Safe Lake, Bay and Open Water Swimming

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that Triathlon Trial Lawyer Doug Landau has picked up over the years of training and racing:

1. Bring a buddy. Or two. Swimming alone can be very dangerous. Having a friend or two who can go for help if you get a cramp, hit a submerged log or run into other difficulty can be critically important.

2. Sighting is important because there are no lane lines or dividers to keep you “on course.” Note important landmarks before you enter the water. If you have prescription glasses, get prescription goggles or disposable connect lenses that you are comfortable wearing under your swimming goggles. In some lakes, you also want to be able to look out for boats, docks and other potential hazards.

3. Having lost my wife in the fog, I can tell you that it is a terrifying experience. We entered a lake on what appeared to be a clear morning. But once we were half a mile off shore, the fog rolled in. Not only could I not see her, but I could not hear her. Luckily, she located the shore and walked all the way back to our starting point, in her wet suit, swim cap, goggles and zooms ! You would be surprised how easy it is to lose sight of the shore and get lost in the fog. Make sure that fog will not be covering the lake or shore before you start out. If fog may potentially cover the water surface, abort the swim.

4. Open sores, wounds and chaffing. I have a friend who is a gifted swimmer who always rubbed his neck raw when open water swimming with his wet suit. This can be very painful especially in the ocean. I do not recommend vaseline or any petroleum based product because they can lead to the rapid deterioration of rubber products. I wrote a piece for “The Physician and Sports Medicine” on “The Right Goo for the Shoe” on this very subject, as vaseline lead to the detraction of running shoes when applied to prevent chaffing and blisters. Use “Surgi-Lube,” “Aqua Glide,” “Ky-Jelly,” or other non-petroleum product. Consult your wet suit manufacturer’s web site for suggestions.

5. Glare can be a real problem for sighting during open water swims. For bright sunny days or when the sun is low in the sky, I use tinted swim goggles. Swimming goggles come in several tints and styles. I like the larger Aqua Seal variety, as it fits my face well and gives me a large field of view. For color choices, blue lenses work well for cloudy days and dark lenses are helpful for bright, sunny days. Any the hologram styles are just plain cool for kids of all ages !

6. While a good open water swim can leave your skin all tingly, you do not want to be electrified in the water, or worse yet, electrocuted ! If a you hear thunder, do not enter the water. If you see lightning, stay out of the bay. Simply put, if a storm is brewing, do not swim.

7. Good swim technique includes a streamlined body position, with legs, torso hips all near the surface. This body alignment can also keep you from getting entangled in seaweed, elodea or other aquatic vegetation when swimming in the ocean or other open water situations. While I actually enjoy skimming above and pulling on the weeds in Lake Audubon, Lake Wonanscopomac and elsewhere, not everyone shares my positive experience. My wife “freaks out” when such vegetation touches her, and other friends seem to get all caught up in the watery weeds. Kicking in the seaweed may cause it to wrap around your legs and tire you out faster. If you see an unavoidable patch of seaweed or water plants, stay high in the water and perhaps take a shallower pull until you are safely through.

8. Cold water hags been my biggest nemesis. If it is too cold, do not swim. My muscles lock up and I cannot breath when I plunge suddenly into water that is too chilly. The human body has to adjust to the water temperature gradually. If the water is cold… below 65 degrees Fahrenheit, you should wear a wet suit. I wear a wet suit whenever possible, as it helpes with thermoregulation and the buoyancy gives me added security. A swim cap (or two !) and earplugs can help to keep your head warm. I have even worn a neoprene swim cap at the Kinetic Triathlon in order to keep my head warm. Ear plugs also guard against earache and infections. Swim gloves and booties can also help preserve body heat. I have even gone swimming in open water with my socks on, a shirt and tights under my wetsuit and several swim caps on my head. Ease yourself into the cold water and start with a session of around 10-15 minutes the first time. You can then gradually increase your time in the water with each swim. Some people seem impervious to cold water, but not me.

9. There have been occasions where I exit the lake shivering, covered in “goose bumps,” and this condition lasts for quite a while because I did not properly warm up after my open water swim. Upon leaving the cold ocean or lake water after an open water swim, take your wet suit off, wrap yourself in a towel (or 2), have a warm drink and dress warmly. Body temperature drops quickly in water and you need to get warm again. I pack a trash bag to throw my wetsuit in quickly, and warm, dry clothes for after our open water swims in the fall and early Spring.

10. While this may not seem obvious, if you have fair skin like I do, apply water proof sun screen on sunny days 15-20 minutes before entering the lake or ocean. You should especially take this precaution when not swimming with a wetsuit on hot summer days. Your skin can burn in the water if you do not take the necessary safety precautions.

While this is a fairly dour sounding list, open water swimming in lakes or the ocean is a wonderful experience. For more great swimming and diving tips, go to Swimming safety tips.com and enjoy the freedom beyond the lanes !

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