Training for Open Water by Bryce Elser, USA Swimming & Jack Fabian, Keene State University (2012)


[introduction, by Mark Hesse]

Our next speaker is Bryce Elser.  For the last year-and-a-half, he has been a member of the USA Swimming staff as the Program Manager for Open Water Swimming.  As we all know, the last year-and-a-half has been a challenging year in the sport of Open Water Swimming, both nationally and internationally; not so much necessarily with the competition, but just with the issue of athlete’s safety and making sure that all the races are conducted the way they need to be conducted.  And Bryce is helping us at USA Swimming navigate through those difficult challenges.  That being said, we had the most success ever this summer with Open Water: first Olympic medal at the Games.  And I am sure Bryce will touch on that, so: Bryce Elser.


[Elser begins]

Thank you, Mark.  As Mark was saying, I have been working at USA Swimming for a year-and-a-half now, with the National Team division.  And in that year-and-a-half I have had the privilege of going to all the international competitions that have been attended by any of the National Team athletes and coaches.  And had the privilege of working with the athletes and coaches, and being at the training camps and the competitions and learning from them and talking with them and figuring out what is best for them.


Today’s talk, we are going to focus on one particular issue.  Instead of talking about Open Water Swimming as a whole, it is probably best to talk about one particular issue; and today it is going to be on Open Water training and what is involved with training in the open water.  We are going to talk about why we do it, the logistics behind doing it, and the safety precautions that we take in our open water training practices.  I am only going to stand up here for a few minutes and talk about what we do from the National Team perspective.


We do have another guest speaker, Jack Fabian, here, who is going to talk for the majority of the time and go over the details of what goes on in an open water workout that we do.  Jack has been to more Open Water competitions, or international competitions, than any other coach that I know of.  He has been travelling with his daughter, Eva Fabian, who is on the National Team; and they have been attending all… I think they have been to all the World Cups around the world and Jack was also our coach last year at World Championships.  Jack is also an advocate of open water training, using it as a tool in-combination with the pool; and not just doing open water training but using a pool and open water training.  And he is a big advocate and one of our most experienced coaches with running an open water workout.  So I will allow him to do the majority of the talking, that way it is the most informative way for you guys to walk-away with something today.


But I will talk for a little bit about what we do from a National Team perspective, in terms of getting our athletes prepared for Open Water competitions whether it be a World Championships, Olympic Games or World Junior Championships.  So before every competition that we have, we will have a training camp; and that training camp will extend between 10-15 days.  In that time period we will focus a little bit on open water training.


Three Reasons

There are three major reasons why we use open water training as our tool.  One of which is acclimation.  We want to get them acclimated to the water temperature.  If we have a World Cup or a World Championships that has 75° [F], we want to be training in 75°.  And that goes with the air temperature too.  So we will pick an area/location for a training camp that is going to be similar to what we are competing in as well.  We want to also train water conditions; and if it’s going to be salt water or fresh water, we want to mimic those conditions at our training camp.  And then also, we wanted them to acclimate to swimming without walls, and not having to do a flip-turn every 50 meters.  And you would be surprised how helpful that will be over a 10-15 day training camp.


The major reason for acclimation, which is what we used it last year for, was safety.  Getting the athletes used to training in a condition that they are not comfortable with.  If the pool is going to be around 80°, then the athlete is going to be comfortable around training in the 79°-80° environment.  But the moment you deviate from that, is when the athlete becomes uncomfortable, and it takes-away from their safety and also takes-away from their performance at the competition, as well.  So we want to make sure that we are mimicking that training environment for safety purposes as well.  So last year, in China [2011 Worlds], we knew that we were going to have water temperature in the mid-80s, and so we picked a location for our training camp that we were going to have water temperature in the mid-80s, that was going to be saltwater, we were going to have some good humidity.  Just to mimic what we were going to have in China, that way we can do the adjusting during training camp and during training sessions instead of doing the adjusting during the race.


The second reason why we would like to use the open water training is for strategy and the strategies that are involved with the race and pack swimming.  You would be surprised about how many swimmers on our National Team do not have that experience of doing pack swimming.  Some of them made some of our international squads doing the 10K and made our team without swimming in the pack at our 10K National Championships.  You cannot get away with that at an international competition; you are going to be forced to swim in a pack at international competition, if you want a medal.  So we have got to get them comfortable with swimming on the inside of the pack, the outside of the pack, the back of the pack or the front of the pack.


We also want to go-over some strategy with the turns and the angles of the turns and getting them comfortable with doing turns.  Because, like I said, we have some inexperienced athletes even at the National level that we take to our National meets.  And also the strategy that is involved with the course familiarization.  For example this last summer, to get us ready for the Olympic Games, we set-up a course that mimicked what we had in London.  So on days 1-3, we would set-up a course where it would be working on the first half, or the first third, of the course; and get them used to that start and have them get familiar with that.  And then maybe days 4-6, we would have them get ready, and get used to doing, the long part of the course and doing the long stretch without any buoy turns.


