Category: Open Water Swimming

3 Key Open Water Sighting Tips for Triathletes

Sighting is a seemingly small element of a long open water swim. However, when not performed well, poor sighting carries a significant cost. Watch the following video to see how much extra distance the highlighted swimmers go:

I coached at our team’s final open water practice of the season last weekend. It was a great session, with a lot of good, hard swimming done. However, in general the team’s sighting was poor. I watched them snake through the straight out-and-back course. I was secretly (and sadistically?) pleased as it made the workout longer but I recognize the need to correct their technique for race day.

My swimmers (and maybe you too?) have two key elements to correct:

1. Poor sighting technique

Poor form is tiring and inefficient.

  • One of the most common faults is lifting your head too long which expends energy and causes your feet to drop.
  • Not sighting within the rhythm of your stroke will cause a pause in momentum and break your cadence. Stop-start swimming is no fun.
  • Finally, don’t lift your head to sight just for the sake of it, lift and scan for your landmarks. Use it to make sure you are on course, or don’t sight, just swim normally. If you are swimming parallel to shore, there will be minimal use to lift your head up and to the front.

2. Not sighting regularly enough

  • The swimmers tended to sight too late, only to discover they had veered off track. It’s a trade-off (energy and rhythm) but sighting more frequently would have prevented them from swimming the extra yards.
Keep your head low while sighting in the open water!

Keep your head low while sighting in the open water!


Key tips for Open Water Sighting

  • Sighting Tip 1: scan the course pre-race for landmarks that are bigger and more obvious than the buoys, e.g. telecoms masts, distinctive buildings, boats (as long as they are not moving!), etc.Even though my fellow Coach’s guns are HUGE, it was tough to see them from the water. Swimmers had to work hard to spot him. At Coney Island beach on Saturday, rather than using Coach as the marker in the water, it would have been far easier and more effective to sight using one of the huge buildings behind him on the beach.
  • Sighting Tip 2: Incorporate sighting into the rhythm of your stroke. Lift your head only enough to spot your landmark and throw your head into the breath and next stroke.
  • Sighting Tip 3: Sight regularly, but not too often. It all depends on how ‘straight’ a swimmer you are and how much you trust yourself.  Somewhere between 3 and 12 strokes is the norm. Experiment in training to find what works best for you and your internal compass.

Review the Swim Smooth video above that clearly shows how far you can go off course if your sighting is off. Be sure to practice a little before your next race(s). You get no points for swimming extra distance!

Keri-Anne-Payne-open-water-swim-Beijing-2008_1127785 Olympic Open Water, A Seminal Event About To Occur openwaterswimmingnews

Keri-Anne Payne’s crocodile eyes – head barely out of the water

Photo credits: Flying Cloud &

First Out of the Water

I love this photo, from Ola Vista Photography on flickr.

open water swim triathlon first out of the water ola vista photography flickr

The photo is called “ITU San Diego Pro Men”.

I love how it captures the first athlete out of the water, with his competitors close behind, chasing him down. What a rush!

Do you finish the swim in first place?

Today’s swim workout: Taper time, hotel pool

This is NOT my hotel! (It’s the Danai Hotel in Greece)

I’m traveling with work this week so I’m stuck with a short, shallow pool. But hey, a bad workman blames his tools, and it being race week it’s important to keep my feel for the water, so in I slid.

I did a 30 minute continuous swim workout, alternating lengths of swim/kick/drill for 10 minutes. I think the pool is 15m so, I started getting dizzy pretty quickly!

I made it a slightly harder, more relevant workout by not pushing off the walls.

I then did a set of 6 lengths:
1 hard + 5 easy
2 hard + 4 easy
3 hard + 3 easy, and so on. 10 seconds rest in between each.

Do the hard lengths fast but not all-out effort. Effort level to be 6/7 out of 10.

Same again, but this time I did it head-up, so I could practice my sighting a little before the race:
1 head-up + 5 easy
2 head-up + 4 easy, and so on.

I finished up with 10 mins easy continuous swim, mixing freestyle swim with plenty of sighting, fast kick, easy breaststroke and double-arm backstroke. The goal being to mix it up a little, get through 10 mins in a 15m pool without getting bored, and to stretch out my body and ease all the aches and pains.

Was a decent swim, felt good after it, if not particularly enamoured with the short pool!

If I was mid-season I would have jumped on the bike straightaway for a brick workout.

