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Surviving an Open Water Start

The start of an open water swim is one of the most stressful moments in swimming. Legs, feet and arms flying. Everyone sprinting to the first buoy. All that energy for the first 200 or 300 hundred yards. I remember starting at the front of the pack, hyperventilating and starting to panic, which is unusual for me. I also remember somebody literally ramming their head into my butt cheeks.

My strategy now is to hang in the back and let the group take off in rush. I’ll ease into the my stroke and build up to pace over those first 200-300 hundred yards.

In a 2.4 mile swim that is going to take 60 to 75 minutes, what is an extra 10 seconds really? But besides that, while those in the head of the group are churning and burning in the front, I’ll be just starting to expend energy. And then I can pass all those eager starters for the rest of the race.

Two caveats: If you’re in a huge mass start with several 100 swimmers start at once, waiting for the group to clear out is going to take longer. Depending on your own speed, you may be running over a number of swimmers and maneuvering around them. In that case, just stick it out and welcome the learning experience.

Second, if you’re in the top heat, in great condition at all speeds, and know your competition, go with the opposite strategy. Work up a good pace to stay out front, and maybe win. Yeah, you’re that good, so go for the gold!

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