I would say that the most helpful thing that we did at camp was we set-up the course at the end.  The last three or four days of our training camp that we had in Canada before we went to London, we set-up the course where we mimicked the last 700m of the race.  And we even had the buoy turns down and the distances between the buoys down, so that the athletes could know, coming into the finish, what they needed to do and where they needed to be and what it felt like.  And so we would practiced doing it at the beginning of practice, when they felt fresh, and then we practiced it at the end of the practice, when they were a little bit more fatigued—to kind of mimic what they were going to feel like going into the last buoy turn and where they needed to be.  And just make them more comfortable.


The last reason that we use it for is just the experience and making the swimmer more comfortable.  A comfortable swimmer is a fast swimmer.  If they are comfortable, then they can focus-on just getting their hand on that pad first, and they do not have to worry about, necessarily, the details and their discomfort.  So just making them comfortable is a huge factor as well.


As a whole, I would say on our National Team trips we use it about 1:1 ratio with the pool [training], and that is our National Team trip.  I would say our National Team athletes do not do too much Open Water training, as a whole.  I would say, on average, a lot of them will just do one to two practices of open water training just to kind of get them used to Open Water, and they will do that only in Summer months.  But then you have also coaches on the other hand, like Coach Fabian here, who likes to do a lot of open water training to get prepared for that big race and that big National competition.  But when we are going into a camp, we usually just stick to about a 1:1 ratio.  There are some athletes that do not like to do any open water training at all.  We certainly had a few… we had one athlete last summer who did not swim one… maybe he did one or two Open Water workouts for the entire twelve days in Florida.  But then we also had athletes who pretty much just stuck to only open water swimming, so that they can acclimate.  But I would say the average is about 1:1 ratio on our practices.


So we do usually an open water workout in the morning, and then a pool session in the afternoon.  And then some days we would do two pool, two open water workouts.  And just kind of switching it up, and accommodating the athlete’s needs, the coach’s needs and making sure that we had options.


The other countries out there, I would say the Europeans do not really do too much of the open water training—I think Jack would agree on that.  And I think the reason behind them not doing too much open water training is the fact that they have a European circuit, and they are constantly competing against each other and having competitive 10Ks and 5Ks throughout the year.  So to combat that, because we do not necessarily have the level of good competitions yet in the United States that are local and that are easy to get to, we have to have a good training camp, and that is the reason why we do it.


So these are just some of my observations from my perspective.  I stand as kind of a third-party at these training camps and competitions, so I kind of get to be a little bit of an observer.  Jack, Coach Fabian, might have a different perspective on how things are done.  But I am going to allow Jack to get up here and talk about the specifics of what is involved in an open water workout.  If you want to run an open water workout and the things that are involved, especially the safety aspects of open water workout, he will touch-base on.  And then after he has done, I will be up here and we will keep Jack up here, and we will do a quick little Q&A and answer any questions that you might have.  And if you have National Team questions on how we do training camps, you can ask me.  Or if you want to talk to Jack about some of the specifics that he talks about, you can ask him that as well.


Now we have Jack Fabian.  He is a true student of the sport, I would say.  He is always constantly trying to improve on his coaching abilities, always reading-up on things, and he is just a pleasure to work with.  He was our World Championships coach last year, and the coach of Eva Fabian.  So here is Jack.


[Fabian begins]

Well I want to thank Bryce for that introduction; Bryce is an excellent person (I am hoping this microphone works).  I want to thank Bryce.  He is an excellent person to have at an open water training session; he has a background as a beach lifeguard.  One of the things that we thought about when we first started getting into Open Water Swimming is that we are actually located in New Hampshire, which is inland.  We have lakes but we are not around the shore.  And if you watch some of the best-skilled open water swimmers are probably some of your beach lifeguards that go on and do triathlons.  And we felt that they were skilled because they are in the water every day.  They are out… they are not just training in the pool, but they are training in an environment that is constantly changing.


This slide is just, this is just a little bit about my background, just in case you are interested.  My background is I was a molecular biologist before I was a swim coach.  And I coach for a club team and I am the head coach of the Division III college team.  The reason why I am here talking to you is because of this swimmer right there on the right hand corner there: that is my daughter.  She is an Open Water swimmer.  She got very involved in the sport; she has been on the National Team since she has been 14.


