I started triathlon with a pool-based swimming background from when I was younger, open water was encouraged but I was always petrified so stuck to what I knew in the pool. Then in my early twenties I started triathlon and realised quickly open water was now going to be a necessity to progress in the sport. First my aim was just to do 750m so I could do a sprint triathlon though I just didn’t find it that tiring so I took the plunge and entered a 3800m swim event up in the lake district. This was a big step for me at the time, I had only done 2 open-water triathlons before this but wanted to take the plunge. It went well, I finished 3rd female overall with a time of 53 minutes. I went home and booked onto a 5000m event for the weekend after! I just wanted to go further though, next was a 6400m and I’ve now gone on to 10,000m. This year I’m looking at further… so we will see where I end up, this is still just the beginning for me!
The biggest challenge in endurance swimming in my opinion is mentally preparing yourself. You are in your own head for a long time, it’s not like there is a crowd to cheer you on, no music just muffled water in your ears and you’re just staring into darkness in the water (well depending on where you swim!). It can be peaceful and lonely at the same time, it’s very easy to overthink. Then on top of the lack of stimuli to keep you going, you have the external variables to consider, is it windy? How choppy will this make the water? Is it weedy? How visible are the buoys? How will I take on nutrition? And arguably the most daunting factor, what’s the water temperature? I’ve learnt that cold water can push your body and mind to an extent I’ve never considered before. In some events when the water drops below 13 degrees they will shorten the event distance… but saying this my first 10,000m was colder than this! It was like having continuous brain freeze, numb hands and feet are expected but when you start to feel your core body temperature dropping it’s something else entirely. I’ve put a picture of the re-warming process after that event in below (somehow still smiling!) but I’ve also attached a picture of me during the event I’m talking about where you can clearly see the pain in my face! This however is all part of it and what I mean by mentally preparing yourself.
Endurance swimming is very rewarding and will allow you to push yourself to another level, I recommend that everyone who swims try’s it at some point! Here are some of my top tips to getting started:
- Get your technique looked at. I appreciate not everyone has a swimming background like I have but even I still go to a coach to get my technique looked at. I cannot stress this enough; it will make your life a lot easier if your technique is efficient and strong. See a coach it will be worth it.
- Practice long sessions. You may already do long swims in the pool, but extend your sessions, although open-water for most is a summer sport you can build that endurance based in the pool throughout the year. Don’t just go in blind to that distance because in a pool you can put your feet down… not that easy in a lake or the sea!
- Consider nutrition. Will you be able to access it? Do you need it? In most endurance sports it’s slightly easier to access nutrition than in swimming, it is possible though. Some lap based events will have a nutrition point, I usually use these with a bottle containing Beta Fuel as I find fluid easier to take on than solid food but I do also grab some sweets like jelly babies. As always with nutrition though, it’s about finding what works for you, you can put gels inside the sleeve of your wetsuit if you feel comfortable and confident enough to tread water and consume these.
- Mentally prepare. Although physically it’s a big challenge depending on the distance you choose to take on, you need to consider how you will consider developing a mindset that is capable of pushing through everything I’ve mentioned above.
I hope this brief insight into my journey into endurance swimming is useful and if anyone has any questions for me, you can contact me through my Instagram @emilyj.tri!