Tip of the Week - Open Water Sighting & Navigation
When it comes to improving your sighting and navigation, the most important thing is to do some homework before your event. Many swimmers and triathletes start a swim event without having done any detailed reconnaissance of the course beforehand. Using the swim course map provided, aim to walk around as much of the course as possible and work out key landmark features that might help you better target each turn buoy when you are down at water level. If you are able to swim the course before race day then when you swim around a buoy stop and look to where the next buoy is and then look for key features on the horizon inline with that buoy that will make sighting easier, e.g. a tall tree, hill top, odd-shaped building. Aim for these as you swim rather than becoming too focused on the buoy itself, especially if the water is a little rough. This will take some of the stress out of sighting small turn buoys in the melee of a race start. Doing this well will also help remove some of the disorientation that many people experience in open water.
Keep your head as low as possible when sighting in the open water to prevent excessive drag from the legs sinking.
The most common mistake to make when sighting forwards is to lift the whole face out of the water and try to sight and breathe at the same time. In order to lift your head out sufficiently to breathe, the legs sink dramatically creating additional drag, even when wearing a wetsuit.
A good sighting technique involves lifting just your eyes out of the water and then rolling your head to the side to breathe, this should happen in one smooth fluid movement. If you were about to breathe to your right, you would press down slightly with the right arm as you pull through to raise just your eyes above the water line before continuing to roll the head with your body's natural rotation to the right and take a breath as normal.
Avoid trying to hold your head up high for several strokes until you can see exactly where you are going with a waterpolo style of stroke. That is extremely fatiguing. If you cannot see where you are going on your first sighting stroke then don't panic and retry a couple of strokes later. You will not always get a clear view every time you sight forwards but by sighting two or three times in a row you will gradually change what is initially a fuzzy picture into a clearer view of where you are going. Once you have that image in your head, lock onto it and focus entirely on cutting as straight a line as possible to that point.