Breaking OWT In The Pool For The Open Water

Breaking OWT In The Pool For The Open Water

Open water butterflyer Brian Suddeth made a visit to the Meadowbrook Pool in Baltimore, Maryland to visit the swim center where Michael Phelps trained. He attended a session called BreakOWT, a 3-hour training seminar geared on helping pool swimmers make the transition to open water swims.

The sessions were taught by trainers from Michael Phelps Swimming in cooperation with Swim Across America.

It was pretty neat to make a ‘pilgrimage’ to the place where this master of his craft got his start. The place obviously is showing wear as it has been around for many years, but that wear was caused by thousands of people to visit year after year to swim, socialize and enjoy the atmosphere. They have a white sand beach near the pool, so the regulars refer to it as ‘THE Baltimore Beach.‘”

The BreakOWT is a 3-hour course that presents concepts and allow its participants to figure out what works for them. The BreakOWT sessions help prepare pool swimmers for their first open water event, specifically for the Swim Across America charity fundraiser event. “A significant part of the class was focused on specific things related to the logistics of that event, and calming nerves and expectations,” explains Suddeth. “The course has the advantage of letting you experience in microcosm many of the challenges you may experience in the event. This class is not for the experienced or competitive openwater swimmers who are already successful; it is for newbies who are full of what if’s. It’s not about how to win a triathlon, but how to enjoy open water swims in a relatively non-competitive atmosphere.”

With a maximum of 25 participants, the amount of individual attention each swimmer receives is maximized. “The sessions included several cycles of presentations and discussion, then opportunities to put skills into practice in the pool. The effective skills and drills practice was focused on experiencing some of the issues in open water swims, seeing how you can cope with them. Our instructors suggested that each swimmer keep what is working for them, and put the rest aside, concentrating on only 3 drills that will challenge you, work for you, and give you a new focus in your practices.”

The participants were mostly concerned with swimming off course (sighting mechanics), water quality (germs, pollution, cloudiness), contact (bumps and bruises from other swimmers, aquatic creatures, and underwater objects), hydration and fueling (what to eat before the swim, how to stay hydrated during the swim, and the recovery after), panicking, water temperatures, wearing wetsuits or not, waves, and lost goggles. “The goal of the instructors was to give the students either a tool or knowledge to deal with an issue, or the experience of actually dealing with it in the water. We did several basic drills to let the instructors understand the level of each student. For example, relaxed breathing out through nose underwater, vertical float, stroke mechanics and general swim style, and the 4 B’s of swimming: breathing, buoyancy, balance and body position. This was followed by drills in sighting techniques (alligator style with goggles only, full face pop-up, and full torso up) and sighting on distant objects in line with the buoys.

The instructors reminded us that we are swimming in a group, not alone, and there are plenty of support kayakers, and markers around to keep a sheep from straying too far from the flock. We practiced rolling from full front down to full front up and back again. This was to help the swimmer remember to relax and breathe and a key coping skill needed to deal with panic, panting, goggle issues, cramps, contact, and other surprises. The key to finishing is to stay comfortable, confident and relaxed so you can continue. A key skill for fighting panic is to slow down, breathe deeply and bring the rate of your breathing down and get past the feeling so you can continue safely

To deal with goggle issues like leaks, fogging, and getting goggles knocked loose, we filled our goggles and started to swim, then halfway down the lane, had to clear them as we progressed. This was primarily a just-do-it exercise to let swimmers experience a challenge and cope with it. Just experiencing the issue, and dealing with it on the way is helpful, as most pool swimmers stop and grab the floats, or the poolside when they deal with goggle issues. That isn’t practical in the open water.”

Even the most basic elements of open water swimming events were covered. “Since event caps and timing chips are required and most of the attendees didn’t use caps and hadn’t dealt with the ankle bands before, the instructors discussed and demonstrated cap and ankle band fitting for comfort and minimizing annoyance.

One of the more useful drills they did was getting used to the start. They put a buoy out and had us run down a ramp in the kiddy pool, start stroking, loop around the buoy, and return. We did this singly, by two’s, and finally in a group of five, with one of the instructors in the group swimming over and under us to help us experience minor contact. This was followed by a longer “mini-swim” with several buoys to swim around. Since the “Cuisinart start” mixed in with more competitive swimmers is one of the things many people have a concern about when they first start open water swimming, it was quite comforting for the newest swimmers to get a feel for what it will be like. I could see the rising confidence in their eyes after doing that a few times

The instructors were patient, had experienced the specific Swim Across America event the students were training for before, knew the course and event day logistics, and were able to field all sorts of random questions. My own open water style is a bit off the norm, but the instructors were even able to do some observations of my butterfly stroke, and give me a bit of tuning feedback to help me extend better and improve my dolphin rhythm. The course was reasonably paced, packed with event-specific details, and geared toward helping each participant figure out how to beat their own confidence boogieman.”

Courtesy of Brian Suddeth.

Copyright © 2013 by World Open Water Swimming Association
Steven Munatones