You have your first triathlon – which means your first open water swimming with a big group of people. *Gulp.* In this article, we provide our top 10 triathlon swim tips to help you survive – and maybe even enjoy – your first triathlon swim.
Many triathletes do not come to the sport with a swimming background, and the process of learning to swim is challenging to both our bodies and our brains. When you add dark, open water and several hundred other athletes, it’s downright intimidating. We get it!
When I talk with someone who says they are apprehensive about their first triathlon swim experience (or even their third or tenth), I completely understand. I came to triathlon as a runner, and I remember how scary those first few experiences were. But, with time, I’ve become much more comfortable swimming open water and racing open water.
1. Train open water before the race
Preparing for your first triathlon swim should start before race day, with specific training in open water. These sessions will allow you to get used to currents, winds, and swimming in a body of water that doesn’t have a convenient black or blue line running down the middle of the course. For safety, bring a buddy or two with you.
2. Practice sighting
Both in open water and in the pool, be sure to regularly practice sighting to ensure that you are able to swim a straight line. Tip: don’t raise your head any more than you have to. When you raise your head, your legs sink. I like to sight right after I breathe. So, I finish the breath, put my head back in the water to take the next stroke, and then as I’m pulling through, I raise just my eyes above the water surface to see where I am. Others like to sight before they take a breath. To find what works for you, practice in training!
3. Test your gear
Race day is not the best day to take your wetsuit for a test drive. If you are planning to swim in a wetsuit, make sure you practice in it.
Be prepared to race in a variety of different goggles: clear, tinted, metallic, so you can be prepared for whatever the weather conditions are. If it’s sunny, you’ll want a pair of goggles that help protect against glare – and vice versa if it’s cloudy. Also, having a spare pair of goggles is handy in case something happens to your main pair race morning.
4. Visualize success
In the weeks leading up to the race, visualize the swim and your reaction to a variety of different potential scenarios: cold water, no wetsuit, choppy water, currents (if swimming in a river or tidal waterway), wave start/swimming with people, sun glare, and the like. Then, visualize your SUCCESSFUL reaction to each of these issues. If you visualize the scenario, you will help prepare an effective response to whatever may happen on race day.
5. Chafing is not your friend
Be sure to apply Body Glide (or similar product) liberally to any hot spots, such as your neck and your underarms. You will also want to apply body glide around your ankles and lower calves to make it easier to get out of your wetsuit.
6. Stay Warm
If it is chilly on race morning, make sure to stay as warm as possible. Once you catch a chill, it’s hard to get rid of it. Arrive to the race in multiple layers, and you may even want to put your wetsuit on a little early as that will keep you warmer.
7. Know the course
Make sure you know the course – does it go clockwise or counter-clockwise? Are the buoys to be kept to your left or right shoulder? Is it one loop or two loops? Understanding how the course moves also allows you to pick a starting position. Unless you have lots of open water swimming experience (which I’m guessing you don’t if you are reading this article), I recommend sticking to the back of the pack, and/or the outside of the pack (further away from the buoy line).
8. Acclimate – don’t hate
If the race is not an in-water start, I recommend either getting in the water a few minutes before to acclimate, or at a minimum,