Sadly, no one was waiting for me with a cocktail when I finished:

swim workouts for traveling

Conquer the New York City Triathlon – New and updated for 2013!

The Aquaphor New York City Triathlon is a fun event, with tons of people flying in to tackle a great race and enjoy a weekend in the Big Apple. With a run through Manhattan and Central Park, it is rightly a popular race, but it is also a difficult course.

I have raced the NYC Triathlon a few times, and coach Team in Training and Tri Latino teams for this race, practicing the route regularly throughout the year. Here are my top tips to help deal with some of the tougher elements of the course. Give them a read and profit from some insider knowledge!

Tips for the Aquaphor New York City Triathlon

Let me know if you have your own tips to add, or any specific questions.

Read the athlete guidecourse description, etc. on the official New York City Triathlon website well in advance! Do it before you do anything else. If you have supporters coming, the Spectator Guide is full of useful info too – make them read that rather than asking YOU stupid questions and distracting you from vital race day prep!

Mandatory race briefings: These are a compulsory element and there for your benefit and safety. Try and attend on Friday (12-7pm) before the hordes descend on the hotel over the weekend. It’ll be a much easier task and you can enjoy the expo. Show up on time to your briefing – they don’t admit latecomers and you don’t want to be hanging around aimlessly. There’s a city to explore and much pre-race relaxing to be done.

Racking your bike: You have to leave your bike in transition on Saturday afternoon (~2-9pm). Cover your bike with plastic bags in case of rain, and deflate your tires a little bit to avoid them going POP! in the sun. I’ve jumped at many an exploding tire in the background while setting up!

You don’t want to turn up to your bike on Sunday morning only to find you have to fix a flat! Bring a pump to re-inflate them on Sunday morning. Even if you don’t need it, you will make a lot of BFF’s if you have a pump to share!

There is plenty of security there, but don’t leave your other gear there, just the bike. You don’t want it getting moved, scattered, misplaced, rained on, etc. overnight. Bring it with you on Sunday morning.

Pay attention to the new security measures. Official clear plastic bags only, no Camelbaks (UPDATE: apparently they are now allowed again – but pay attention to announcements for any changes), etc. Read up and come prepared. Adjust your training this week accordingly.

Bring a torch and headlamp for pre-race set-up. It will be dark at 5am and while there is lighting, you will be glad of it when you are poking around in your bag looking for your lucky teddy bear.

Walking to the swim start: You walk from ~72nd St transition area to the swim start at ~99th St. That’s 27 blocks or over a mile. Leave enough time to set up transition, walk up, collect your chip, drop off some belongings, etc. Wear some comfortable shoes that you don’t mind forgetting about. Bring a mag (to read, not for your gun. No guns allowed in transition), do your stretching, visualize your race, relax on the grass. Bring some snacks, gels and a water bottle as you will be there a while. Talk to your teammates.

From (now defunct)

Relax! Don’t stress about the swim. The water is (officially/technically) clean. Read up on the swim start procedures. Watch the waves ahead of you to get an idea of how it works.

In the water you might bump into some flotsam but ignore it. It ain’t a 3-eyed critter, just some driftwood. Carry on.

NYC Triathlon swim start tips

Let the current do the work. Take advantage of the fastest, easiest swim you’ll do in a triathlon. When you jump in (don’t dive!), the current will whisk you down river. Don’t stress, it is benign and trying to help! Get on your belly and start stroking. Be glad of the current. If you don’t like the idea of jumping in with 30 other athletes, let them jump first, wait a second or two (but not too long) and then go for it, start your race!

Swim to the outside, away from the wall where the current is strongest and let it carry you home. Near the wall is where the water will be choppiest, and the current the weakest.

You don’t need to do a lot of sighting in the swim as you will have the wall to your left which will take you down to swim finish in a straight line. There are also signs marking the route at 500m, 1000m, etc. Now is the time to practice breathing to your left in order to track your progress and ensure you are swimming parallel to shore, and in a straight line.

At the swim finish let the lifeguards pull you up. Swim right into the dock and take your time standing up. The floor is muddy (and gross) and you don’t want to get dizzy as you stand up.

Grab a quick shower on the way to transition to clear the Hudson muck, and then make your way casually to transition. It’s another 5-7 blocks back to your transition area. Read the course guide, to prep for the route in and out of transitions.

Transition: There are two different transition areas (red & yellow) and specific routes in and out for bike and run. Basically, run in and out of one entrance/exit and bike in and out of the other entrance.