In 2010, she won a World Championship in the 5K.  And one thing you can see from that picture, she managed to get her hand up first: that is the difference between a gold and a silver medal.  You can do everything right in race; and it can come down to people swimming two hours and it is a touch.  And it is a touch that you cannot tell on shore, but the officials go through photographs, such as this, and will record.  So you have to get used to enduring a lot of difficult situations, setbacks, and just be able to bounce-back.  She actually won this race after being disqualified in the 10K two days before.  She was in a leading position.  There was a mandatory buoy that was not a turn-buoy.  And she and one of the Brazilian swimmers were sort of shoved sideways, and they swam around the wrong side of a thing about the size of a small balloon, and during the last 500m of 10K they were hauled-off the course.  So you have to be able to bounce back, and I kind of feel like open water training helps to make these swimmers resilient.


Just a couple of… I want to touch on four topics I thought would be useful for you.

  1. Number one is planning.
  2. Number two is like how would you integrate this type of training in your periodization.
  3. This is something I call tracking. You cannot keep track of… you know, it is not like you are keeping track of laps, necessarily, in Open Water.  So how do we track the distance, the density of their training in the open water?
  4. And some of the precautions. That last part probably reflects a little bit of my scientist background. But I hope you will pay attention to it, because I think it is something that we do not touch-on enough and I think people need to think about.




Safety plan.  This is a slide from a race that we went to in Québec.  As you can see at races the safety plans are getting more-and-more involved, and they are outlining these very well to the swimmers and the coaches.  It is very well thought-out.  My question is: when you take your kids out to a lake, what’s your plan?  I mean, what are you thinking about if something happens during your training?  This is another slide from that race: they had an evacuation plan.  This particular race was not a circuit race, it was a point-to-point race.  So the kids would be stuck out in the middle of the lake, and if something happened—lightning or anything—they had to have a plan for evacuation.  I thought this was a great idea: they shoot up flares, they have a system of getting the swimmers to the kayakers, and then they have boats that will come and shuttle them out.


Well, if you are going on a training session, you are not going to necessarily have this type of support.  But you should sort of think about what happens if there is lightning, if you have a swimmer with hypothermia, if they get exhausted, if they get bit by something.  Chafing is another thing: it can become very uncomfortable if you are swimming in salt water.  Or if you have a swimmer that is not used to… their stroke is sometimes a little bit different in the open water, they experience chafing and that can affect a workout.  So make sure you bring something to prevent that.  I have personally hauled-out two swimmers during long swims, and had to hug them and paddle them back, while escorting swimmers, because of hypothermia—it is something that we, luckily, had a kayak that was big enough to accommodate them.  But it can happen and you should be prepared for that.


Workout planning.  It is not like you just show-up to the pool.  If you are going to have proper safety, you have to have a way to get your boat and your swimmers there.  I am fortunate that I have a very small training group that I do the Open Water Swimming with; they can all fit in my truck and so can my kayak.  So we can get down… we have a lake that is fifteen minutes from our pool.  We can do a session where we could go 5,000 in the pool, get in the truck, go do another 5,000 in the lake.  Or we could do a morning session in the pool, evening session in the lake.  Because of the proximity of this, and the fact that it is a small group, we have a lot of flexibility with our training.


You should also be checking things like: water quality, your temperature, weather.  We always check the temperature before we go in.  The water quality, we do our best to keep-up on reports; and you will see a little bit later, that is actually not checked very frequently.  And weather is something that is dynamic and you really have to keep track of that.  But luckily the weather predictions are pretty accurate these days.


This [slide] is another strategy to get a boat to a training session: there are actually folding kayaks available.  You can fit them in a bag that you can check-on an airplane; it weighs about 23 pounds.  So you can bring this, not only on a local swim, but if you are going… I have taken this out-of-the-country multiple times.  You can set it up.  There is usually a fair amount of anxiety and swearing when this thing is being set-up; it is not easy to set-up.  But you can set it up in about ten minutes, and if people help, that helps.  That is what it looks like when it is, sort of, deployed, and you can see it is a good support—it give you plenty of support in the water.  And so this is another type of option.


I talked about temperature.  Here we are, we are measuring the temperature.  I use a digital, waterproof thermometer that can switch between Celsius and Fahrenheit; and for international racing, I feel that is really important.  You can see here this chart; there is quite a wide range of temperatures for Open Water.  Like Bryce was saying, it is not a pool where you are stuck at maybe 79° or 80°.  You can be racing in conditions down in 60° or as high as 86°-88°, which is quite a difference of temperature and that is quite a range for a competition, as well.


And like Bryce said that is an argument for getting-out into the open water and training, because the body needs to experience these temperatures to be comfortable with [them].  The boy that I had to haul-out in a lake swim, that lake swim, the water temperature was only about 68°.  But he was very thin, he was a National Junior Team Open Water swimmer.  Now he can swim pretty comfortably in the low-to-mid 60, but it has taken him a couple of years of going out and training before he could experience this without running into trouble.


