My very first open water race was the Swim Across America swim that I did in Greenwich CT a couple weeks prior to doing my first aquathlon. Boy was it a shock. I had trained in pools my entire life in a tiny speedo with 100% freedom to move my limbs in whatever direction I wanted. This particular race was a wetsuit mandatory race so I rented a wetsuit from a local triathlon shop and never tried it on till 30 minutes before my race. Come to find out, wetsuits are super hard to get on if you have no idea what you are doing. I was also told about a million times about how fragile they are and how they can rip super easily. So there I was trying to put on a wetsuit using as little pressure in my fingers as possible not knowing how to properly put on a wetsuit. But I digress.
I ended up getting the suit on and all was good. Till the race started. I have never felt more cramped while swimming in my entire life. What was once a long and smooth stroke was now short and choppy. What used to be a powerful kick was now floating on the water so much that I thought my legs were in the air. It felt foreign and I didn’t like it. But all of that was nothing compared to my navigational abilities that day. I bounced around that body of water in a way that would have made a pinball proud. After it was all done I vowed to learn how to sight properly before my next open water experience.
So I tried everything. I tried practicing in open water. I tried big pools with no lanes. I tried breathing forward during my pool workouts. It all helped a little bit but it didn’t really seem like I was making much progress. Instead, something stupidly simple was what totally changed my sighting training. A professional triathlete friend of mine gave me a tip that I initially shrugged off but I am glad I eventually tried it.
Here it is:
Open your eyes when you take a breath to the side and close them when your head is underwater. Try and stay in the middle of the lane and use the lanelines as bumpers.
That simple trick allowed me to get used to what it felt like controlling my body to keep myself straight while swimming. Come to find out that I was making tiny little movements for balance under that water that was throwing off my direction. I thought that my sighting would be terrible again the minute I threw on a wetsuit and hit the open water swim course during a race. I was pleasantly wrong. The wetsuit, while it did change my stroke a bit, provided more balance in the water so it evened itself out and ever since I have been crushing the sighting during races.
Doing that simple exercise doesn’t have to be done every swim workout for the entirety of the workout. Pick a set or rep like 5×100’s or 1×500 and do this exercise for the whole thing. Do that once a week and you will make tremendous progress.