Strategies for 10K Open Water Racing


Christine Jennings (medium)

By Dan McCarthy//National Team High Performance Consultant

If you still think the Open Water 10K race is an hour-and-forty-five-minute slow, aerobic swim punctuated by a five-minute sprint to the finish line, you are in for a pleasant surprise when you watch the USA Swimming Open Water National Championships webcast on June 13. 

The entire race will feature sprints, breakaways and strategic battles between the competitors. In a recent conversation with Grant Holicky, Head Coach of RallySport Aquatics in Boulder, Colo., and coach to Christine Jennings of the USA Swimming Open Water National Team, he emphasized the fundamentals of race nutrition and how it influences strategy.

Solid training nutrition is the cornerstone to showing up at the start ready to compete. But the choices made on race day can make a difference. 
  • Eat a meal that brings blood sugar levels back up and achieves adequate hydration about three hours before the race
  • Top off your glycogen stores by eating a primarily carbohydrate snack (about 250 calories) an hour before the race starts
  • Sip on a carbohydrate + electrolyte drink or water every fifteen minutes leading up to the start
  • Eat a gel pack at the starting line as insurance for a missed feed early in the race

There are as many feeding strategies during the race as there are competitors. In addition to personal preferences each racer has to weigh other variables. An athlete has to be flexible enough to adapt their strategy during the competition to avoid being taken out of the race.

Am I well-positioned currently and/or for the finish?

How much of the race is left?

How far from the course is the feeding station?

How many laps are in the race?

What are the climactic conditions?

Is it a salt or fresh water race?

Despite all of the variability, there are some strategies every racer has to follow.

  • Take in carbohydrates before the situation becomes critical. A spent athlete waiting for the next feed to get a boost is an athlete more concerned with finishing than winning.
  • Carry some carbohydrates as a backup or a strategic advantage. Almost every open water swimmer has a couple of gel packs in their suit in case they miss a feed or want to race past a feeding station on the back half of a race. Some athletes have taken to carrying all of their race fuel in the form of gel packs and avoiding the feeding station altogether.
  • Keep it simple. Water, electrolytes and carbohydrates are what are necessary to fuel an athlete through a 10K. High fat and/or protein sources of nutrition are likely to upset the stomach, cause dehydration or compromise available energy sources.

As the sport of open water swimming evolves, providing the competitors with quick and effective fueling choices will always be a part of race strategy. Keep a keen eye on the feeding strategies employed by the athletes this Friday, and the impact those choices have on crowning a national champion.

ArenaBMWMarriottMyrtha PoolsOmegaPhillips 66SpeedoTYR