Make your open water swim easier, make it better. You need to have a PLAN when you do your open water swim training. Too often I just get in, swim a kind of “long time”, planless and clueless, and then get out of the water. I do this because usually I follow my coach’s highly structured pool workout, which, like most of you who have a coach or a workout plan goes something like this: warmup, drills, 50s, 400s, and so on. So by the time I get to a [lake, bay, ocean] I’m happy just to jump in and happily swim a sizable distance, unfettered by formalism, so to speak..
The picture above is a swim buoy for boats or other water craft to see you. The strap goes around your waist and the buoy floats along behind you…bright orange…”Here I Am! See Me!” I recommend getting one, they contribute negligible drag. Also swim along parallel to the edge of the water, so you aren’t too far out…and try to always swim with a buddy or a group to stay safe.
Dave Burgess, in a USATriathlon post, writes a nice article about what we SHOULD be doing when we hit open water. First, Warm Up for 10 minutes so you get loose and can kind of dig in to a workout. Then you might want to do some speed drills; he suggests 8 to 10 sessions of 50 strokes hard, then 50 easy (sound familiar? Your pool workouts, right?).
Then do some drills; single arm, maybe fist, and, for me, “Tarzan” is an important drill. I have my head out of the water a lot at the beginning of the swim, just to figure out where I am. There are people all over the place, sometimes I can’t see the next buoy, I’m looking all around, and get thrown off my rhythm and game. So I practice a lot of time with my head up, just to get used to the feeling. And, of course, it helps with sighting, or seeing where you’re headed after the swim start confusion clears. Then you can settle into a longer, fairly seamless, rhythm of the swim.
Of course, I need to practice breathing on both sides; the reasons are kind of obvious. Waves might be coming from one side and you don’t want them smashing into your face, or someone might be close to one side or the other and you need to keep your face away from their thrashing.
But ultimately, treat your open water swims like your pool swims: warmups, some drills, with the addition of highest priority on safety!