Part II of Tri in a Nutshell – how to survive your first triathlon if you’re a beginner! I am NOT an expert but have survived a few tris
The swim always seems to be the most daunting leg of a triathlon for most people. Personally, the bike is MY weakest! But I grew up confident, or at least comfortable, in water so the swim has never really bothered me. I took swim lessons as a child but then didn’t really swim a stroke until taking a conditioning swimming course in college, just as a supplement to all of my dance training.
Well, fast forward another 5 years. No strokes taken in that time either, so I pretty much started from square one again when I started training with TNT for The Nation’s Triathlon in 2011.
If you’re starting at square one too (not two), then here are some helpful tips to help you survive the swim leg of a tri…
- Figure out what you’re doing. If you don’t know the first thing about swimming, check out some handy YouTube instruction videos. Is there really anything you CAN’T learn from YouTube these days? While USAT regulations allow any stroke, you’ll probably want to learn how to swim freestyle. Here are some good ones for beginners:
You might also want to look into hiring a swim coach, at least at the beginning. Or get a friend to go with you! I am probably not the best coach, but I have to say that Amy is looking better in the water now than when we started! If you have a swimmer friend who is willing to go with you and help out, that’s awesome.
- Find a pool. I don’t recommend training in your bathtub, soooo yeah. I belong to 24 Hour Fitness and get my swim on there. Also in Houston is Dad’s Club, a pool facility offering monthly memberships. Last summer I joined a tri swim class there twice a week and I think it helped with my technique (and therefore my speed!). Commit to swimming AT LEAST twice a week.
- Practice open water swimming. It’s very different from swimming in a pool! You can’t see anything, no line on the bottom to help you swim straight, you can’t stop (and take standing up breaks like you can at a gym pool), the water might be colder (or more often than not in TX, warmer) than the pool, and also – lake zombies. Ahhh!!
You’ll need to practice sighting as well. This means taking a peek out of the water every once in awhile (10-20 strokes) to make sure you’re going in the right direction. I practice OWS at 288 Lake or Twin Lakes. If you join HRTC, Fridays are free at 288, which is a pretty good deal.
What kind of gear do I need?
Swimming is pretty low maintenance. You need a swimsuit (or tri suit), swim cap, and goggles. You can fancy up your workouts with some swim fins, a pull buoy, and a kickboard, but these things just help you with drills and are not essential.
What will the actual swim look like on race day?
You’ll start the swim with your wave – divided by age and gender (so, I’m in Female 25-29). If you weigh more than a specified number (now 165 for women and 220 for men), you can elect to race as a Clydesdale or Athena. These categories usually have their own waves as well.
Depending on the race, you could have different start formats. For instance, we had to jump off a dock and tread water for Clear Lake Tri, US Open Tri, and Galveston 70.3. Then Oilman has a running start. True to its name, you just run in and start swimming. I don’t like that because everyone knows you need to get in the water and pee before you start – it’s true. But most common is the walk in, tread water, then start. So find the group with your swim cap color and hang out with them before the start of the race. If you’re nervous, hang towards the back or the outside. Once it’s your turn to start, go at your own pace but do prepare yourself for some contact. Some people go a little cray cray when the horn goes off, so let the crazies go ahead and beat each other up and swim over each other. Keep in mind you might get kicked, swam over, or elbowed. Be confident in the water and know that if this happens, you’ll be ok – just keep making forward progress. It is ok to take a break and breaststroke or flip over on your back to catch your breath for a few seconds – but make yourself keep going. For ocean swims, I always keep an extra pair of goggles tucked in my sports bra (did this for IMTX too) in case mine get kicked off or broken.
PRACTICE – the more time you spend in the water, the more comfortable you will be!
Ready to SWIM!