This is just in our area; you can see that we can really only open water swim between May and September.  I will talk a little bit about planning how we work that in.


Is your water clean?  This is actually an app that I found, Swim Guide, (up here).  It lists a lot of local lakes and also shorelines.  And it will give you information on how often the water is tested, and if there have been any reports of anybody getting ill.  In Québec, they follow an A-B-C-D system; they are just testing for E. coli.  They have a threshold limit where it determines how much testing occurs.  The As and Bs only have to be tested infrequently during the season.  When the E. coli-level gets up-to 200 per 100 mL, they have to test more frequently.  And then they are not supposed to swim when it gets as high as 200.  The USA has a threshold limit of 126 E. coli per 100 mL, but states can choose to follow this or they can choose something else.  Right now, only ten states have adopted the E.P.A. standards.  So, you know, you might have a state where it has to be up to a 1,000 before they are going to close the beaches.  So just be aware of what the regulations are in your state, and what kind of conditions.  Because E. coli is just an indicator of human waste in the water; and that is something, if you have a kid coming-up with a big competition, you may not… if the E. coli-count is high, you may not want to put them in, they might get sick.




What time of the season would you want to try to use this type of training?  Well, there are several different ways you can use the Open Water training.  We love in August to do a lot of long swimming: it is still nice outside, all the major competitions are over, and it is just a great time to do some basic endurance work.  And it is probably about the best EN1 work that you can do with a person, I think; the pace is very controlled and it is nice, long swims.  Mid-season, if it is in the Winter, it could be really difficult to get outdoors unless you are on a trip.  But you can simulate some of the open water-type of swimming in your pool, and I will point that out in a minute.  During your taper, you might use it for some recovery and skill development.


Open water swimming has a different set of skill sets, like Bryce was talking about.  Swimming next to one another—we call that proximity swimming.  And it is always a good time, if you are sort of coming out of a pool and you are getting ready for a major Open Water competition, to throw them in an open water situation where they are swimming next to each other in different sorts of configurations.  And they can prepare for people being that close, on top of them, during their races.


This is an example of what we would do, sort of, for pre-season and also mid-season in our Summer—when we are going in June and July.  We are fortunate to have this lake here which is about 5-kilometers around the perimeter, about 1,200m across.  Greatest-thing-ever for open water swimming at this lake was this slide, which we are not supposed to go on.  But if we go early-enough in the morning, there is nobody there and they can run-up and jump-off the slide.  And it makes for a great set: you know, you swim over, go down the slide, swim back.


We can just do real-long swims on that, where we can work on some pace-line work or I might do some whistle sprints.  If we want to do just a very, very long swim—sometimes, you know, a real tough set the afternoon before—might just go out and swim 5K straight, no stopping—that is the rule.  We would just go, we swim straight.  I do monitor their pace, and try to keep them moving along and we just go along the shoreline.  Sometimes we mix it up where we do a 1,200 going across this lake.  There is some buoys set-up here for a sailing school, and what we will do is we will swim real-close to one another, maybe do some moving around in their positions in the peloton.  And then we will go and we will work on some 200m-loops, and maybe we will work that each person will have to lead one really fast, and we will sort of alternate positions.  But the point is to go, you know, some fast 200s, and then long.


Another type of set that we do do when we are going later in the season is we would… let us say if you are heading into competition, we will do some try to find a buoy that are about twenty meters apart.  And that is a real-good place to do some sprints, a little speed work, at the end of your workouts.  This is another strategy; this is when open water was not available to us.  But we were at altitude training, preparing for some cold-water swimming.  So we just put Eva in this cold tank, which was pretty extreme, but she actually got quite good at this.  Basically we just started off with five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen minutes, twenty minutes; get her up so she could go thirty minutes very comfortably in the 52° water.  She really learned a lot about cold-tolerance—it was a very safe environment to do this—and it was pretty entertaining to all the wrestlers and everything when they were sitting around watching this.


Here is an example, we have a 25-yard pool.  Sometimes we will set-up buoys just in one lane, so it is a very narrow swim.  Here they are all in a line.  Sometimes we use the whole pool, set-up a big grid.  Basically you can come-up with any kind of variation.  The pool is really great because in this type of situation we might do… if we had some other buoys in there, we might do some really long swims, and then we might sprint some widths.  And them some long swims, sprint some widths.  Then we might do a long race, and then a recovery, and then some widths.  So you can just do a lot of variation; you can actually… it does not have to all be just basic endurance type of work.


