Things I wish I’d learned before my first triathlon: Pre Race & The Swim
Posted Jul 18 2013 1:33pm
As the 4 year anniversary of my first triathlon approaches, I started thinking about all the things I know now that I wish I’d known then.
I get a lot of questions from friends and readers interested in tackling their first triathlons. I totally understand how overwhelming it can be. There are a lot of components that make up a swim, bike, run event.
The funny thing is, I rarely get questions about the actual swim, bike, or run. They are usually questions about the start line, transition, spandex onesies, transition, nutrition, getting kicked during the swim, transition…. you get the point.
While I’m still no expert, I do feel have some tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the way. I’m admitting some of my newbie mistakes in hopes of helping someone else get into the sport with ease.
I’m breaking this into a three post series — Pre-race & The Swim, Transition & The Bike, Run & FAQ (attire, nutrition, etc.). Feel free to ask questions via the comments section, Facebook , Twitter or email.
Learn where you chafe - Chaffing is a sneaky and deceptive little monster. Sometimes you don’t feel it during the race, but that doesn’t mean its not there. Go home and turn on the shower and you’ll find out exactly where it’s hiding. Wear your outfit for some of your training and learn where it rubs. Keep in mind it will be different for swim, bike and run. For example, you might have chaffing on your neck during the swim (especially in a wet suit) and in your armpits on the run. Once you’ve learned where you chafe, Body Glide the crap out of that area.
If your race has an open water swim, swim in open water - I thought swimming was swimming, until I swam open water for the first time. You have zero visibility, you move with the wake, and you might even see a creature or two. Or get tangled up in some sea plants and think it’s a creature — guilty. If it’s possible, swim in open water before your race.
Set up your transition area before you pack your bag - Lay out your towel and set up your transition area at home before you pack your bag to go. You’ll be less likely to forget something and have an easier time on race morning.
Not sure what to pack? Here’s my list:
The race starts before the gun goes off – This sounds strange, but hear me out. Assuming you’re doing a wave start you will find yourself in a group of your peers all entering the water together. Decide if you’re going to enter the water to the inside, middle, or outside of the group. If you’re prone to panicking from the adrenaline rush, like me, take a few moments before the start to breathe and visualize entering the water. Starting the swim as calm as possible and with a plan is the best way to avoid the dreaded panic attacks that leave you breast stroking to catch your breath.
The first leg is really run, dive, swim, run, transition* – The first triathlon I ever went to was also the first one I ever raced. I’d never seen a swim start and I never really thought about entering the water as part of the race. You’re going to run from the start line to the water, dive in, swim the course, run out, and make your way into transition. Check out this technique video of a high knee run into a dolphin dive (I apologize for the grainy video, it was the best example I could find).
*Unless your race has a floating start, in which case you can disregard everything I just said
Yes, you will get kicked. No, it’s not as bad as you think – It’s going to happen. It’s as much a part of the sport as spandex. With the number of people entering the water all at once you’re going to find yourself struck by another athlete at some point. Here’s the most important thing… repeat after me… REMAIN CALM. The number of times I’ve freaked out, picked my head up, and gasped for air because another human touched me during the swim in ridiculous. Just expect it and keep on swimming. It WILL thin out, eventually.
Sighting in open water - This definitely falls into the category of things I need to call in the experts. It’s something that I still struggle with. Luckily, when you’re swimming a triathlon course, you’ll usually have buoys along the way to sight with. Here is a good video on how to execute the actual stroke/sighting combo.
The kayaks are not a floating DQ threat – I’ll never forget my big brother telling me NOT to touch the kayaks at my first race because they’d pull me out. I was terrified to go anywhere near them. The swim of my first Olympic distance was in really rough water. I had a panic attack shortly after starting and I grabbed onto a kayak to catch my breath. I half expected to be pulled out right there. The kind kayak volunteer looked at me and said “breathe, then to play leap frog from one kayak to the next if you to”. The point is, take a breather if you need to.
Swim until your fingers touch the bottom – I wasted a lot of time and energy in my first few triathlons before I learned this tip. You’ll move faster swimming than trying to run through waist deep water.
Perfect example, how fast do I look here…
All those people behind me got the memo and probably got out a lot faster than I did. Keep swimming toward the exit until you start touching the bottom with your stroke.
Anything I missed? Any tips you have from your first race? Anything you still want to know about the swim?