Conquer the Swim
Do you remember your first triathlon? Or, perhaps are you contemplating venturing into the sport? For non‑swimmers the swim, and particularly the start, presents the most challenging and sometimes terrifying aspect of our sport. Conquering the swim is a question that is frequently asked. So, let’s take a look at the swim and how we manage it so that we start our triathlons in a positive direction.
First, are the swimming basics. Have an experienced swimmer or coach help you with the basics of stroke mechanics. Swimming is by far the most technique intensive of the three disciplines, so if you are not an experienced swimmer the investment in a bit of training, coaching, or lessons is very valuable. As you progress, you will actually find that the energy expenditure in this, the shortest leg of a triathlon, should not be an impediment to your day.
Once you have the swim basics and swim fitness reasonably tackled, it is time to start learning how to prepare for a “triathlon swim.” Triathlon swims, particularly in open water, are much different than swimming in a pool with lane ropes. There is the hitting and bumping of the mass/group start, sighting, accelerations at turns, and overcoming the initial anxiety and fears of the day. Like everything else, each of these can be prepared for and practiced so that you are ready to go on race day.
Incorporate into your swim training sessions that mimic race day. So, for example, swim with a buddy and practice bumping and squeezing each other into the lane rope. This may sound silly, but it will have you ready for race day. Another skill to learn is sighting. It is helpful to practice raising your head and identifying various objects on the pool deck and pool facilities. You can actually make a game of this that makes your swim training more fun.
Another very useful technique to learn in preparing for the triathlon swim is to accelerate your pace and then get right back into your rhythm. So, for example, at various times during your workout you can swim 50 or 100 meters as fast as you can, then, instead of resting at the wall as is typical with interval training, keep swimming and settle back to your normal pace. Doing five or ten of these during each session will really be an invaluable investment come race day. Perhaps I go a bit overboard, but once I get in the water I do not stop until the end of my workout. Even in interval sessions, I drop back to a slow pace and keep swimming in between the hard efforts. This really mimics the intense swim start and you’ll be amazed at how much this will help you on race day.
On race day, you will want to make sure that your pre‑race nutrition is well-rehearsed and practiced. Failure to do this can really expose itself during the swim. We previously discussed pre‑race nutrition here: Race Execution – Nutrition
Next, you have to calm the anxiety and nerves. Sure, we all get the butterflies in the stomach on the starting line, and hopefully we always will! However, these butterflies should be motivators and not limiters. In order to calm the pre‑race nerves it is very important to study the course very well so that know exactly what to expect. Visualize your swim, going over it in your mind over and over. I am a big believer in enough of a warm up to get your heart rate up and break just a touch of a sweat. That can be done actually swimming, or even just running in place for a few minutes before you head to the swim start. That really gets you ready for the gun!
Another trick that I have used to conquer the anxiety and perhaps adrenaline overdose is a couple of things I do prior to public speaking to take the edge off the anxiety. If you bite the tip of your tongue just enough that it hurts (don’t do any damage!) it tends to let a little steam out of the anxiety valve. If you are not wearing a wetsuit, the same thing can be done by pinching the skin on the back of your thigh – it hurts! Call it weird or crazy, but it works!
With proper swim training and practice, proper nutrition, a brief warm up, and a technique to calm your anxiety you will then be ready and have confidence to conquer the swim.
Take the plunge,