The pool is nice too, because you can also work on other skills such as feeding.  Get the kids used to sort of being, you know… actually it is not just the kids but yourself, because feeding is not the easiest thing to do.  There is a lot of stress: you have got to get this cup to that person without hitting somebody else; and, you know, they are pretty-much counting on you for that feed and you have to not mess-up and drop the cup—which does happen.


This is just a chart with energy system on it.  But I really feel that when we are in the lake doing longer swims, it is just real basic aerobic capacity work; we are really staying within these two zones here, hopefully more along this zone.  In the pool, I feel like it is very easy to do some threshold work, and even VO2-max work—if you are creative in what you are doing with that course.


This is (there is no way that you can read this [slide]).  But this was actually our training plan for Open Water World Championships in Shanghai.  The one thing you can see is that we had our 25K swimmers, 10K swimmers and 5K swimmers on different plans.  But this was basically starting in July and then it was up until the point… this we started training in Florida, then we travelled to China, and we had a number of weeks, maybe three weeks.  Doing Open Water training with your swimmers before they go to this type of training camp, it is important.  If you had a swimmer that is not used to doing much Open Water swimming, they might show-up to this training camp and they are going 8-10 kilometers, open water, for a whole week.  That is going to wear them down pretty good if they are not really able to tolerate that type of swimming, if they are not comfortable with that.  Again, the camp staff would adjust the training, if they needed to.  But that was sort of the goal; that was something that we thought would be really good for these swimmers going into that competition.




Okay, talk about tracking.  These are a couple of devices that I have found very interesting and helpful.  This is just a GPS, this my thermometer, and this is a Hydro Tracker that Finis sells.  What I like about this [Hydro Tracker]: it floats, it is waterproof; I basically just use the odometer function.  There are probably a lot of really creative things you could do with this, because you can upload it to your computer.  This [GPS] does upload to your computer.  The one reason I would like to use a combination of these two is that it does not really give me any real-time feedback.  So if you are trying to look at how fast are my swimmers going, you cannot tell with this thing—it just has a blinking light on it.  At the end of the day you can download it in your computer, you could tell [then].  But if you want to tell them to hurry-up or to back-down, you are not going to know that unless maybe you are counting stroke rates, or just intuitively.


This is an example.  We had just gone three kilometers on a swim; this was actually a day before a race.  We are not moving at this time, but if you were swimming you could take a look at what speed they were holding.  This maximum speed was not the swimmers’ speed; I think I dashed to catch-up with them in a kayak.  But they were averaging around 4.1 kilometers [kph], mostly they were like mid 4s, and up to about 5 kilometers.  A women’s race, a 5K, is done in about an hour, so 5 kilometers-per-hour is race pace.  A lots of things that could affect the speed, could be conditions like: currents, waves, sometimes you get some really fast times if you are going downstream.  So again, it is all relative to where you are training.  But you could take a look like here: 5.5 kilometers would be sort of around race pace for 10K for men, 5 kilometers per hour would be about a female 10K pace.  Around 4.5 is a decent training pace, it would be about a 1:12 pace for 100-yard; it is not killing them, but they are sort of moving-along, especially if they have people all over them.  Once you get down to here, they are actually going kind of slow: that is definitely more of a recovery-type of pace.


When I first got my Hydro Tracker, I actually wanted to test and see where my dogs were going in the woods.  So I hooked it up onto one of the dogs, and I found out that this is where they were going on my computer.  There is some animal under a log there—that is all I can determine.  I wanted to see how it worked in an international conditions.  So I actually put the Hydro Tracker—it clips onto the swimmer’s goggles—but in this case, we actually had a race that was way up here about 5K away.  And I paddled upstream in my kayak with that tracker on, just to sort of see how it worked—which was a horrendous experience for myself: it took me like two hours to go 5K in a kayak, and I almost missed the race.  But I do have a record of that on the tracker.


This was the course used in Florida for a 10K Nationals this year.  We used the Hydro Tracker.  We got there a few days earlier, there was nothing set-up.  We kind of wanted to see if we had an idea where the course was, so Eva swam a workout where she had the tracker on.  And you know we went back to the hotel room, and we took a look and saw if we had the right idea of what the course, where it was on that waterway.  This was some of the Hydro Tracker data; now this was really just the recovery swim.  But what it would do is it breaks it down by kilometer.  So the first kilometer, second kilometer, third kilometer.  These are sort of little splits over a hundred meters, or so, during that first kilometer.  Here you can see she was sort of working some turns and stuff here during this kilometer portion.  And the last third, she was sort of working on finishes.  So you can see it is interesting.  I have not exactly figured out how to use it, but I could see a lot of application for this.




