The “Dreaded” Swim

by Wayne Kurtz

Many athletes who consider coming over to the side of triathlon from their normal disciplines of running and cycling dread learning how to swim. As we all know it’s much harder to learn appropriate swimming technique when you learn as an adult vs. a child. It’s just easier to learn how to run and bike. I have conversations all the time with runners who want to attempt a triathlon but get intimidated with learning how to swim and the magnitude of swimming in a sea of bodies in the open water during a race.

It’s important to understand for all athletes that the race is never won in the swim; however it’s imperative that energy needs to be consumed to some degree for the cycling and running disciplines of the triathlon. As we all know, joining a Master’s swim program or individual instruction from an experienced coach or training camp is a start to perfecting your swim technique. More than cycling and running, swimming technique and getting a “feel” for the water is what is necessary for strong performances. Since I started into triathlons from a swimming background it’s sometimes difficult to be objective with respect to the concern and sometimes terror I hear from other athletes concerned about the swim. However, like anything else in life it’s important to spend time on your weaknesses and for athletes with no swimming background (and of course not as fun as their main sports of running and cycling) there is a tendency to not spend much time in the water.

7 items to consider improving you’re swimming and preparing for a triathlon:

  1. Don’t just swim in the pool. If the triathlon swim is open water, spend 1 day a week minimum with another partner (not alone) with open water swimming. Very different without lane lines to follow.
  2. Practice “sighting” with your head out of the water so you can simulate looking for buoys in the distance. Practice this in the pool as well by doing several laps with your head out of the water.
  3. Practice swimming with fogged goggles – yes it can happen race day and be prepared and it will eliminate panicking.
  4. Practice how to efficiently turn around a buoy, which can cost a lot of time in a long swim such as an Ironman. It’s important to set yourself up to come around the buoy and not lose much momentum if it’s a 180-degree turn.
  5. Learn how to swim in open water without goggles. You may lose your goggles in a crowded swim and get hit with an elbow or hand. If it happens in a race you will be prepared and not panicked. Yes, you will get hit in the head at some point during a race!
  6. Experiment with different types of goggles that fit well and you can use for longer swims without eye socket pain.
  7. Practice quick transitions to remover your wetsuit. Use Pam cooking spray around your angles (it works best – better than Body Glide and petroleum based products) so the wetsuit easily slides off the most difficult section – your ankles.

Don’t get overwhelmed and intimidated by the swim. Get the necessary instruction and make a personal commitment to improve over a period of time through gradual progression. It’s the offseason so no better time to learn how to swim!

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