Swimming in crowds brings a whole new dimension to open water swimming, and unfortunately this is something that many newbie triathletes or open water swimmers fear the most. Luckily for you I have a few great tips on how to deal with swimming in big groups. Depending on the race you have entered, you might share the water with thousands of others on race day. Follow the below tips and you'll have an easy and enjoyable swim on race day. And remember, there is always a silver lining!
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The start line
Dealing with swimming in crowds starts with picking your position on the start line. By starting on the outside you will be in control of how much you'll be swimming in the pack. If it all gets too busy for you, you'll be able to just stay on the outside and find clean water to swim in.
If you position yourself in the middle of the start line, your level of crowdiness is in the hands of the other swimmers, and you will either get squashed in the group, or you'll have to bash your way through it. Either way, you won't have an easy and enjoyable swim.
Take a good look at the course map and check which way the first turn is. If the first turn is to the left, position yourself on the right side of the start line. This way you are on the outside and won't get squashed on the first turning buoy. If the first turn is to the right, start on the left side of the pack.
You might read this and think 'but don't I want to swim the shortest distance?'. You are right to think that starting on the outside might result in a few extra meters, as you will have to cut in to get to the first turning buoy. But these couple of extra meters come with the way better bonus of not getting bashed and squashed in a group of swimmers, all trying to get to that first turn.
Breathe to both sides
One of the reasons it is so important to be able to breathe to both sides, especially in open water swimming, is that you create better spacial awareness. You'll be able to see who is coming at you from the left and the right, and either adjust your course, or get your elbows out.
By just breathing to one side, you'll only be able to see who is on that side of you. If the first turn is to the left, and you breathe to the right, it will be hard to see the turning buoy.
Breathing both ways, means seeing both ways, which is very handy in the sport of open water swimming.
Turn it into a positive
Swimming in a crowd, or especially behind a group of people, can make your swim a lot easier. Drafting behind one or more people who are just a little bit faster than you, will make you just as fast as them without putting in any more effort.
To get the most out of drafting, make sure that you are right behind the person in front of you, close enough to tickle their toes. You might have to deal with a few bubbles if they kick hard, but it’s totally worth it.
See, there is always a silver lining!