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Safely competing in your first triathlon by Niki Dobbyn

Posted Apr 13 2009 11:02pm

Swimming Having spent a majority of my life as a competitive swimmer and four years doing sprint triathlons, I can say that the average person who takes the time to train properly and is healthy can safely participate in a mini-triathlon.

Here are a few tips for a safe outcome:

  • Be sure you get the OK from a doctor. Triathlons, even mini-triathlons, require a person to be intensely active for a minimum of 1.5 hours performing skills that work every single muscle of your body under the intensity of Mother Nature' s elements - direct sun, cold water and hot/humid weather. This event is unlike any other single-sport activity you can ever be involved in. A recent Boston.com article, Study: Triathlons can pose deadly heart risk, says that fifteen out of one million triathletes die from heart-related problems with a majority happening during the swim portion. With proper screening, you can avoid being one of those statistics.
  • Be sure you know how to swim. Swimming lessons are not the same as swim training. You should be able to swim 100 yards farther than the distance of your race using proper freestyle.
  • Be sure you know how to swim in open water. Pool water and ocean water may both be made of water, but they are ridiculously different when it comes to swimming in them.  Pool water is an average 80 degrees; The warmest ocean water can range from 65 degrees in the New England summer to 85 degrees in the Florida summer. Pools have walls, lane lines, a shallow end and circular swimming; Oceans are limitless, have waves, have ocean life and there is no order.
  • Follow the rules of the event. It' s easy to follow the rules that the event organizers actually check up on, but you should also follow the rules that can be broken and go unnoticed. For instance, If there is a no drafting rule, do not draft off of the cyclist in front of you. You can seriously injure, if not kill, yourself and the people around you. For those of you who don' t know what drafting is, it' s when you ride very close to the person in front of you to gain an advantage from them cutting the wind instead of you (just like NASCAR and just as dangerous if you are not a professional).

Lunarbar1 Most beginner triathletes will agree that the most difficult part of a triathlon is the swim portion. I' ve always felt that having a healthy respect for the ocean is the best way to approach an open water swim. Here are a few tips on how you can complete a safe swim:

  • Beginners should wear beginner caps. (assuming you can swim and have trained properly) If you are still not sure about yourself in the water, ask the race organizers for a beginner bathing cap. It is a cap that' s a different color and will help lifeguards keep an eye on you.
  • Start on the outside of the pack. The race may be slightly longer, but you will avoid the first 30 seconds of chaos that ensues at the beginning of each race by starting a couple of yards away from the pack. Once you are in the open water, rejoin the group and swim your race.
  • Wear a wet suit. Most events allow wetsuits, especially if you are from up North. If the water is cold it is a physiological fact that your heart has to work harder to warm your body. Your heart will be working hard enough during the triathlon. Put on the wet suit!
  • Be honest with yourself. If you are out in the water and you feel like you can' t make it to the shore, signal a lifeguard before you become incapacitated. You can rest by holding onto the surfboard and then continue on without being disqualified or you can be taken to shore. A few minutes of embarrassment  is worth it.
  • Be vigilant. If you see a struggling swimmer, stay a safe distance away from them and signal a lifeguard.  Do not try to assist the swimmer or you could become a victim yourself.

For more great triathlon advice please visit TriathlonNewbie.com

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