Sink or Swim in Your Next Triathlon

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Triathletes like to say that they swim, bike, and run during a race. But actually, they “swimbikerun”. What makes multisports unique is that the success of one leg depends on the previous stage.   This is why swimming is so critical. Without a good swim leg the rest of the race can easily go wrong.

Granted, you can “complete” a sprint triathlon or maybe even an International distance triathlon with a poor swim. But it will not be as pleasant as it could have been, and you will be suffering at the end of the race. In longer races, a strong swim becomes increasingly important if not critical.

If you want to “sink” in your next race, follow these points:

  • Don’t swim enough – This goes without saying. If you do not swim enough, you will literally sink in your race when you fatigue. Being comfortable in the water and consistently training in the lead up to a race is essential to having a good race. Many first time triathletes* think that they can “just wing it” on race day. Unfortunately, they often find themselves clinging to a kayak half way through.
  • Just swimming in practice –  Yes, you might be able to swim the 2.4 miles in under the cut off by doing a mix of doggie paddle, backstroke, and breaststroke. But you will have very little energy left for the rest of the race. Getting into a pool and swimming laps non stop without focusing on your weaknesses can only take you so far.
  • Going out too quickly – It is a marathon not a sprint (even sprint triathletes hold back a little on the swim). Sprinting the first 200 m is setting you up for a long day.
  • Not sighting – Not sighting frequently will lead to straying off course and zig zagging around which can add time and zap the energy that could be used to swimming faster and racing faster later on.
  • Wearing a wetsuit for the first time. Using a wetsuit for the first time goes beyond chafing. Because of the tight, compressing fit of wetsuits, in particular cheap and ill fitting wetsuits, it can be hard to breathe when you first swim in them. It’s like having a rubber band around your chest. This feeling decreases overtime as the wetsuit stretches out and you adapt. However, wearing one for the first time in your race can lead to disaster later on.
  • Freaking out: Many early DNF’s occur not because of a lack of swim fitness but because of a lack of mental preparedness. This can be easily prevented with the proper mental training and OWS training ahead of time.

*I am referring more to those who have no or little swim experience. Those lucky ones who swam throughout college and high school and have many laps under their speedo might be able to do this successfully.

So how can you prevent sinking your race (or literally sinking in a race)?

  • Follow a structured training program. There is a lot more to preparing for a race than getting in a pool every few days, and knocking out laps until you are tired. You need to follow a structured training program that will build your fitness and form over time.  Then you can complete the swim with a smile on your face, and a full tank of gas for the bike and run. Or as we like to say at TSC, a program that will have you laughing at the water.
  • Swim your own race. Smart triathletes position themselves at the start line to either avoid the scrum, or to use it to their advantage. They also know that the race is not won in the first 200 m, but the last 200 m.
  • Practice properly. Practicing in the open water using the wetsuit, swim skin or speedo that you will use on race day will prepare you mentally and physically for the race to come and prevent anxiety attacks and chaffing. As the old adage goes, “fail to prepare then prepare to fail.”

As you think about your next race are you going to sink or swim? I hope it’s the latter.

Train Hard
Coach Chris and Kev