In Tracking and Logging Your Training I blogged about the importance of keeping and studying a training log for clues about ways to tweak your training program. Tracking and logging training swims begins to take on a whole new level when considerations unique to the sport of open water swimming are included.
While the unpredictable and imcomparable nature of open water swimming is, for many people, one of the draws of the sport, it is still important to log your open water swims in a way that can be valuable when analyzing and developing a training program or race stragedy. As in pool swimming, distance and time are the two most basic parameters to track in your log, but even this isn’t straight forward. Additionally you should keep track of wind and water conditions, feeding schedule, and of course some “feeling” notations.
Distance can be easy enough to track with a few different methods varying in accuracy. The most accurate way to track distance is by using a GPS device such as the Hydro Tracker to track the path and record the distance of your open water swim. In addition, many swim spots have established routes that make tracking distance a bit easier. Lastly, a swimmer can use a mapping program to approximate the path taken and the distance swam. Estimating the distance one swam would vary in its effectiveness for each individual and be reliant on a variety of factors, such as the swimmer’s navigational competancy and ability to swim straight.
Ultimately, distance only tells a small part of the story, so make sure you track your swim time! Keep track of overall swim time and the length of feedings or breaks. If you are swimming a route you are familiar with, start tracking “splits” at distinct landmarks or at the halfway point in an out-and-back type of route. Next its time to take into consideration weather and water conditions. Was it windy and the water choppy? Was it a wind to your back or were you swimming into a head wind? Was the water still, or were you swimming with or against a current? By comparing swims on the same route on different days, you get a better idea of patterns in weather conditions and a general idea of how each training session compares to the others.
When it comes to cold water swimming, one of the most important parameters to track is water temperature. Acclimating to cold water temperatures is a process, and one that involves gradually building your tolerance by increasing the length of exposure or gradually decreasing the temperature (easier said than done, this is best done in the fall when temperatures start to cool and drop off). Keep a pool thermometer in your bag so you can get your own temperature reading. Many times water temperature readings from a buoy can be found online, however, keep in mind that these water temperatures readings are usually taken from a few feet below the surface, and may not be completely accurate for the surface temperature. Know the symptoms of hypothermia and log any that occur. Everyone reacts differently to cold exposure and it is very helpful to have an understanding of how your body and mind reacts.
Since a race day nutrition plan should be crafted after careful trial and error during training swims, it is important to track nutrition consumption and its effects in your log. NOTHING should be consumed on race day that has not been put to test in training. Was there a particular flavor of energy gel that you liked? Did a liquid that you usually like during freshwater races taste really bad when your mouth is salty from the ocean? Did you experience stomach cramps after eating a new food? Did your feeding plan include electrolytes? How much liquid were you taking in, and was it enough? Were you able comfortably ingest enough liquid in a timely manner? Use the information you gather over many training swims to identify any needed adjustments your feeding plan, including the amounts, schedule, products, and ratios.
Lastly, you should keep track of any notable feelings or changes in mental state, so that you are better prepared to head these off during future swims. In addition to tracking the effects of your nutrition consumption and cold exposure as outlined above, keep track of items such as how long it takes to properly warm up, your percieved effort or pace at different points in your swim, the development of any pain, and any dips in mood. For those training for channel or marathon swims, it is important to include at least one very long training swim before the big day to serve as practice. It is very common for swimmers to find that they experience feelings of depression, pain, and low energy at the same benchmark in every long swim (5-6 hours is very common). By identifying the manifestion of this phenonmon in your training swims and preparing yourself mentally and logistically for it, you are more likely to be able to break through the wall and continue on to success.
Even though open water swims are seemingly incomparable, keeping a thorough record of your training swims will help you identify opportunities for improvement and prepare yourself physically, mentally, and logistically for your major swims and races. While most will not take the time to track and log their training, it is a very simple way to improve your training practices in order to train more effectively, helping you swim faster, longer, and more safely.
See you out in the open!