why boob creams don’t work. Topical products can only improve appearance of the skin, NOT fix the stretched ligaments. 

    This handy Bounce-o-meter from Shock Absorber shows how much completely unsupported breasts move and also with a “normal” bra, how much damage can be done with high impact exercise. Now hopefully, you’ll see why support during exercise is so important!

    Key points to look for in a sports bra:

    • Firm fitting – all the support is in that band around the body, not the shoulder straps. Make sure you have a style that fastens at the back with hook and eyes – don’t get me started on zip front bras or those that your put on like a top! Put on to the loosest setting first so you can adjust as the bra ages, unless you’re a millionaire who can afford to replace their bras fortnightly. It should feel tight but not uncomfortable. Bear in mind that some sports bras come up seriously tight, so consider going up in the band.
    • Coverage – this is not the time to show cleavage. A sports bra needs to cover as much of the breast as possible to stop you from jiggling and bouncing about. A high shape at the front is superior to anything low cut. Same goes for side boob (I mean seriously? This isn’t the Red Carpet!) if it is on show it’s not being supported. 
    • Try it on – on the odd occasion some alternative brand or style catches my eye I always make sure to try it on because invariably, what looks like a decent fit and shape on the model looks quite different on me. Sometimes they’re too deep under the arm and I can feel the seams rubbing the moment I drop my arms down. Always give it a bounce test in the fitting room.
    • Material – leave cotton for t-shirts and knickers. Cotton bras don’t make good sports bras because cotton doesn’t keep its shape well and over a short time stretches out. I don’t know of any fully “natural” material that can beat the hold, support and longevity of a man-made material. Look for quick dry materials to wick away sweat.
    • Straps – the amount of sports bras without adjustable straps out there on the market is unbelievable. Not everyone has the same bust level, and what would you do when the straps start to slacken after several washes?! Remember the support comes from the band not the straps so they should only be two-fingers width tight.  

      These are lovely – but if you’re putting bras on over your head like a top, they are going to stretch something wicked. They don’t have any option to adjust the band around the body either. Keep these for sleep/schlepping about the house!

       

    You wouldn’t wear high heels to run a marathon – the principal is the same!
    I wear the Shock Absorber Active D+ Classic Support and for me this is the most comfortable, least jiggly, most strapped down and yet not flattened style for everyday training. I run, I jog, I bounce…and nothing moves. It is available in black, white and a sandy colour that passes for nude – perfect for becoming invisible under white t-shirts and not transferring colour from sweaty darker clothes. It is by no means glamorous or sexy, but it really does the job.  

    Shock Absorber Active D+ Classic Support Bra 30D – 38H

     

    My other sports bra of choice is the Shock Absorber Run Bra and I would recommend this to anyone taking part in a triathlon or one of those horrible looking obstacle runs/anything where you might be drenched. If you’ve ever seen triathlon on TV then you’ll see women taking part in specialist swimsuits/tri suits. I need comfortable, flexible support under my tri suit that isn’t going to give me something else to worry about when swim/bike/running. I’m already thinking that I hate life and want to stop, I shouldn’t be letting a bra make that feeling worse! This was a great bra for my two triathlons – smooth seams so nothing chafed or rubbed, really quick drying so I didn’t feel like I had a wet bosom on the bike or run and a racer back to not give me any issues with arm movement whilst swimming. Plus it looked nice and could be worn just as a run top, but still with lots of support. 

    Shock Absorber Run Bra 30A – 38F

    I’ve seen some really great styles from Freya (similar look to the D+ Classic from Shock Absorber) and an interesting flexi wire from Panache (although if it’s incorrectly fitted could cause more harm than good) but I’m open to putting my old stalwarts to the test! 

    Let me know what your best sports bras are in the comments.