The Ocean Swim is a championship event with medals and points on the line for competing Surf Life Saving Clubs.
By Courtney Hancock, three-time Coolangatta Gold winner
The Aussie Ocean Swim is an event where you will experience plenty of nerves, excitement and most importantly a connection with the ocean. I have been very lucky to experience many ocean swim races all over Australia and every single time I finish, I feel determined to start organising my next swim.
Swimming in the ocean is the closest connection you can have with the sea, a feeling you will never forget and a feeling you will want in your life every single day. Here are a few tips that any athlete should know, whether you’re a beginner or an advanced ocean swimmer, to help you prepare for your big swim.
The lead up to the event is just as important as the day itself. Keeping a close eye on rest, hydration, nutrition & recovery are all key factors in helping you perform at your highest on the day.
Check in with your physio and doctor and consider building in a weekly massage and ice/hot baths as part of your recovery regime.
When fueling your body for a big swim it really starts the week before. Making sure you load up on plenty of good fruit, vegetables, meat, rice, pasta and hydrate throughout the whole week. On race morning, make sure you are up nice and early so you can have time to eat breakfast. I would suggest a meal that you have tried in training that will sit well in your tummy, something that is light and will fuel you for your race. I also like to have a gel about 30 minutes before racing for extra carbohydrates and sugar.
Warming up your body before you start will ensure you are ready to go right from the gun.
An easy swim of about 5-10 minutes should warm up your body followed by 5-10 reps of 15 stroke sprints will fire up your heart rate so your body won’t go into shock when you expect it to go fast right from the start. I also like to spend 30 minutes stretching and breathing. I feel this helps my mind and body relax and puts me into a headspace where I need to be before swimming.
Every time you are lucky enough to spend time in the ocean, respect it and love it for all that it is.
There is always a sense of relaxation and connection with the water so take this into your race and love every minute of joy and hurt you experience as this is all part of racing. Be smart, look for people in front of you to swim in their feet, read the ocean for rips for a quicker route out, ensure your goggles are set tight so there is no leakage, find the rhythm that suits you and don’t get too focused on people around you. Most of all have confidence in the preparation you have done.
There’s always a temptation to see an organised swim as purely a race but relax into it and you’ll find there’s so much more to ocean swimming than simply coming first. When you relax, flow and feel the water it’s an opportunity to connect with that deeper part of yourself that doesn’t always get to shine through in the busy-ness of life. Don’t just tick your swims off, immerse yourself fully.
Here are my top 5 tips to help you get the most out of your experience and swim faster for longer.
Ocean swimming requires rhythm that you can only truly get from relaxing. Breathing deeper into your diaphragm before you go swimming will calm you down. If you can train yourself to breathe deeper whilst swimming, you will also get the benefit of more flotation (air) at a lower point to your torso. Deeper breathing allows you to let go of tension and relax.
The straighter you are, the more you will cut through the water and even plane higher in the water. Reach towards your destination, this will straighten you out. When you allow yourself to roll, you can also cut through the bumps and chops that ocean swimming greets you with. It also gives your body momentum and rhythm. It is just a gentle pivot from the hips.
Relax your fingers, don’t grip them. Firstly this allows you to connect and grab more water. But it also passes the relaxation all the way down your hands, wrists and arms, saves energy and strength, gives you a better feel for the water and puts your focus in the right areas, not into tense arms and shoulders.
Where possible find high landmarks above your swimming target so you can see them easily from the water. Look for your landmarks when at the top of swells, not at the bottom.
Utilise the slip stream provided by others. Get into that vortex behind their feet. Don’t tap their feet, that won’t end well. In extreme conditions, you can save up to 20% effort or go 20% faster. We are meant to live life occasionally slipping into the slipstream of others, that’s why we have relationships and don’t do everything alone. Be like the geese flying home for winter, take turns at the front.