Preparing for Your First Open Water Triathlon Swim
You’ve signed up for your first triathlon with an open water swim. Congratulations!
When I ask friends why they don’t do triathlons, the most common answer is: “The swim.”
Even for many triathletes, the swim is the part of the race that causes anxiety. Gone is the familiarity of clear pool water and lane lines designating your path and separating you from contact the other swimmers.
What is a new triathlete to do?
Thankfully, like most things, you will gain confidence with practice and time. Here are 5 tips to help prepare you for your first triathlon open water swim:
1. Get Comfortable Swimming Close to Other Swimmers
Open water swimming is chaotic. You’ll be swimming in close quarters with other swimmers who can swim over you, knock into you or even accidentally dunk you. Don’t worry most swimmers are anxious, too.
One practice that we use at our triathlon camps is to start 5-6 swimmers together on the wall in a single swim lane and practice swimming back and forth with each other to get used to bumping and chaos.
2. Learn How to Sight Buoys
If you can sight well in open water during your triathlon, you’ll swim the shortest distance between the swim buoys and, as a result, swim a shorter course and have a faster swim time. The first place to practice sighting buoys is in the pool. Get used to popping your head out of the water every 6-8 strokes to see ahead.
3. Learn to Bilateral Breathe
Depending on the conditions and your position relative to other swimmers, you may not be able to breathe to your favorite side without getting a mouthful of water or being bumped in the race. Learning to breathe to both sides gives you the flexibility to breathe to the better side in open water.
4. Familiarize Yourself with the Swim Course
The race guide and swim course map will be your starting point. Questions to ask and answer:
- Where do you start?
- What is the format of the start? For example, do athletes start in a line (time triathlon start) or start in waves by age group or other category?
- What is the shape of the course?
- In which direction will you swim?
- What colors and shapes are they buoys – are the turn buoys different than the straight line buoys?
- How many buoys are there?
If you can swim in the body of water before the race in practice, then do it. Otherwise, get in the water early as a warm up. Feel the water. Look around from the perspective of being in the water. Where is the start? Where is the first buoy? Where do you exit the water?
5. Seed Yourself at the Start Appropriately
Front and center is where the fastest swimmers will start. In the middle is where the chaos will be. If you’re not a strong swimmer, consider starting to the side or the back.
6. Remember It’s Not a Sprint
When the starting horn blasts, don’t start out sprinting as hard as you can; you’ll tire yourself out quickly. Even a sprint triathlon is not truly a sprint like the 100 meter in track. Most athletes will take more than an hour to finish a sprint triathlon. Instead, start out at a steady pace and let the “sprinters” take off. You’ll pass many of them later in the race.
Good luck with your first triathlon open water swim!