The Ocean Challenge- by David Watt

So you’ve decided to take the next step and challenge the ocean to a duel. Have no fear; you can come out of the challenge triumphant. However, coming from land locked locations the challenge begins months before the race even starts. Understanding your opponent is crucial in coming out ahead of the pack. Yes it is living and breathing, understanding the oceans moods and emotions are just as important as knowing where your bike is in transition. Within this article you will find helpful hints on how to come out ahead with a better time than you expected.

First you need to realize the ocean has different emotions. Scary is the one we normally think of, but what may be scary to most, can be used to your advantage. Just to list a few obstacles to consider and research weeks before the race day are the tides and moon faze. These may be some of the most important parts of the ocean challenge. Knowing this information will give you the opportunity to strategize your swim take off point and the depth of water on the reef.

The moon will greatly affect the amount of water on the reef. During the full moon you will encounter the most water on the reefs and adding to the danger of rip currents and run outs. Doing research on what kind of ocean bottom will help to understand how gentle you need to be in you entrance into the water. There are three major categories for reefs, coal, rock and sand. The coral reef will give you the most challenge of the three. The coral reef has the ability to cut you badly and contact with the reef should be avoided at all costs. Rock reef is not as dangerous but equally as painful to be dragged across by the surf. Sand is the by far the most gentle, but with sand reefs the biggest dander is the pot-holes you will encounter on the way in and out of the water. This will end the race real quick if an ankle is twisted or rolled by rushing your entrance and exit of the swim. In most areas you will find a deeper trough just inside the water and then the reef will rise back up, keep in mind if there is a breaker, or second set of waves, that means the water is shallower so use caution.

GetAttachment.aspx_3TIDE ADVANTAGE
The tide runs on a six hour turn around. Every five hours the tide changes, it is either rising or dropping with an hour or so of slack tide, this is when the water is not moving at all. The best way to tackle this part of the race is arriving early. Getting there early will help tremendously when it comes to knowing this part of the race. Your race starts at 7:45 am, so the night before the race take a swim in the race area at 7:00 pm. Whatever the tide is 12 hours before will help you see what the tide will be doing in the morning, Advantage You. This will give you the chance to get familiar with the way the ocean feels without the pressure of bodies around you. Also take note of which way you are drifting, north or south this will help with your take off in the morning. Lining up with everybody else may be a mistake if the current is going to pull you away from the buoy. You may want to start to the left or right of everybody in order to swim straight to it, instead of back tracking against the tide. Watch for this action in the heat in front of you, there is nothing wrong with learning from someone else’s mistake.

Next would be your entry and exit. Most first timers make the same mistake of trying to jump the surf; this will only bring you back toward the beach. Under the waves is the fastest way through the impact section. Diving under the waves gives you the advantage of saving your breath for the swim; you decide when to dive under avoiding getting a mouth full of water. Just as a tip, keep your hands in front of you as to not hit the bottom. The exit is just as important but in the reverse, using the night before do some body surfing and practice your exit. Study the bottom with your feet. Find where the reef comes back up into the outside breakers. Study the depth of the water in the different spots; you may be able to run through this section instead of swimming? Do not forget to keep your hands in front of you; nothing is worse than a face plant in the shore break to make your face sting for the rest of the race.

Breathing, we all have discovered we need a rhythm to our breathing when swimming this leg of the race. Open water is a bit different; you must know how to breathe bilaterally to have a successful swim. Being able to see the beach for a bearing and seeing the surf coming in is a much need technique in order not to fill your lungs with unwanted water. On longer swims you will find your rhythm with the oceans. Feeling the swell drawing back will give you a moment to know a wave is about to come through, timing you’re breathing with this will save the amount of water entering your lungs. If you practice your swim in the pool, try bringing a little water in your mouth and learn to filter the water with your cheeks. You can learn to breathe and spit the water back. Clearing your nose more often also helps in the open water swims.

You most likely will be running through sand on your way to the transitions area, rinsing your feet of sand before the shoes will help with a long race of irritating sand in-between your toes it may take a few more seconds but worth it for sure. A little bit of water goes a long way. If you are using a wetsuit for the race, a bit of water down the neck hole of the suit will release the suction and make it easier to remove.
Check the local tides and surf reports for race day and most of all enjoy your swim, use the ocean as a chance to find something inside yourself you didn’t think you had. I cannot stress the importance of understanding the currents and undertows of the ocean. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but wisdom.




Author David Watt is a surfer and avid triathlete living on Amelia Island, FL., where he enjoys a year round triathlon season and short walks to the beach with his wife and two children.

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About The Author

Jen has been doing triathlon for several years. She is a former bobsled pilot for America Samoa and has a passion for the outdoors; especially winter mountaineering. At home she is wife to a mountain obsessed husband and mother of three girls, but here at EnduranceReview, she is an author, Managing Editor and token chick.