Bike start: After cruising out of T1 (watch out for wayward, dizzy swimmers running to T1) you hit “Hot Corner” which is a sharp, 90 degree turn into a steep uphill. Thus, make sure you rack your bike in the easiest gear so you can get up that hill. There are crowds right on that corner for the bike start and swim finish, so make sure you don’t fall over in front of them!

via CNN

Hydrate! It will be hot out there.

Bike course: The course is crowded, particularly on the bike, with scant regard for drafting rules, and a lot of dangerous riding. This is partly due to newbies but also to aggressive, overly competitive athletes. Be alert, call your passes, check before you pull out to pass, ride defensively. It might cost you a couple of minutes but you’ll minimize the risk of crashing out.

There are rolling hills on the course. Take note, often in the city, hills are underestimated.

At the end of the bike course you ride past transition down to 59th st before looping back to 72nd St and into transition for T2. Read the course map so you aren’t surprised by this. It is utterly demoralizing when you are looking forward to getting your butt off the bike, only to have to cycle an extra 20 blocks!

On the way back in for T2, remember what goes up, must come down! Ride slowly down that steep hill into transition. Some of the volunteers may be overzealous New Yorkers and will not be shy in stopping you and “helping” you off your bike.

The run is fantastic! The crowds along 72nd St are so supportive, loud and motivating. However, first you have to tackle a short, steep hill out of T2 onto the roads. Manage that part, especially given your legs will be jelly after the bike. Once you reach the crowds and the adrenaline starts pumping, don’t go crazy. Enjoy their cheering, but manage your pace. 72nd Street is uphill and over half a mile long. You don’t want to cramp up as soon as you get into the park!

Take advantage of the aid stations for water and nutrition, as NYC can be hot and humid in the summer, even at 8am or 9am.

There are some nice, rolling hills in Central Park to keep you on your toes. They gradually get tougher until you are at the northern-most part of the course near Harlem (video of Harlem Hill, opposite direction). After the downhill Harlem Hill section as you turn south, there is one last tough hill to conquer before the gradients ease off.

Once you conquer those hills and start heading south on the east side of the park it is relatively flat before you hit downhill Cat Hill and arrive at 72nd St where the crowds will again welcome you!

Just when you expect to turn left for the finish line, you will have to turn right and run around a little-who-put-that-there-and-why-the-heck-do-I-have-to-run-around-it fountain before looping back for the finish line. Read the course map and there’ll be no surprises on race day!

Look out for cheer sections like Team in Training and Tri Latino‘s support crews. Feed off their energy. They are cheering YOU on as well.

Once you have finished kicking ass, the finish area is crowded with friends, relatives, toursits and well-wishers. Grab your recovery nutrition and go find your supporters. It is best to make a plan in advance otherwise finding each other will be tough.

Good luck and have fun. Remember: Strong like bull.

Then hit the city to celebrate.

Open Water Swimming and Sighting Tips for Triathletes


I came across this great article on sighting for triathletes and think it’s well worth a read. Very thorough and timely, given I am racing this week.

The main point I would add is that it is important to practice sighting throughout the season, so that it is second nature come race day. Practice it in the pool as well as when training in the open water.

Sighting in Triathlon Swimming via Toby Baum’s twitter (@tobybaum).

His video embedded here:


Worth a watch for some good tips and visuals. Practice them before your next race!

Workout of the Week (WOW!): Start fast, and just keep trucking

Goal: Less warm-up in today’s session to get us used to not always having a proper warm-up before starting a race. In particular, less fast work to get us primed for the main set.

In practice, we should work on replicating imperfect conditions so we are ready to handle anything on race day. Something always goes wrong!

Start fast in the swim and keep going to the end!

Desert Truck Head On, from Cold Cut’s flickr

Warm up: 2 x (100 free /75 back /100 drill /25 kick)

Main set: The main set itself is short and fast work at the front to replicate the initial speed of the swim start, before settling into longer swims. Get used to the initial burst and being able to maintain race pace. If you can do it in a crowded lane, all the better!

4 x 50 Fast: for time
50 easy
4 x 100 Fast: for time. Try to double your time for the 50s, but not slower.
50 easy
2 x 200 Negative split each 200, and number 2 to be faster than number 1 overall.
50 easy
400 Race pace
50 easy

Cool down: 200 easy swim, 100 back, 100 kick

Total: 2,800

How did it go?
Were you able to maintain good speed throughout?