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Hold your line and keep on swimming

During a Q&A at the RLSS Open Water Festival last weekend a swimmer asked: “What should I do if I’m being lapped by faster swimmers?”

My answer, and that of Greg Whyte, who was also taking part, was to ignore everyone else, hold your line and just keep swimming. The same advice holds if you’re being caught up by swimmers in a wave that has set off after you.

Here’s my reasoning.

1)     Anyone lapping you is likely to be a confident, competent swimmer. They should be able to cope with a slight diversion to swim around you.

2)     It’s much easier to look forwards than backwards. The swimmers coming from behind will have the best view of the situation and should therefore take appropriate action.

3)     The overtaking swimmer will most likely be expecting you to hold your line. If you deviate from it, you may inadvertently cause a collision.

4)     You’ve got every right to enjoy your open water swim at your own pace without worrying about people who are foolish enough to get all competitive about it.

Shortly after giving out this sage advice, we went for a swim. The course was a mile swum as two full laps and one half lap. Four of us found ourselves swimming together as a pack at the front. We lapped a couple of people on one of the straight sections. No problems.

Then, about 400m from the end, as the pace was picking up, we came up behind a small group of swimmers at the same time as we reached a turning buoy.

If you were one of those swimmers, please can I apologise. When middle-aged male pride and the chance of a certificate from the RLSS are on the line, things can get a bit messy. I think two of us went one side and two the other, and we then converged as we went around the turn. No evil was intended and (I hope) no serious harm done but I imagine things got a little uncomfortable for those being overtaken and then squeezed in the middle. Sorry!

At this point, I did spare a thought for the advice I’d given earlier and the person who’d asked the question. But I still think it was the correct advice. From my perspective, it would have been slightly easier to have a clear run around the buoy but it wasn’t really a big deal to swim wide. I don’t see the need for someone who’s enjoying a more leisurely swim to spoil their experience by looking fearfully over their shoulder and adding unnecessarily to the distance they swim by going wider at turns in an attempt to keep out of the way.

One of the joys of open water is that, unlike the pool, there is usually plenty of space. We’ve written previously about lane rage and we know feelings run high about correct lane etiquette and who should give way to whom. Luckily, open water allows us more freedom. We don’t, as far as I know, have any rules about overtaking, and I hope we never need them but as a working guideline we suggest the following:

·       Slower swimmers: hold the line and keep on swimming.

·       Faster swimmers: be considerate, swim wide and try not to ruin anyone’s day.