Okay, this is a little film clip from the movie Hangover, where two police officers were mocking the people who were other actors in the movie.  And they were sort of making fun of them: let’s go to Vegas, let’s go to Vegas and they all get in trouble.  But I kind of feel that sometimes people do that with Open Water Swimming; that they are like let’s go Open Water swimming, they just dash out and they go and they do not really put too much thought into some of the dangers that await them.  I coach a Division III college team, and the kids in captain’s practices right now.  And they actually texted me on the way to the airport, and they said: “We are going to Goose Pond, Coach. You would be so proud, we’re taking the freshman Open Water Swimming.”  And I was like, turn around because I know Goose Pond, we have actually trained there before.  And what they did not know is that one time when we trained there two years ago, we saw this thing that looked like a dog swimming-up to us.  And then it starts slapping its tail, and it turned-out to be a beaver.  If you look down SwimSwam this year, there were a couple of incidents—and these are really rare—where a beaver actually attacked, a rabid beaver, attacked a swimmer.  That was not the issue here.  Beavers can be kind of aggressive, they do not want you around their areas.  But they also carry a parasite which can make you kind of sick.  So you do not want to swim in water where there are beavers, and I did not want my college kids swimming in waters with beavers.  This is a Giardia; it will give you—most of you are familiar with that—it will make you, it will give you some severe GI [gastro-intestinal] problems—you will have very uncontrollable diarrhea.  And in the woods, this can be a very life-threatening situation.


Talk about water quality.  This is an international race that we went to, and we took a look and this is all garbage.  Somehow this passed the water-quality test, and the kids actually swam in this.  We did pre-treat the US swimmers with antibiotics.  But I would not train there on a normal basis, and personally I do not feel this is a good environment for a race.  There were actually chicken coops all along the side of the race course with god-only-knows-what going into the water.


This is the suit lining of a female suit from swimming in Hyde Park—we went and competed in the [Olympic] test event in London.  And we never really did an analysis on this, but I am kind of feeling that you probably want to avoid water like that on a regular basis—although people do swim there.  If you see signs like this, this for blue-green algae, stay out; it can kill your dog.  And if it can kill your dog, it will probably kill you too.  There seems to be more concern about dogs swimming in blue-green algae than people, but it is a condition that you want to avoid.


These are probably two of the most-serious infectious organisms that I think you should be aware of and avoid:

  • The first one is leptospirosis. This is actually spread through urine of infected animals, like rats and cattle.  They actually had a British Olympic rower who died of this.  Rowers are, from what I know, are familiar and careful of this; they usually cover their cuts and wounds when they are rowing in water that has a possibility of being infected with this.  But I feel like swimmers being new to Open Water, we do not want to bring our swimmers into a situation where they are swimming, and they can actually swallow and be infected by this bacteria.
  • [Naegleria:] This is a very serious parasite, this is an amoeba. It enters through the nose: it goes up the olfactory nerve and affects the brain.  Again, it is rare, but it is present in almost all water.  It seems to get activated at about 80°, so warm, lake water—this is not a salt water problem.  But warm, lake water is probably dangerous, you probably want to avoid that; because there is always a possibility of something like this being activated and affecting your swimmer.


This is actually something that came up during a race: this was a freshwater race, we were 25 miles away from the ocean.  It turned-out to be a sea lion that popped-up and frightened the female swimmers.  He turned out not to be a problem.  But, again, you are swimming in the wild, and part of the beauty of Open Water Swimming is that you are in touch with nature, but you know your swimmers do actually sometimes get real up-and-close with these things.  And if it is something dangerous, you have to be able to get them away from that.


Things you also have to worry about are like inanimate object: sticks, rocks, steel poles, sometimes old docks.  If you are going around… I always try to kayak and keep an eye on objects when we are near the shore because sometimes there is an old dock—or something like that—there might be poles or pylons sticking out, and it is dangerous if your swimmers swim into that.  You also have to watch out for: currents, temperature and the huge things is marine traffic—that is one of the reasons why I always accompany my swimmers in a kayak.  If the group gets spread out, you have got to have more than one kayak.  You have to have enough people to sort of accompany your swimmers so that they are protected from this very real danger.


There is a whole list of species that you can come in touch with: jellyfish and sea lice—make sure you have got some vinegar.  We talked about the naegleria, the Giardia, blue-green algae and the bacteria.  They talk about expect the unexpected in Open Water; and this is another shot of that sea lion—it was certainly unexpected.  These kind of things can occur, and it is part of the beauty, but also it is something that you have to be careful of in Open Water Swimming.


This was just a closing-shot here.  This was one of the kid’s posters at Olympic Trials, that I thought was kind of cool, for Open Water.  It says: swim out there, don’t give up.  They did not have the author’s name on it, but I thought it was kind of a cute picture.


Thank you for your attention, and we are happy to take any questions at this point.



