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Article courtesy of...

By Karlyn Pipes-Neilsen
Friday, June 29, 2007 9:42 AM HST

Friends from the mainland often ask me, "Karlyn, why did you move to Kona?"

My response? I moved here for the WATER.

Sounds crazy, but it's true. Prior to Kona, I lived most of my life in San Diego. Southern California water can be chilly so I only was able to swim in the ocean perhaps two or three months out of the year. Even then, the temperature barley topped 67 degrees (burr!). I was always cold.

In Kona, we have it made. Warm water all year long, a marked swim course right in the center of town, great visibility, sea creatures to view and most of all, some really awesome people with whom to swim. In addition, our beloved PEAMAN (and many others) frequently offer free open water races, biathlons and triathlons that are guaranteed to get the adrenaline flowing in any athlete; young or old, fast or not so fast.

Kona is heaven on earth for the open water swimmer.

In fact, Kona offers year-round open water racing that is open to all. Some of these events include: the 1-mile Cinco de Mayo Splash in May, and the 1-mile Hapuna Swim and 1.2-mile King's Swim in July. In August there is the Ali'i Challenge that covers 6 miles, but this unique race can be done as a two-person relay team or solo; fins are allowed. In addition to the longer races, shorter distances such as ¼, ½ and ¾ mile swims are offered monthly at the Peaman Biathlon Series. So, now that you know what's available, here are six suggestions to help you get ready to swim a successful open water race.

Go the Distance: Before you jump into ANY open water race, it's a good idea to test yourself at the POOL first to see if you can swim the distance. If you don't make it the first time, don't stress. Swimming is a lifetime sport so you have plenty of time to get in shape for future swims. However, poor technique is probably slowing you down, so you may want to consider getting a professional to give you some instruction.

Train: To prepare for your event, build endurance and gain confidence in your swimming ability, try incorporating any of the following strategies:

  • Swim at least three times a week
  • Always allow time to warm up properly
  • Train more for distance, less for speed
  • Do race distance swims with very short rest breaks
  • Find a training partner with a similar goal to share in the fun
Learn to pace: Many swimmers start out WAY too fast at the beginning of a race or training session, and then struggle just to survive.

Teach yourself to slow down. Start out each session with at least 10-15 minutes of warm up at the easiest speed possible. Think about opening up your body like a finely wrapped present. Appreciate the wonderful gift that you are and you will be surprised by the rewards. Warm up is also a great time to practice good technique and relaxed breathing.

Once you have warmed up, gradually build to a faster pace maintaining good technique. In the ocean I like to mix up my speeds by swimming 30 strokes easy with excellent form, 20 strokes with a more powerful pull, then 10 strokes SUPER fast! Repeat this 30/20/10 sequence up to four times followed by 100 easy strokes as active recovery.

Sighting: Sighting too often, lifting the head too high or looking for too long creates extra drag that will slow you down. To effectively sight, lift your head, keep your mouth in the water, take a quick "snapshot" of your destination, THEN turn your head and get a breath. Repeat up to three times. If you didn't see what you were looking for, try again in 10-15 strokes.

Also use your peripheral vision to sight. Underwater, glance left and right looking for other swimmers. If you find yourself alone, you have probably drifted off course and will need to stop, reorient yourself or ask for guidance.

Drafting: Drafting is the secret weapon of many open water swimmers. However, there are rules of etiquette that must be followed…DO NOT touch the toes of the person you are drafting!

Practice your drafting skills in the pool or ocean by gathering some friends together for a PACELINE swim. A lead person starts off at a moderate pace with everyone following single file as close as possible. The lead person swims until the second person taps his toes (about 1 minute), then pulls over and allows the 2nd person to take the lead and the paceline to pass. The lead now joins the end and drafts until it's time to lead again. Everyone gets a chance to "pull the train." The goal is to get comfortable drafting others while learning not to touch toes. It's also a lot of fun.

Swim with ALOHA: This is by far THE most important, and often overlooked, aspect of open water swimming. Bring a positive attitude to race day, share it with others and everyone will have a great swim. Sure, it can get a little crowded at the start and as you go around the buoys, but that doesn't mean you need to push, shove or kick your way to the finish line. It only takes one aggressive act to potentially ruin another swimmer's day…and you gained like what, two whole seconds?

Simply put, swim with ALOHA. Respect the water and your fellow swimmers. Work WITH them, not against them to complete the swim. Also remember to have an attitude of gratitude. Give thanks for good health and the opportunity to participate in open water events along with your swimming friends and family. After all, it's really about having fun and enjoying the sport; it's not about winning.

I hope that this feature has inspired at least one person to take the plunge and try open water swimming. Best of luck training, stay safe and I will see you in the water!

BIO: Karlyn Pipes-Neilsen completed her first open water race at the age of 8 where she came in dead last. She is now an open water champion setting course records and placing first in swims all over Hawaii and Southern California, and has set over 160 Masters World pool records to date. Karlyn and her husband, Eric Neilsen, own Aquatic Edge Inc and host open water swim camps and clinics year-round on the Big Island of Hawaii.