Swimming is the first event in the triathlon and, without proper preparation, it can also be the most difficult. Keeping a few simple tips in mind, the swim can be a smooth start to a rewarding triathlon experience.
Physical conditioning is a must. Depending on the length of the events (which for the swim can be anywhere from 400 meters to 180 kilometres), you can be in adequate shape to complete a triathlon in just a few hours a week. Training with a certified swim coach or instructor is highly recommended. Proper technique will greatly improve your efficiency in the water. Training in a group or with a partner is a great way to stay motivated and help ensure you attend practise sessions.
It’s important to consider whether your swim will take place in a pool or in open water. Pool swimming is much easier as the lanes are clearly marked, the water is calmer, the temperature is often regulated and there are walls to hold onto if you get fatigued. You will probably only need goggles and perhaps a swim cap.
If you’ll be racing in open water, the best advice is to practise swimming in open water. It’s a very different experience from swimming in a pool. Safety should always be the first and foremost consideration. Always swim with a friend, or make sure there is a lifeguard present. Make careful note of the water temperature, as water that’s too cold will require a wetsuit whereas water that’s too warm can cause you to overheat when wearing a wetsuit. If you will be wearing a wetsuit during the race, be sure to practise swimming in it and removing it after your swim. Transition times between events are critical and time spent struggling with a wetsuit will cost you.
Sighting is a vital skill to master during open water swimming. There may be markers or buoys along the course and you will most likely have swimmers ahead of you to follow. However, you must be able to lift your head out of the water long enough to be able to look and “sight” landmarks along the way to help keep you on course. If you can, visit the area where the swim will take place and decide which objects you will be sighting along the way. This will not only help you stay on course, but it will also help you know how far you have to go.