How big is your difference between OWS times and Pool times?

ArgentArgent UtrechtMember
edited July 16 in Beginner Questions

This question comes forth from a feeling of blockade. I've been putting in 4 sessions per week on average the last year and really made some progress compared to where I was last year. However, the last months or so, I feel I'm stuck. I think it also shows in my OWS times:

Last Sunday I swam a 6km race in the Netherlands through a river (De Lektocht). with a time of 01:57:34,66, I averaged on 3,06 km/ph or almost 2 minutes per 100m. According to my pool trainings, including longer distances, my css pace should be to 1.35 per 100m.

Is this difference a normal fact of life with open water swimming or should I do something about it? I'm asking this, because I was planning to do a 12km open water swim this summer and a 22km open water swim next year. I thought my pace was better by now which leaves me in doubt. I'm questioning which part of my training I should change to bring my OWS time closer to my pool times.


  • brunobruno Barcelona (Spain)Member

    My short answer would be: forget about pace and stopwatch when OW swimming. Your times will never get close to pool times.

    I elaborate.

    My speed is very similar to yours. I can do 4K at 1.32/100m (short course). At the sea, I barely go at 1.47 on a 6K swim, and on my last 10K (2 weeks ago) i averaged 1.57/100m. Why is it?:

    _ First, which CSS are you referring to? For 1500 m (as I do), for 4K? At which point CSS becomes "I could swim forever" pace?
    _ Every flip turn takes away almost 1 second to your (approx.)
    _ At the sea, waves, currents, wind, not swimming straight, etc. will made your times go up or down at random (not really at random, but I mean that those circumstances, you can't control)
    _ Cold water: muscles contraction will make you slower (in winter I use to do a workout: 30 min at the sea, water at 14ºC, then jump to the pool (right on the beach, at 24ºC) for a 10x 200m; I'm not able to go below 1.45/100m, because of muscles contraction, while usually I would swim these series at 1.30)

    If circumstances are different, you can't compare times. You could do a controlled test (something like @evmo did to test the benefits of wetsuit ), but what's the point if your next swim will be different?

    Of course you could train like a pro and get to swim for 2 hours like you would on a 1500 m race, but I can't even imagine the effort this would take.

    My advice to my swimming mates, obsessed with their time at every event, is (I'm sure I read it in this forum long ago): on your race day, leave the watch in your bag.

  • BridgetBridget New York StateMember

    Open water is special. ;-) I just swam in the Chester River for Maryland Swim for Life. Third time, over the span of twenty years. Prepared well each time. 1999, I swam 4 miles in 2:58, 2016 I swam 5 miles in 2:56, last week, I swam 3 miles in 2:50. I will never swim a one mile event at SFL-- A three hour mile would be a bit bothersome, but only because of the cut off times for that event- being asked to leave a course due to slowness is sad.

    I love wearing my watch- it is my only jewelry- it is just a Timex, and when I'm in the ocean tomorrow, it will record (when I hit the lap counter) how long my laps take, with and against the currents, between landmarks, and how long I was in, total. Pretty rudimentary stuff, but useful for progress on a course over time- to a point- and illustrative of how conditions are beyond my control. I can't always see my watch numbers, and "watch free" people are welcome do do their thing, but if I glance at my watch and see something like 3:17, it reminds me of my grandparents- it was their house number. I'm easily amused. ;) And that time I spent forty five minutes swimming in place off the shore from Sam's Snack Shack? It was useful to know how long I had been fighting the current- because I don't have a reference for time passing otherwise. Also, I admit to being a bit ritualistic, and like the start button and stop button to "frame" my swim or workout. Some people spit in goggles. ;)

    Now, to the original question- if you do pool and OWS, your pool work can serve as a benchmark of progress, if you need reassurance. I have a few rates I use as personal references in the pool, but even they vary- I have an idea of how much longer subsequent miles will take on a long day- and I have a few "known" OWS locations, but if I have a fast or slow swim on a course, I reconcile how I felt vs. conditions. My three mile swim last weekend in the river? I felt strong the whole time. Happy day. But of the three distances? My five miler stands out as the swim in which everything came together for me- but it was me and it was the river- and the river was cooperative that time. My priority is finding joy in swimming. The numbers on my swim log are just for my own amusement and edification.

  • dpm50dpm50 PA, U.S.Senior Member

    Just never can gauge open water times by pool times. I'm not fast in the pool, maybe 2 min/100 sprint, and if I'm going for distance, maybe 2:10-2:15.

    Sometimes currents help me--other times slow me down. I swam 1:20 in a 3 mile swim w current going my way and 2:08 in a 10k, again current assisted (gotta love that current assist). Other times, I'm taking forever to do a mere half mile if the current is against me. Recent 5.3-5.5ish mile swim, I finished in 3:30 and was happy to do so.

    All relative--which actually is what I enjoy about open water! I surrender any expectations about time. When I did running events, I pretty much could predict my pace based on my training. Not so much in open water. It's really kind of freeing.

  • MoCoMoCo Worcester, MAMember

    Pace helps me in a pool with learning to swim uncomfortably hard. I can then tell myself in open water, this feels like xx pace, you can swim this for yy minutes/hours. But yeah, it's never actually that pace (currents, turns, waves...). In the pool, the ability to take a sneaky glance at my watch on a turn (shut it, I can't see the pace clock) helps me make sure that I'm hitting the pace I want. This helps build the skill, but for me it's all about focus and being able to keep that same focus outside is a different skill. If I lose focus, I go right back to "swim all day" pace which is slower than what I'm capable of in the pool.

    For example, my coach has a particularly fun tester swim: get in the pool no warmup, swim as far as you can in 90 minutes, no breaks. I think my farthest on this one is 5125 yards - about a 1:45/100 pace. During that time, my open water stuff looks like it was averaging 1:55/100 and up for swims over 5000 yards, up to around 2:05/2:15 per 100 for 4-5 hour training swims (those would also have feeds, which also add to your pace, especially if you are too busy talking to your kayaker during feeds vs. actually getting calories in your mouth...).

  • SeanSean Member

    I swim aerobic repeats off 1:40/100m intervals. I hope to finish Zurich next week around 8h30h (around 1:55/100m). I will update you.

  • No comparison and I don't compare!

  • ArgentArgent UtrechtMember

    Thank you all for your responses!

  • SeanSean Member

    Following up as promised above. So Zurich was 1:34/100m this year. Way better than expected. In 2016 i did 1:58/100m. Both years, I was swimming 1:40 aerobic intervals in the pool in training, but I did a little more milage this year. I don't think you can take much away from this info i'm afraid!

  • curlycurly Issaquah, WAMember

    @Sean said:
    Following up as promised above. So Zurich was 1:34/100m this year. Way better than expected. In 2016 i did 1:58/100m. Both years, I was swimming 1:40 aerobic intervals in the pool in training, but I did a little more milage this year. I don't think you can take much away from this info i'm afraid!

    I think this info shows clearly that pool conditions remain fairly constant year round, so if you maintain consistent pace in all your workouts, you will have your predictable times. Open water conditions change continuously. If you take a consistent swimmer and put them in varying conditions, they will serve as an accurate indicator of the effect of the conditions.

    Wind or current at your back = faster. Wind or current at your face = slower. No wind and little current in the pool = same time all the time...

    Pool times are a great reference, but you have to give a lot of range to estimate open water time. And of course the longer you go, the less accuracy in the estimate. At least, that's my takeaway.

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