Aimee gets to grips with open water swimming and picks up some great tips for beginners.

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Aimee is now much more confident swimming in open water

Last Saturday, Jek and I got up at the crack of dawn to head down to Bray Lake in Maidenhead for an open water coached swim session.

As a beginner I find open-water swimming pretty scary, so this was a brilliant opportunity for me to pick up some final tips before the London triathlon next month. My coach, Zoe Spain, took the beginner’s group and really put me at ease as soon as I got in the water.

I learnt a huge amount and wanted to share my top tips for any other beginners.

  1. Train in open water: Most triathlons take place in open water so it’s really important to acclimatise to what will be your race conditions.  You can still perfect your technique in the pool but practice in open water. Dependant on whether it’s a lake, river or sea swim you’ll need to learn to contend with currents/plants/fish etc!
  1. Get your goggles right: There are a few differences to the goggles you will wear in OW. Typically they are slightly larger, sit better around your eye socket and are flatter, giving you better peripheral vision. I recently purchased a pair of Zoggs Predator Flex goggles and they are fantastic.
  1. Swim Starts: As a weak swimmer I am not looking forward to the mass swim start. The bun-fight holds no appeal but after some very simple tips I now feel more confident!
    1. Once in the water, bring your legs up when floating so you are almost flat. This is a clear message to others that ‘this is MY space’! Just scull with your arms to keep yourself a float.
    2. Don’t panic when the claxon goes off – count to 10 and then start – this is your first race so no-one will be expecting you out of the water first! This 10 seconds give the stronger swimmers chance to get away and you wont sprint off and lose your breathing in the melee/ or be swum over.
  1. Breathing: I am a classic panicker when it comes to swimming! In my limited experience of attempting front crawl I have been breathing on just one side every two strokes which wasn’t giving me time to get enough air in!

Zoe showed me how to breathe bi-laterally (alternate sides) and also how to glide more efficiently so that I could take a bigger breath on every third stroke. This has made a huge difference and was an invaluable tip.

  1. Buoys: In my sprint triathlon last summer I had ‘fun’ trying to swim around the buoys. Biggest tip here is kick hard and fast to propel yourself round as quickly as possible! If you stop, people will swim over you! Don’t get too close to it though – or else you risk being dragged under by all the other hundreds of competitors.
  1. Sighting: Swimming in a straight line sounds simple but when you are in the water with 200+ people thrashing past you it can get tricky. To help with this we practiced a drill whereby we brought our heads up so just our eyes were above the water – like a crocodile. We swam three strokes (breathe), three strokes (breathe) and then three strokes (sight).

I will definitely be practicing this and trying to get into a rhythm come race day!

  1. Drafting: Drafting is not something I’ve ever really understood but apparently you can save you 20% of your energy! We paired up and the person behind was tasked with trying to tickle the feet of the person in front!  The lesson was to keep pace with the person in front and be close enough to touch their feet which gives you the best drafting position.

I found focusing on drafting distracted me from my stroke/breathing so it’s definitely something that requires more practice. I’m hoping it just happens naturally on the day!



All in all, I cannot recommend signing up to an open water coaching session more. The difference it has made to my confidence, and ability, is massive. Huge thanks to Bray Lake, and Zoe and Sean (who took the advanced group) from the Open Water Swim Coaching team.

If you want to sign up to one of their courses then check out their website here: is the online home of Triathlon Plus – the best source of triathlon training advice, triathlon gear reviews and triathlon news.

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