[Elser returns]

Before we do with the quick Q&A, I just want to touch-base on a few other safety aspects that Jack kind of skimmed on and I kind of just want to reemphasize some facts.  (Not to take away from Jacks speech: I thought that that was great.)

  • Keep the swimmers swimming close to shore. Do not necessarily do an open water competition where you are swimming straight out to sea three kilometers and then straight back in.  Keep them close to shore: the closer you are to shore, the safer you are going to be.
  • Also, the proximity of kayaks to swimmers is also important. One of the things that we do at our training camps is we always try to make sure that if there is going to be a possibility of boat traffic going to be around, we try to put the kayak in-between the boat and the swimmer.  That way… the boat is always going to see you, sometimes the boat cannot see a swimmer; so the kayak is sitting above the water—and that is something to think about.
  • And then also: how you are using the kayaks in terms of do you have a visualization on everybody at all times? And where do you position the kayak?  And sometimes it is better to be behind the swimmers, so that way you can see the entire pack and see if somebody drops-off, instead of at the side.  And sometimes it is more beneficial to be at the side.  And just how you use it and just use common sense on keeping visual with your swimmers at all times.
  • Lastly, whenever possible, try to have communication with land. If you are on a kayak, it is always good to have communication with somebody that is fixated on land.  That way, if you are on a kayak and something happens to one of your swimmers and they have a medical problem, you can radio-in or do a hand signal or some… raise your kayak oar, signal that into shore so that they can call 911.  So that by the time you have the swimmer into shore, you are having a paramedic there as well.  And the sooner that medical officials can get there, the better.  I think that is really important to do, and that is something we do on the National Team is we go above-and-beyond at our training camps.  We will have all the kayakers have radios, handheld radios—the cheap one—and we put them in waterproof bags; and we have somebody on shore—usually our team doctor is on the shore with an AED there as well.  But if something were to happen, we can call-in and they can call 911, and we can have paramedics be there by the time we get them in.


[Fabian]:  Actually Bryce reminded me of something I did want to say.  Probably the safest way to train out in open water would be if you have a circuit, like a little loop.  And when we train with the National Team, we actually have people going up and down the course with the paddleboards and then coaches following.  But it is a very contained area, you can sort of get the experience in open water but, like Bryce said, you are actually not too far away from help if you need it.  So that is a good way to get started in open water training.


[Elser]:  Okay.  That is all I had to add-on.  So if anybody has any questions, we will take them.  We have about fifteen minutes left in this room, so we will take them.  Yes?


[inaudible question from the audience]


[Elser]:  The question was: Does the kayak have to carry a life vest for each swimmer that is in the water?  Usually the life-vest policy is generally it is at the discretion of the local beach that you are going to be at.  Some beaches require the kayakers to have a life vest on and a life vests for every swimmer.  Most of the beaches that we go to for training camps do not really have the regulation.  If anything the regulation is there for kayaker-only, and that is only if you are renting the kayak from a certain place and that is for…


[Fabian]:  I think you should have a couple on there, though.  You should have floatation devices that you can get to one or more swimmers.


[inaudible follow-up question]


[Elser]:  The follow-up question was ratio for swimmer-to-kayak.  It is really at your discretion.  Right now there are no rules, really, for safety in terms of a kayak-to-swimmer ratio.  I would say instead of doing a kayak-to-swimmer ratio, it is more important to have a distance-to-swimmer ratio.  You should never allow yourself… I try to be never more than twenty meters away from a swimmer at any given point, and I think that is more important than necessarily the kayak-to-swimmer ratio.


[Fabian]:  I only take 5 or 6 people, if I am just going by myself.  And, again, like Bryce was saying, I would not take somebody who would not be able to stick up with the group.  You do not want four people and then one person a hundred meters back.  Distances open up very fast in the open water, much faster than they do in the pool.


[Elser]:  Any other questions?  Yes?


[inaudible question from the audience]


[Elser]:  Our med staff usually recommends, especially when we go down to South America, that they load-up on probiotics.  And that really is only effective—I am, of course, not a doctor—but it is only effective if you start doing that at least seven days before you even begin to travel.


[Fabian]:  You can also get a recommendation for antibiotics.  We did that in China.


[audience question, related to the water quality of the venue for the 2012 Olympics]


[Elser]:  It did; yeah.  It got cleaned before the test event, and then we issued our concerns with what you saw with the suit.  And they mentioned that it was still clean, and that was just the leftover algae.  But by the time we got there for the Olympic Games, it was much cleaner; it looked… it was a completely different park almost.  They did certain things to control the geese population that were in there that contributed to the E. coli, and they started taking care of the blue-green algae by treating the water, and certain things like that.


