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There are two types of finishes in open water. One is a beach finish where you have to run out...
...and the other is an in-water finish. Usually you’ll have a platform you have to reach up and touch.
The constant for both of these finishes is to make sure you know where the finish is and that you hold your line and swim the shortest distance possible.
For a beach finish, you also need to know when you can start to dolphin dive...and when you can stand up and run.
Always scope out the finish in advance -- either the day before the race or during warmups.
Know what you’re looking for --maybe balloons or a platform or some kind of an arch -- and then look for something behind it. This could be a building or a tower or an unusual tree. Get a picture in your mind of how the finish and the landmark will look when you’re out in the water several hundred meters away.
And then on race day...make sure you swim or run straight into the finish. Swim the shortest distance possible.
You can also ride the waves into the finish. Open-water swimming is all about taking advantage of drafting and other conditions, so if there are waves coming in – USE THEM. You can be in 3rd, 4th, or 5th place as you come to the finish…and if you can catch a wave you can pass everybody.
Riding the waves takes some practice, but you basically want to take a breath and sneak a look back. Then get into a tight streamline just in front of the wave and hold your streamline as the wave carries you in.
Then you can pop up and start running up to the beach to the finish.