Triathlon Swim Racing
By Holden Comeau
Far beyond the capacity for physical exertion, nothing will have a greater influence on performance in a triathlon-specific swim race than an athlete’s psychological posture in the water. It is absolutely essential that an athlete maintain a sense of calm and confidence at all times. The moment this mindset is lost, a swimmer’s efficiency will be similarly diminished.
With this in mind, a swimmer’s priority is to learn – through coaching and experience – exactly which parts of the swim present the greatest psychological hurdles. These are always uniquely personal, and so too are the methods for training them.
But there are specific things to keep in mind when preparing for a Triathlon Swim…
1. Open Water – Whether you’re racing in the Hudson, the Schuylkill, Lake Placid, or Kailua-Kona Bay, a large body of open water presents an infinitely variable racing condition to which a swimmer is forced to react. Understanding the degree to which your body is affected by water temperature, current, surface tension, depth, and clarity is something that is learned through experience. The more training time you can get out of the pool and into open water the better, but you can practice in your pool with a group of friends and no lane lines. Try an endurance swim in a wide oval during which you never touch the wall or the bottom of the pool. Once things are moving along well, plan a few attacks off the front of the group, and notice how different the increase in effort feels in this less stable environment of “open water.”
2. The Competition – Any obstacle that disrupts a swimmer’s balance in the water will affect momentum. Fifty splashing arms and legs are hugely disruptive. Find some clean water to race in. You don’t need to be separate from the group, but you don’t want to swim into people either. You’re more likely to find a smooth, drafting, swim group towards the outside or towards the front of the pack.
3. Learn to Kick – Your legs are the foundation upon which your entire stroke is built. Your kick controls your body position in the water, which then dictates how your arms will pull. Learning to incorporate your kick takes some good instruction and lots of patience, but it will ultimately prove to be the ‘secret’ to your swimming success.
4. Wetsuit Training – Used correctly, a wetsuit is incredibly fast in the water. The suit changes a swimmer’s body position, and thus the balancing point upon which the swimmer can leverage power. This means that the ability to apply force is entirely altered. But by practicing in the suit, a trained athlete can easily compensate for this position change, and make slight stroke modifications to maximize the wetsuit’s full potential for speed. Also, wearing a new wetsuit for the first time can be very claustrophobic. Getting comfortable with the fit of the suit in the water should not be saved for race day!
5. Course Layout and Sighting – Swimming in open water inherently means that a swimmer will not be swimming in a straight line. Limiting the potential to swim too far begins with understanding the course layout, and sticking to it as closely as possible. Recon the course prior to the start. Know the turns and the direction of the swim. It is a huge mistake to count on others to get through to the end. Secondly, practice and apply good sighting techniques as often as possible. Make your course corrections when you’re head is back under water, and always swim bouy-to-bouy.