Safely competing in your first triathlon by Niki Dobbyn
Posted Apr 13 2009 11:02pm
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
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
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.