Different Strokes

Out of the Pool, Into the Open Water

open water swim medium

Todd Lantry of Ashland grew up in and around lots of water. “I was a water baby who was always in the pool,” he says. Now the swimming coach at Ashland High School, he says “racing in high school and college was a natural progression.”

Lantry raced freestyle sprints at lengths from 50 to 500 meters, and during middle and high school he would occasionally swim across Seattle’s Lake Washington for fun. As an adult, he continued swimming on club teams, but he’d never thought about competing in open water until he was invited to an event in Hawaii in 2003. That’s when he fell in love with open water. “It’s so different from swimming in a pool,” says Lantry. “There’s a completely different focus, a different atmosphere, and open water competition is all about camaraderie.”

“There’s no comparison to swimming under the sky and seeing the scenery pass by versus swimming in a pool and just looking at a black line on the bottom and a clock on the wall.” – Shannon Keegan, Intrepid Water Adventure Swimming, Talent

Shannon Keegan, a personal swim coach in Talent, swam competitively in high school. As an adult, she’s done some masters swimming and a few triathlons, but, she says, “I was always terrified of swimming in open water.”

Keegan became interested in open water swimming ten years ago while living in Vermont, a state with an abundance of beautiful lakes. Coaching kids to swim in the lake “forced me to face up to my fears,” she says.

What Keegan enjoys most about open water swimming is being out in the open. “There’s no comparison to swimming under the sky and seeing the scenery pass by versus swimming in a pool and just looking at a black line on the bottom and a clock on the wall,” she says.

In 2009, Keegan signed up for her first 1-mile open water swim and loved it. “The next year I did a 3-mile swim, and the year after that I did a 10K (6.2 miles) swim in Bermuda, then I worked up to a 10-mile swim.”

Keegan loved open water swimming so much that she started her coaching business, Intrepid Water Adventure Swimming, to help others experience the same enjoyment and fitness benefits. “My focus is to make swimming more accessible for those who are new to it,” she says. “And for those who already swim, to make it more effortless and push them to go longer distances.”

Swimming long distances can be a year-round pursuit. Lantry trains six days a week, alternating
between the pool and, most frequently, Emigrant Lake. He says that while alternating provides variety, he prefers the lake swims.

“In a pool, you’re on your own, nobody is checking up on you,” he says. “You’re swimming about 3,000-
3,500 yards, or about 2 miles, by yourself, so you have to be very self-motivated. It’s better having other people there to challenge and motivate each other.”

What’s more, pool training involves swimming lots of tempo intervals, while swimming in open water offers a steady, relaxed pace that’s better suited to longer distances. Lantry says he and his group will swim about 2 miles in a lake and work up to longer distances as summer progresses. “Going out on a lake with a group is more enjoyable than racing against the clock,” he says.

Keegan, who used to face a lot of anxiety about competition, says open water swimming offers the opposite experience. “I never feel short of breath,” she says. “It’s truly relaxing, and it allows you to take your mind off everything. I’m relaxed and having fun and feel like I can go on forever.”

There’s also a lot of variety. “At open water events, they can always change the course setup, and make it different year to year,” says Lantry.

Keegan, whose favorite place to swim is Applegate Lake, says that changing conditions keeps things interesting. “When you’re swimming for a really long time, anything can come up. The wind can change direction, it can start raining or sleeting, and you have to be prepared for anything. That’s part of the adventure.” Both say minor stroke adjustments are needed when transitioning from pool to open water. That’s why open water classes and coaching are helpful.

“My training builds the components of efficiency for long distances,” Keegan says. “We work on body position, how you’re pulling in the water and pushing the water behind you, core rotation, and how to glide to maximize your distance per stroke.” Lantry adds that classes can teach you to swim and site a buoy at the same time, which is crucial when navigating long distances. “And, you can learn techniques for maintaining stroke efficiency and drafting,” he says. “Proper mechanics are important, as minor
ineffi ciencies can become major injuries through repetition in open water.”

Both say getting started is easy. Lantry stresses the importance of safety and knowing your skill level before you hit the open water. “Always consider what potential hazards may be beneath the surface,” he says. “And, know your limits. Can you swim for 15-20 minutes without stopping, or do you need to take a break at the wall every lap?”

And, says Lantry, don’t go it alone. “The best thing to do is get connected with masters swimming club, who have teams that go outdoors during summer,” he says.

Keegan sums it up: “The benefits of swimming are really good for you,” she says. “And doing it outside with friends is the most fun of all.”

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More to Explore

What is Masters Swimming?

master swim course

What do competitive swimmers do once their racing days are over? They turn to masters swimming.

U.S. Masters Swimming promotes the benefits of swimming, and general physical fitness and health in adults, and provides opportunities to swim recreationally and competitively. Local groups like

Rogue Valley Masters Swimmers sponsor community swimming programs and events and enhance fellowship and camaraderie among adult swimmers of all ages and abilities. Visit roguevalleymasters.org for more information.

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