Swimming in lakes, rivers, and oceans all offer something special beyond the back-and-forth laps in a pool.  Swimming with friends for fun or competitively in an event, open water distances can vary.  As I expand my distance and discover how far I can swim out of bounds, my passion for this sport grows.  Preparation, both mentally and physically, is the key to open water swimming.  Here are some considerations in preparing for a safe and fun open water experience.         

Swim your laps in the pool first.

Planning for a successful open water swim requires patience, discipline, and quite a bit of lap swimming in the pool.  Unlike cycling or running, when you’re in a large body of water, there’s no getting off the bike or walking.  Sure, you can tread water for a bit, but you’ll need to keep moving towards dry land at some point.  The best way to keep moving and building your endurance is practicing your stroke and speed in a pool.   

Swimming between lane lines and getting comfortable breathing on either side works best in a controlled environment.  Practicing good form allows you to maximize your stroke so fewer are necessary in moving from one side of the pool to the other.  Overtime, counting your strokes will be helpful as you increase your proficiency.  The fewer number of strokes between the walls allows you to save energy that can be applied to longer pool swims.  

Find a friend/s.

Swimming is more fun (and motivating) when you have friends to swim with.  Joining a masters swim group is a way to ensure you’ll show up for practice and not hit the snooze button.  Friends are great at keeping you accountable.  It’s also fun to chat afterwards over coffee, swimming is a very social sport. 

You can swim quickly, slowly, or a combination of both.  Swimming with others of all abilities allows you to work on your stroke and ask for guidance from fellow swimmers.  Seeking to become more efficient with your pulling and kicking allows you to stay healthy and avoid injuries.   


As your pool distance expands, you’ll notice that your appetite grows.  Swimming burns a ton of calories that you’ll need to replace.  I’ve tested various liquid supplements in my water bottle for longer swims to see what works best in my stomach.  Here it’s all trial and error, asking others what they use, and then experimenting with what works best for you.  Bars and gels work but create trash and may be more difficult to digest.  Finding the right energy powder or supplement in your bottle and keeping your “feeds” in liquid form tend to work best.    

Get outside and test your skills:

Practicing in the pool may seem repetitive, and it is.  As the weather is warming up, getting outside to a lake, river, or ocean is exciting and something to look forward to.  Consider these tips and experiment to determine what works for you.  

First, never swim alone.  This may seem obvious, but you always want to have a swim buddy with you in case it’s necessary.  An alternative may be finding a friend with a kayak or SUP (paddleboard) who may workout beside you.  The paddling community is as open and welcoming as the swimming community is.  Stay together and try out various distances.  The key is slowly expanding your open water swims.  Avoid swimming a 5k at first.  Instead, set smaller achievable goals such as a one-mile swim.  How did it go?  Would you like to go further?      

Depending on where you choose to swim, there may be toothy and stingy creatures out there.  Don’t think about that when you’re in the water.  Instead, think about how efficient you are with your swim stroke and kick.  Relax, and take a deep breath, blow a lot of bubbles.  Repeat this process, it’s really about taking one stroke at a time.  Long and smooth strokes are everything.  Having been swimming in open water for a while, a lot of the marine life is just not as interested in you as you think. 

I view open water swimming as yoga in the water.  No distractions, no music, or screens, just you and your mind, with complete presence in the here and now.  Focusing on your strokes and having fun with friends makes open water swimming an activity that you can accomplish regardless of your age. 

Here’s some more I’ve written on open water swimming:

STS Race report

Chesapeake Bay Swim race report

This summer I’ll be stretching my distances beyond 10 miles in two upcoming swims.  This idea came together slowly at first as I got back in the water after the pandemic.  Starting with pool swims and expanding slowly to open water.  It’s been a fun journey so far.  I’m excited to see how far I can go in open water and safely return.  Stay tuned…

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