Health knowledge made personal
Join this community!
› Share page:
Search posts:

Top 6 tips to help you swim so you can bike and run to the finishline faster

Posted Jun 13 2012 9:00am


Whether you’re racing your first sprint triathlon or 10th Ironman triathlon, you will come to a point where you will either think about quitting, want to quit or your body shuts down.  How you handle the first two could determine if shutting down will be the successor.
For many newbie triathletes, and probably a good handful of experienced triathletes, the swim is the most daunting leg of a triathlon.  Humans aren’t really designed to swim and there’s not been an official documented case of mermaids.  People and swimming just don't mix.  It’s not natural unless your parents were wise enough to get you into lessons at an early age.  It’s also seen as the necessary evil to triathlons.  Call it what you want, it presents the ripest opportunity to DNF a race.

What are you going to do when you take in a mouthful or water when you went up for a breathe?  What are you going to do if someone knocks your goggles off?  What are you going to do when someone swims over you and kicks you in the stomach or groin?  What are you going to do when it’s not a wetsuit legal swim and you lose your buoyancy lifeline?
All serious issues to contemplate before you toe the line.  Everyone spends hours in the pool with your masters swim group or on your own plan, but few give significant time to consider what if’s and what to do when things don’t go your way in the water.  You can practice some of the situations, but if you don’t even think about it, how can you come up with a plan of action?
Luckily for you, check out these tips to keep your swim on course so you can live to bike and run to the finish line.
1.  USAT has standard guidelines for wetsuits; know them before you hit the water.  Competitors may wear wetsuits if the water temperature is 78 degrees or lower.  If the water temperature is between 78.1 - 83.9 degrees, competitors may wear wetsuits but will not be eligible for awards.  If the water temperature is 84 degrees or above, then participants may not wear wetsuits.   Ironman rules follow ITU and are a little different.  Wetsuits may be worn in water temperatures up to and including 24.5 degrees (76.1 Celsius degrees Fahrenheit). Athletes who choose to wear wetsuits in water temperatures exceeding 24.5 degrees C/76.1 degrees F will not be eligible for awards, including the World Championship slots.  If you NEED that suit, pick a race at the right time of year that you know the water temp will not exceed 84 degrees.  Otherwise, know what you’re willing to accept.  If you fall below 84 degrees, are you competitive enough to win your age group or compete for awards?  Then you have to go without if the water is above 76.1.  If you need that suit for your mental preparedness, throw it on and hit the wetsuit wave.  There’s no shame in that game.

2.  If you have goggle issues, you need to know how to tread water with your feet to allow your hands to work on the goggles.  Get your wits about you while treading some water, find a calm spot (or even a boat or lifeguard to hold on to since it’s legal as long as they do not help you) and tread water with your feet and make quick adjustments to your goggles.  Worst case, toss them and swim outside of the main swim path and take your time.  Better to have a crappy swim time and live to bike and run than to freak out and have to get pulled out or elect to get out.
3.  Ever get seasick?  It doesn’t happen just on boats.  With 2 and 3 foot swells, experienced swimmers can get swayed into a seasick state where you wished you had a bucket or railing to lean over.  The best remedy is to tread water for a minute and take some deep breathes.  Focus on finding the next buoy and if you have to hurl, let it rip.  Just be courteous to other swimmers and do it out of the main swim lane.  The feeling should subside when you get out of the water.  It’s just going to be a bear to get there.
4.  Get lost.  Preferably not on race day, but it happens out in the water when you don’t have a stripe on the pool floor to keep you in line.  Make sure to sight often to the next buoy, keep track of the boats and keep your ears open for directions from water safety personnel.
5.  Out of breathe?  Everyone gets jacked up with adrenaline before the start.  You’re usually treading water for a minute or two with all that energy waiting to be unleashed.  It’s only natural to go out too fast in the start.  In doing so, you peg your heart rate and you need more air than you’re getting while trying to swim your normal pace.  Slow down, get your breathing under control and then speed up if you’re feeling it.
6.  You will get slapped or kicked.  No matter where you start unless you are the very last wave and you are the slowest swimmer, you will have to swim by someone or someone will swim over you.  Don’t get lost in your own world focused on stroke and breathing out there.  The last thing you want is to have someone smack you in the head when you didn’t expect it.  If you do get assaulted, stop and tread water and assess what’s around you.  The last thing you want to do is try and wrestle someone in the water for position.  Put some distance between you and them by swimming away, picking up the pace or slow down to let them by.
If you didn’t catch it, there’s a reoccurring theme in all of these tips.  There’s nothing wrong with stepping off to the side to take a time out.  Sure, the chip time is still running, but that 5 minute timeout can save you 20 minutes of trying to muddle through a swim while you freak out.  It could also save you from having to be pulled from the water if course officials dub you in too much trouble to continue.  Once they pull you out, your day is done.  Five minutes added to your time can save your race and get you to your goal of finishing.  Collect your thoughts, figure out a new race plan, and regroup.
Whatever you do, do NOT grab the buoys.  They are tethered to anchors and can break lose, thrash around in high winds and could entangle you in the lines.  If you are in an emergency situation, then try floating on your back and yelling for the attention of the lifeguards.
Another helpful tool is repetition.  Practice is good, but unless you get repetitions in race conditions with all the pressures that come with being in a race, you won’t come to terms with how you will react in different situations.  Only after racing 29 triathlons have I come to a point where I have successfully faced a freak out and made it past to prove that I can handle it.  You may not have to wrestle with that moment until your 50th triathlon, but those 49 triathlons will give you the confidence to know you can get through it when you’re not feeling it at 100% in live action.

Runfinish Ryan Falkenrath writes the blog , married father of two young kids, owner of two dogs and trying to balance life, work and multisport. Ryan has participated in multisport events since 2001 from 5k's to Half Ironmans.  Ryan is also the Kansas City Endurance Sports Examiner and you can read more of his triathlon thoughts  HERE  and he collects race reviews at .  Contact Ryan at: or follow him on  @TriJayhawkRyan .

Follow on twitter @ everymantri  or view latest videos on YouTube .

Post a comment
Write a comment: