Today I attended the Sebago Lake Challenge for the first time. I believe this is the fifth year the race has been held. Here are my observations from the race. First, I think there a lot of mistakes made by the high school age swimmers. The reason I say that is they are the fastest swimmers out there. Secondly, I am going to focus in on a couple of key mistakes made by ALL types of swimmers at the event. I will end with a key point of all athletic competition.
First, the biggest mistake I saw this morning (and I saw it at the YMCA Peaks to Portland race too) was that there a lot of “pool swimmers” trying to use pool strategies in the open water. That ain’t gonna cut it. Pool swimming is a pretty static environment. Everyone dives off the same blocks. Everyone swims the same distances and the same course. Everyone turns at the same place in virtually the same way. Everyone knows exactly where the other competitors are swimming. So let’s break that down a bit.
Second, the single most important thing that the swimmers I saw today can do to improve is to sight with increasing frequency and skill. A very small minority of swimmers were sighting and sighting correctly. Why swim 2.8k if you can swim 2.5k? And sighting also includes knowing where your other competitors are in relation to where you are. Athletic awareness. You must be looking to your left, right, in front, in back of you at all times. Looking underwater. Is someone making a move at the front? Is someone making a move on my side? Is someone closer to me? Farther? All of things then get processed in the athletic brain to drive the process of the swimmer’s outcome. As stated above in my first point, the course can be highly variable depending on where you want to go or where you want to take your competitors.
Third, consider “dolphining”. At the beginning and the end of the race, I saw many swimmers not taking advantage of the shallow water to move themselves faster through the race. I saw several people get passed in the last 20 yards of the race due to a competitor realizing they could run through the shallow water faster than the other swimmer could swim. This is a skill that should be practiced at the beginning of the open water season in order to take maximum advantage of the conditions.
Fourth, I’d like to end with an athletic trait that I saw in four or five competitors today, both young and old. Some finished in the top three, some in the middle of the pack. That trait is the competitor. No matter the place of the swimmer compared to others, there were a handful of people out there that started the race as hard as they could and finished as hard as they could. Most people didn’t. Kudos to those competitors out there.