[inaudible question from the audience]


[Elser]:  The question was: do we have anything strapped to the swimmer, in terms of a flotation device attached to a swimmer?  On the National Team, we do not really do that because we always have a kayaker with our swimmers at all times.  I know that for some of the lone-swimmers, there is a device out there.  I am not 100%-sure on the name of it…. Yeah, it is a SwimSafe, and it is a valuable tool because it is basically a buoy that is strapped to you and you do not feel it behind you.  Not necessarily can it help you stay afloat, but it is pretty good for boat traffic: it is bright yellow and a boat is going to see that.  Sometimes the boat is not going to see you, but if you have a big yellow or orange buoy strapped to you, they can see that.


[Fabian]:  If you are training in a group with a pack, I would not advise it.  Because you just do not want kids to get tangled-up in something that is hanging off… we really do not want somebody to get something wrapped around their neck or hands or anything.


[Elser]:  Any more questions?  Yes.


[inaudible question from the audience]


[Elser]:  Any USA Swimming or FINA meet will not have a wetsuit.  But they do have tech suits, and it is the textile suits but it can go all the way to the ankle [and up to the shoulders] on the men.  So the men can wear the full-body suits, and then the women can wear, of course, the full-body suits, as well.  It just depends on the water temperature.  Some international competitions we go to, if it is warm, some men will just do the legs.  In London, though, everybody had the full-body suit, just because it was cold enough where you will take whatever kind of material that you can get over your skin, just to help keep you warm and help make you go faster.  It just depends on the race.




[inaudible question from the audience]


[Elser]:  The question was: do we have any camps or clinics for the Open Water Junior Team or anything like that?  Right now, all we have currently established is our Open Water Developmental Camp, which we invite… we base it off of their ranking in either the 5K Nationals from the year before or the 1500 and 800 times.  But that is currently what we have in place right now.




[inaudible question from the audience]


[Elser]:  The question was about feeding, and maybe Jack can talk about this.  I can talk generally about what National Team members do, and usually it is about three times during a race.  I know that in London, Haley [Anderson] fed twice during the race and then Alex [Meyer] fed three times [both in 10K races].  I have not really seen a winning solution.  One of the things that I think people need to be aware of is the need to feed if it is warmer water, obviously because you are sweating more in warmer water conditions.  So you definitely need to rehydrate as much as possible.  In London for example, it was 68°, it was cool; so feeding twice was fine as long as you are… but we also encouraged them to take gels and goos with them.  So if they skipped a feed, then they can take a gel or a goo sometime during the race.  That way they are continually getting sustenance and that energy that helps them finish the race.  Jack can probably speak a little bit better on that.


[Fabian]:  They generally feed about every two kilometers in a race.  And a lot of it depends upon the position of the feeding platforms: where it is relative to the start.  Also, in some races there could be more than one feeding platform, you have to make a choice and that can affect your strategy.  The key thing is: if your swimmer feeds, they are investing time and energy into that feed, you want to make sure it is good.  And that is why the coach has a lot of responsibility to get that to them, but you have got to teach your kid how to do it.  Because a lot of times the kid will come over and they will just take a little sip: probably was not worth the energy expenditure that they had.  And there are people that practice strategies of skipping feeds, so you kind of have to keep your eye on your competition.


And you probably want backup, because there may be a race where…. For example in Shanghai, the feeding platform was almost twenty meters off-course.  So it could be a disaster, and was for several swimmers.  And they had to make a choice to go out there, and people were bolting by.  So if they need a backup, usually they bring gels with them.  Some of the international swimmers have some sort of system where they are using long plastic bags; it looks like it is almost filled with Gatorade and probably gel.  Some of them bring their feeds with them, and whether or not that is the direction the sport is going, we will have to see.


Generally, people are using Gatorade and then they supplement it a little bit with some gel just to give it a little-bit-higher sugar content.  Nobody is really sure if that is actually ideal or not, because Gatorade—the way it is made—is supposed to be optimal for absorption.  But you only get one shot at it, so people try to throw a little bit more sugar into it.



[Elser]:  Any other questions?  Alrighty.


I will be around for the next 20-30 minutes if you guys have any other questions about anything we have talked about or anything that deals with the Open Water National Team.  We are planning our Open Water Nationals [for] sometime in May; that will be announced probably at the end of this month, is when we are planning on announcing the location of Open Water Nationals.  But we are looking at towards the end of May, maybe the first weekend of June, is what we are looking at.


My last words of advice is just get out there, encourage your LSC to host an Open Water competition—that is where this all begins.  Every swimmer starts somewhere, whether it be in a 500-meter race or a 100-meter race.  Just get them out there, get them to do Open Water swims, get them that experience, and then build-into getting into going to Nationals, and things like that.


If you guys have any questions, just let me know.  I will see you guys later; thanks for coming out.



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