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There Are No Open Water Swim Secrets

There Are No Open Water Swim Secrets Run Tri Bike Magazine Valerie Valdez Cabrera

Most of my experiences with open water swimming have been very exciting and fun. As a triathlete, you can enjoy the swim portion as much as I do with a few tweaks to your mindset. Here are some tips and tricks to get out of the water and into T1 with a smile. Here are a few tips to follow but remember there are no open water swim secrets.


For race day it is very important to warm up before jumping or running into the water. I like to swim very easily for 400meters (437 Yards) to feel the water temperature and adjust my gear. Then I do some light stretching followed by my first gel 10 minutes before my start time. 

The Start Line

Depending on your swim abilities, you have some decisions to make before lining up. If the race starts on the beach and you have to run to enter the water, look out for the water depth changes. In some events, you will end up almost running in the water for ages because it is so shallow. Unfortunately, that kind of effort consumes a lot of energy, so avoid getting excited and be conservative if you find yourself in that situation.

Now let’s talk about the famous swim start aka the washing machine, this is the only portion in a triathlon that is 100% physical. If you can throw a sprint for 50m no problem just protect your face, swimming with your elbows out like water polo players helps a lot. Remember that you don’t want to lose your goggles or get a pretty bad face bruise. If your swim skill level is a beginner or just don’t feel sprinting so early in the race, stay away from the main crowd. A recommendation is to maintain the crowd to the side that you are comfortable breathing. The reason behind this trick is to have better visibility and breathing. If the crowd is to your right and that’s your favorite or easiest side to breathe you will be in control of knowing what is happening on that side. 

Never Trust The Swimmer In Front Of You

What if they are following the swimmer in front of them? This vicious circle can cause many athletes to end up swimming a longer distance if they all continue to swim away from the marker buoys. If you notice the mistake, be in control, don’t panic, and adjust your direction right away, the goal is to swim in a straight line from buoy marker to buoy marker until you complete the swim.

Look Up

During race day the best way to do this is to lift the head and look forward as you are turning your head to breathe. You want to limit how high you lift your head because your hips will drop. A trick of mine is to keep my mouth in the water when I’m looking forward and then I rotate the head to take the breath to the side as normal. Also, during my swim practices, I like to throw a few 10m sprints with my head up in the water to get comfortable with peeking up to look where I am going. Practicing Tarzan swim drills in the pool during training will also help practice sighting.

Preparation Weeks Before The Race

I like to hang out in the water for a few minutes without touching the bottom of the pool, not exactly floating but more like treading water. Get some comfortable goggles and practice while wearing them. The biggest mistake is to try the new gear on race day and that includes goggles, swim caps, earplugs, triathlon suits, and wet suits.

Believe it or not, some triathlon suits do not favor the athletes in the water and they produce a lot of drag. The solution to that issue is the swimskins, which is an approved race garment that looks like a mini wetsuit but the only purpose is to reduce the drag caused by the tri suits. Is very important to mention that you will not feel any buoyancy benefit by wearing this optional garment and it will be one more thing to worry about during T1.

There Are No Open Water Swim Secrets

Open water swimming takes practice, a lot of practice. The more you do it the better you become at it. You have to go out there and make mistakes to learn from them because the list of tips and tricks could keep going and going. And of course, what works for me doesn’t mean it will work for you. A great example is (do not try to do this) that I like to chew fruity gum during the swim if it is in the ocean to prevent my throat from drying and activating my gag reflex. In the end, you do not win a triathlon race with the swim alone but it can make the difference and set a positive race mood.

“When it is the time to get in line and everyone is anxious, because you know everyone is anxious, I like to clap very loud 3 times. Then I just wait for the horn, that’s the go – go – go time.”

There are no open water swim secrets but with practice you will become efficient and those ‘secrets’ will be unlocked.

Valerie Valez Cabrera Run Tri Bike Magazine

Valerie was born and raised in Puerto Rico. Her favorite discipline since very young age has been swimming long-distance events, particularly 5K open water swimming. During her peak years she always took a spot on the podium in the Puerto Rican open water circuit. Valerie has participated internationally, including the US Open in 2006, where she finished the 5K with a time of 1:03:30, which is her best time.