FEATURES,  View from the Water

Elite open water race preparation tips

I might have said this before, but last week I was at BEST FEST in Mallorca. It’s an open water swimming extravaganza organised by the BEST Swim Centre with eight open water swimming events taking place over seven days. Some are billed as races and others are intended to be more leisurely.
British Swimming use the BEST Centre for training and a strong contingent of the open water swimming squad was on the island for BEST FEST. The team included Keri-anne Payne, Danielle Huskisson, Jack Burnell and Dan Fogg as well as a number of junior swimmers.
As recreational swimmers we don’t often have a chance to swim in the same races as the elites of the sport, so this was a good opportunity to observe and possibly learn. Once in the water, they were out of site within a few hundred metres and they finished many minutes ahead, so I wasn’t able to see much of the swimming but I was able to watch how they prepared and warmed up.
Firstly, they all (as far as I could tell) arrived in plenty of time for the start, which meant they could change and warm up properly. I’ve noticed at other events (and I’ve done it myself) that some swimmers leave it until the last minute before arriving and are then flustered and stressed before they even get in the water.
Secondly, although conditions were hot and sunny, most kept their hoodies and tracksuit bottoms on until very shortly before the race started. This was in contrast to most of the rest of us who stood around in just our costumes.
Next, while us regular swimmers chatted or half-heartedly swung our arms, the top swimmers all did a lengthy on-land warm up going through the major muscle groups and making use of stretch cords to activate swim-specific movements.
Finally, although this was a training race, with little of importance attached to it (apart from €500), the elites all looked as if they were taking it seriously, and preparing as if it were a championship event. They were attentive at the race briefing. They wore their racing costumes, made sure they were properly greased up and stowed energy gels around their bodies. They looked focused.

In summary then, my five tips from observing team GB are:
1)      Arrive in good time for your event
2)      Keep your muscles warm for as long as possible
3)      Warm up properly
4)      Use the same routine at all races: a training race is an opportunity to practise your pre-race routine for a major event
5)      Pay attention to the briefing

Now, I don’t think following this advice will turn a regular swimmer into an elite but most of us would like to go a little faster and it might not just be to do with how much you train but also the way you approach your races.

Incidentally, after our 7km race, team GB went to do a two hour training session at the BEST Centre pool. I went to find a cool drink and a sun lounger. I suspect that also has something to do with why they are all much faster than me.

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I created Outdoor Swimmer in 2011 (initially as H2Open Magazine) as an outlet for my passion for swimming outdoors. I've been a swimmer and outdoor swimmer for as long as I remember. Swimming has made a huge difference to my life and I want to share its joys and benefits with as many people as possible. I am also the author of Swim Wild & Free: A Practical Guide to Swimming Outdoors 365 a Year and I provide one-to-one support to swimmers through Swim Mentoring.