Does the thought of your triathlon swim have you dipping into your TP stash? These 7 tips will save the day (and the Charmin).
1. Conquer Nerves
Both new and seasoned triathletes may find swimming in murky waters daunting without tidy rows of lane lines and a visible bottom. To avoid unnecessary anxiety on race day, include the following in your training regimen:
- Open Water Practice: The best way to overcome fears is to face them. Schedule weekly open water swims as weather and temperatures permit. Start with small distances, and don’t worry about stroke or technique. Gradually add distance until you feel more comfortable. Always swim with a buddy or connect with a local triathlon club.
- Tread Lightly Should you need a break on the swim, whether during practice or race day, treading water is a technique that will allow you to catch your breath and calm your nerves. Start with 15-30 second intervals and focus on making your movements fluid. This allows you to tread water lightly and not waste energy.
- Take A Deep Breath If you find that you are anxious about swimming in open water, take a few moments and breathe. Close your eyes and take 10 long breaths in through your nose and exhale slowly out through your mouth.
2. Entry and Exit Strategies
Many newer triathletes begin the swim by slogging through the shallows. Two strategies that make your start and finish efficient are adjusting stride and using a dolphin dive.
- Stride Jog into the water normally, and once it gets to shin depth lift your knees s so your feet clear the surface. As it becomes deeper, imagine using a breast stroke kick from the knees down swing the legs over the surface for a few more feet. Once the water gets too deep to continue this effort, start dolphin dives.
- Dolphin Dives This water entry technique looks like it sounds. Dive forward and plant your hands on the bottom. Plant your feet down close to your hands and push up, diving over the water. Repeat this until the water is deep enough to allow you to stroke without grazing your fingers on the bottom.
Losing your way can cost time and energy on the swim, so learning to sight is critical. These three suggestions will help you become more efficient:
- Timing and Positioning While opinions vary, you can sight roughly every 10 strokes. To avoid excessive disruption in your swim, try not to lift your head all the way out of the water. Imagine you’re “peaking” ahead to find the buoy. Lift the head only so far as the eyes can clear the water and find the mark.
- Pool Practice Place orange cones or other brightly colored object at each end of the lane. During a longer set, practice lifting your head slightly and finding the cones.
- Open Water Practice Depending on your body of water, you may be able to use a tree or building on the far side. You can also enlist the aid friend who has a boat or kayak to stay out in front of you. Sight them as you swim.
4. Preparing For a Bumpy Ride
The start of a triathlon swim includes dozens of people all jockeying for position. You will get bumped, kicked and at some point have you goggles knocked off your face. Knowing what’s coming and preparing in advance is the best way to handle the crush.
- Practice With A Group Recruit a group and make a point of swimming closely together. Bump arms, tangle legs, and wrestle to get ahead. Don’t be shy. No one is on race day.
- Goggle Debacle The first mistake many athletes make is not using the double cap method to secure their goggles. Put on a base cap, secure the goggles and then put the race cap on. However, this does not always prevent someone’s hand or foot from knocking them off. Practice swimming with and without goggles so you know how to handle it.
5. Pace Appropriately
The excitement of race day may cause some athletes to go out too fast on the swim. Since there isn’t a time clock or consistent distance in open water, setting a good pace can be difficult for novice triathletes. Some helpful suggestions include:
- Heart Rate Wearing a heart rate monitor regularly during training and racing is a great way to prepare for the race. Determine your race pace heart rate and try to stay within those parameters during the swim.
- Time Trial Swim the distance for time to get a baseline. On race day you may occasionally glance at your watch to see if you’re on target or going too fast.
- Cadence Cadence is the number of strokes taken for a given time. In the pool, determine how many strokes you take per minute and try to maintain it consistently for the race distance. Then increase your speed to your anticipated race pace and see how it changes. Get the feel for your cadence and try to maintain this rate on race day.
There are more swim gadgets available today than ever before. Try anything you like before race day. Nothing is worse than an equipment malfunction a few hundred yards into the race. Pay attention to these key elements:
- Goggles There are many options available ranging from those with padded lenses, unpadded lenses and even open water versions. Experiment until you find a pair that is optimal for you and stick with them.
- Swim Suits Like goggles, swim suits come in many different materials, shapes and sizes. Triathlon suits allow athletes to transition seamlessly from the swim to the bike and run. Determine what the most important performance elements are and then try a few suits. Get comfortable with your choice and wear it race day.
7. Support Team
Training isn’t the only necessary element of success. Cultivate relationships with people who will encourage and support you. These can be:
- Family Nothing is as heartwarming as family rooting for you. Communicate with them what your training schedule is and tell them how much they mean to you throughout the process. Invite them be the loudest cheering section at the event.
- Friends While some of your friends may not share your athletic pursuits, they can be a great source of inspiration. Find a few who will listen to your successes and challenges with open ears and open hearts.
- Coaches/Clubs A coach or a triathlon club is a great way to connect with others who share your passion. They can provide valuable insight, training tips and can literally share your pain.
Need more assistance preparing for a triathlon? Hire aprivate swim coach to come to your home or community pool and assist you with your stroke technique today!
About the author: Wendy Highland
Swim Instructor in Orlando, FL
Wendy Highland began competitive swimming at age 7, medaling in relay and individual events in her high school state championships. After college she embraced the sport of triathlon, participating in a popular sprint series in Florida then completing multiple Olympic distance events and two half ironmans. She obtained her USTA certification and created a women’s triathlon team at a local YMCA. Her passion has been to help beginner adult swimmers discover the benefits of water training.
Wendy has been an active participant in Lucky’s Lake Swim in Orlando, FL and holds her age group record as well as taking 2nd place in her age group at the inaugural Golden Mile Swim in 2019.
Currently Wendy resides in south Atlanta, GA where she participates in a Masters swim group and continues to pursue her passion for distance swimming with the goal of completing the swim around Key West.