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Open water swimming requires endurance, balance, focus

It feels like October. The calendar, otherwise, tells us it's the middle of July. In spite of overcast skies, Vancouver's outdoor lap pools are open and the saltwater bays around the city continue to attract an evergrowing number of swimmers.

It feels like October. The calendar, otherwise, tells us it's the middle of July. In spite of overcast skies, Vancouver's outdoor lap pools are open and the saltwater bays around the city continue to attract an evergrowing number of swimmers.

Sunday marks the 80th swimming of the Bay Challenge, an open water endurance race from the North Shore to Kitsilano Beach.

For advanced swimmers who can confidently navigate the four-hour swim around tanker traffic and endure the deep beneath, the Bay Challenge is a momentous Vancouver right-of-passage.

Compared to lane swimming in an indoor chlorinated pool, open water swimming is like "you've run on a treadmill your whole life and then went running in the park."

This superb comparison comes courtesy of Peter Scott. The founder of Sea Hiker, a clever name for coaxing people further into the water, Scott is dedicated to building swimmers' confidence and ability as well as their technical intelligence, overall fitness and enjoyment of the sport.

His open water courses have grown three-fold since last summer. But Scott, who competed with the national free diving team, coaches anywhere there's enough water to splash in.

The open air pools at Kitsilano and Second beaches are excellent training grounds for would-be sea hikers.

Courtesy of Sea Hikers, here are a few tips to start lane swimming and work into a short-or long-distance open water challenge.

This simple session is appropriate for swimmers who have never swam more than 100 metres before stopping. Without walls to interrupt-the pool at Kits is more than 137 metres-swimmers can concentrate on technique and are physically challenged.

. WARM UP

Spend about 15 minutes in the shallow west end of Kits Pool. Focus on keeping your equilibrium in the water while working from streamline toward alternating the breath on each side of the body (for freestyle and front crawl). Fins are optional, depending on your comfort level.

MAIN SET

Keep in mind the depth drops off at the centre of the pool.

Swim the entire length of the pool. Repeat three times. Rest one to two minutes between laps. Gradually increase the total number of laps and decrease your rest time.

Scott gives this advice: "This is a challenge. Even if you don't make it the whole way across, do it to see how far you do make it before you run out of breath or lose your balance and breathing. Expect to feel it get a bit harder after the first 25 to 50 metres or so. After each rest, see if you can go another 10 to 25 metres further.

"The trick to swimming the whole way is focus. And coax yourself a little further by saying, "OK, how about three more strokes, and then we'll see."

And remember, it's not actually October. The water is warm.

For more tips and course information, visit seahiker.com.