Many times I have heard people say that what has kept them from doing a triathlon is the swim portion. Even my own brother, who is an amazing swimmer, has said that he simply doesn't have the time to incorporate swimming into his workout. I would encourage anyone to incorporate swimming into their workout because of the low impact nature of the sport. Even if you never want to do a triathlon, swimming is wonderful exercise that you can participate in for life. This post is dedicated to swim tips for the triathlete and the beginner who may want to try a, "tri," but may be apprehensive because of the swim portion of the race.
The best way to get involved in a triathlon is to sign up for a pool swim tri. There are many out there and now that the sport is getting more popular, I'm confident that you could find one in your town or surrounding area. The YMCA is a great place to start. Many of the local Y's are offering pool swim triathlons. The YMCA of the West Shore in Camp Hill, PA is currently offering a class where they will train you to do a sprint triathlon. Group exercise is often helpful if you have trouble motivating yourself. Their course ends with the class participating in a real triathlon.
One of the fears people often have is swimming in open water. How many times have I heard, “I don't know how you get in the water with that many people? Doesn't it freak you out?" That is why a pool swim is helpful if you've never done an open water swim. The pool swim triathlon requires that participants submit a time for the distance being covered. Once the administrators of the race receive your time they can group participants; that way you'll be with swimmers close or even a little slower than your own ability. One word of warning; people do lie on their time submission so you still have to be careful and watch for others around you. I once had a guy behind me that was practically on top of me after the first lap of the swim. I simply moved over in my lane and let him pass me; this is much easier to do in a pool than in open water.
Exiting a pool is a little easier than exiting from a rocky river or lake. Two years ago I witnessed an athlete cutting his foot on a rock as he exited the river. Chances of a cutting your foot at a pool are less.
A pool swim is also a little less intimidating because you can see the bottom of what you are swimming in, it's easier to see where you are going, and the swim distance is usually shorter than it would be in open water. The race will be set up inside a natatorium (sometimes outside) where you will line up according to your time. When it is time to swim you get in the water and someone will start you (another advantage- a standing start versus a diving start). Someone will be in front of you and someone will be behind you, but there is usually a pause of around ten seconds in between participants, so while you are swimming with others around you, it is a more controlled environment.
Another advantage is the pool will probably be heated so you won't need a wetsuit. The water temperatures in lakes, oceans, and rivers always vary, so sometimes a wetsuit is needed. While some triathletes swear that they can't live without a wetsuit because of added buoyancy, I feel that the time gained by wearing a wetsuit is lost by trying to get out of it. Wetsuit lover or not, you won't need one for a pool swim.
Practice makes perfect for any type of race including a pool swim triathlon. Get yourself to a pool and practice an," in water," start. Stand in the shallow end and push off of the wall under water. "Streamline," off of the wall by putting your arms against your ears and stretching them out in front of you as far as you can. Don't forget to interlock your hands so that you resemble a torpedo. This will maximize the distance you travel off of the wall. By properly streamlining off of the wall you can travel further distances without even swimming, and for the non-swimmer this means saving energy.
If you know how to flip turn I would highly recommend practicing your turns. Like streamlining off of the wall, flip turns (done properly) can place an efficient swimmer half way down the lane, saving you time and energy. Many pool swims that I've done have you flip turn, and then swim under the lane line to transition to the next lane in the pool. I would highly recommend practicing this, as it can be tricky, especially if you are already nervous. Ask around and find out how you will transition from one lane to the next and if it's legal to flip turn. If you don't know how to flip turn, I would suggest practicing a two handed touch on and off of the wall. You will be disqualified if you don't touch the wall upon turning.
A pool swim triathlon is a great way to get your feet wet (I couldn't resist) if you are fearful of swimming in open water. The pool swim is also great for the child or teen who wants to try a triathlon. Pool swims are also really great for spectators, as they can stand around the pool and cheer you to the end.
I guarantee once you try a triathlon with a pool swim you'll be hooked, and then you'll gain the confidence to head to a lake, ocean, or river for an open water challenge.
Tri- On Friends,
See the videos below from You Tube to learn more about streamlining and flipturns.