One of the most common problems that swimmers experience is keeping track of where they are during their swim. It’s not uncommon to see competitors zig-zagging and going completely off course, and this is usually based on four things:

  1. Not knowing the course
  2. The currents
  3. Swimming for long periods without looking up
  4. The rhythm of your stroke

Points one to three are easy to offer a solution to. The rhythm of your stroke is something you need to correct during your training.

It is best to mark your target (the finish line) before you start the race. When you are standing at the start, look across the dam to the finish line. The big white marquee is your first “sighter” and the easiest to pinpoint. To the right of the finish is the yacht club – this is your second sighter and just to the left of the finish are two big trees, which are your third sighters. Finally, there are always a few yachts moored to the right of the finish to serve as your final sighter.

On the water itself are orange marker buoys. These are placed every 200 metres and are on both sides of the course.

Once you have seen all this, you can then plot your course. My suggestion is to keep as far left on the course initially once you are in the water as there are a number currents that run in various directions under the water. The main current that affects swimmers is the one that runs from Munro Bay towards the dam wall (on the left of the course around the 400 metre mark). It flows from left to right and pushes swimmers into the middle of the course.

When your race is underway, you need to be constantly looking up, (water polo style) to ensure that you are heading towards your sighters. Too many swimmers swim as if they are in a pool and then the currents (and sometimes poor rhythm) takes you off course. It is recommended that you look up at east every six strokes and adjust if need be.

During the swim, look first for the orange marker buoy you are heading towards, then look up to see if the finish marquee is visible, if not, look left for the trees and right for the yacht club. As long as you have these three markers in your sights, you know you are on the right track for the finish line.

Your stroke can be corrected in the pool during training. The best way is to use the bilateral breathing method. This means that, while swimming freestyle, your first breath is taken to the right, and then on the fourth stroke, a breath is taken to the left, and so the pattern continues. Unfortunately, not a lot of social swimmers can maintain this but if you can master the art, it certainly helps during the swim.

To see if you swim in a straight line, get in the pool and swim 25 metres with your eyes closed. Make sure you have someone in the water with you to stop you hitting the wall or the lane ropes. If you swim a straight line, then your stroke is even. If not it means you are pulling stronger with one of your arms. If this is the case, ask a local coach to help correct your stroke.

Remember, in the dam, you have to contend with the varying water conditions, which range from smooth to choppy. You will need to also adjust your stroke to compensate for this, so be aware of the conditions at the start of your race.

Most of all, train hard prior to the event. By doing so, you’ll enjoy your swim so much more.