8.06.2009

Open Water Swimming 101 by James Jonsson

For those of you who are registered or are thinking about swimming the Deer Creek Open Water Marathon Swim on August 15th, James Jonsson has written a great article about what you can expect and what to bring and has also included some helpful tips for race day.

Open Water Swimming 101.

You’ve probably heard that the Deer Creek Open Water Marathon is now a sanctioned USMS event. And you’re thinking that maybe now is the time to try open water but you’re unsure of what to expect. No problem, Utah Masters is here to help.


The Deer Creek Open Water Marathon is a friendly event with four distances; one mile, 5k (3.1 miles), 10k (6.2 miles), and 10 miles (17k). The race is held at Deer Creek Reservoir and starts and finishes at the South Marina Boat Ramp (the one closest to the dam). The race course starts by going south into Wallsburg inlet and then follows the south shore. There are four distance buoys marking the halfway turn-around points for each distance – the half mile marker for the one mile race, the 2.5k marker for the 5k, the 5k marker for the 10k, and the last one for the turn-around of the 10 miler. There are also several buoys marking key points in the race and they are placed to keep you within 50 yards of the shore at all times. In fact, you can swim as close to the shore as you like for most of the race so you’re never too far out.

Facts about the Deer Creek Open Water Marathon:

  • There are 4 distances; one mile, 5k (3.1 miles), 10k (6.2 miles), and 10 miles (17k). Each distance has a wetsuit and non-wetsuit division.
  • Each swimmer needs to have their own escort in a kayak, canoe, rowboat, etc.
  • The start is a water-start off of the boat ramp.
  • The finish is a water finish at the start buoy.
  • The course follows the southern coastline and keeps you close to shore.
  • There are course officials in boats cruising along the race to make sure everyone’s safe. Your escort will be given a red flag. In case of emergency, he/she will wave the flag and signify the need for assistance from one of the boats.
  • Historically the water temp will range from 67 to 70.

What to bring:

  • Yourself
  • Your escort and the following:
    • Canoe, kayak, rowboat, paddleboard
    • Two Coast Guard approved life vests. One that your escort wears and one for emergency in case you need it.
    • Liquid and/or solid nutrition
      • Liquid can be water, sports drink, etc. Has to be in a plastic bottle.
      • Solid can be gelpacks like GU, or a Powerbar, bananas, muffins.
  • Sunscreen for your escort and yourself
  • Body-glide if you are wearing a wetsuit or bodysuit
  • Colored swim cap
  • Towel
  • Sweatshirt, or warm up parka. It can be cold in the morning. The last two years the early morning air temp was in the mid 40’s but the water was upper 60’s to 70…nice!
  • A fun attitude.

Here are some tips:

  • Remember to pace yourself. Open water swims can be longer than you think. If you get too tired, you are allowed to get up on the shore or hang onto your escort and rest. However, your time won’t count for an official finishing time.
  • Pour your liquids into pull-top sports bottles. Don’t try to open a twist cap bottle in the middle of a race.
  • Tie a rope to your sports bottles. Yellow nylon 3/8” diameter floating rope works best. Figure about 8’ long. This way your escort can toss your drink to you and you don’t have to waste time handing it back.
  • If it’s sunny, bring tinted goggles.
  • Put sunscreen on your back, neck, and back of your legs, especially if you are doing the 10k or 10 mile. Of course, it will wash off but it’s better than nothing.
  • Make sure your escort goes to the bathroom before the start of the race, especially if you are going for the 10k or 10 mile. That’s a long time to be stuck in a kayak or canoe!
  • Most swimmers are bunched together for the first ¼ mile or so. Your escort doesn’t necessarily have to be right next to you until the pack spreads out a bit. Tell your escort to hang back or off to the side at the start of the race and keep an eye on you. Then when the pack thins out, he/she can get next to you. Your escort needs to be aware of other swimmers and not impede their course.
  • If you are swimming more than the one mile distance, there is a 180 degree turn-around buoy at the end of Wallsburg inlet. This is a tight spot and can get congested. Tell your escort to hang back and not follow you around this buoy. Let the swimmers make the turn and have your escort pick you up as you start coming back after the buoy. Twenty yards is enough distance for the escorts to stay back and out of the way.

Remember, open water swimming is all about freedom. Freedom from lane lines, walls, and chlorine. It’s all about fun. Get out there and have some!

If you haven't already registered for Deer Creek, please visit the event website.

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