As the weather starts improving and with the triathlon season only around the corner; ELT’s Head Coach has written up some of her top tips for preparing for your first open triathlon swim.
Practice swimming in open water!
Swimming in open water has some key differences to swimming in a pool. There is no side to push off from, or to cling on to for a rest. There are no lines to follow at the bottom of a lake or the sea. Open water does not have its temperature regulated and can get very chilly even when wearing a wetsuit. It is frequently the cold, and what feels like restriction across the chest from a wetsuit, that leads people to panic. Having practiced swimming in cold open water in your wetsuit will help reduce the chances of panic on race day.
The effect on your stroke of wearing a wetsuit can feel peculiar. Developments in wetsuit manufacturing are producing wetsuits with increased flexibility around the shoulders; however, this can feel strange when you are not used to it.
The buoyancy in the legs of a wetsuit is great for people who have a poor leg kick, reducing the drag caused by trailing legs. It does make for difficult swimming for those whose preferred stroke is breaststroke, as the high leg positioning makes it very difficult to get real power from that stroke’s leg kick.
Buy or rent a good fitting wetsuit
Make sure that you are not only wearing a suit that fits but also that you know how to put it on correctly. Ideally, you will want to try it on before you commit to buying as each wetsuit will fit differently. Renting is a good option for your first year of triathlon as you get to know what will work for you and how seriously you want to take the sport. If you don’t like the wetsuit you can return it at the end of the year, but if you fall in love with the suit, there is often the option to buy it outright.
Practice water polo drills
Water polo is effectively ‘head up’ front crawl. It allows you to continue moving forward at speed whilst sighting for buoys or other landmarks to enable you to take the shortest route around the swim course.
This can be practiced in both the pool and open water in advance of the race. One effect of lifting your head on your stroke in a swimming pool without a wetsuit on will be to make your legs drop. In open water, it can cause you to arch your back slightly as your legs will not drop with a wetsuit on. However, it is important to bear in mind that only your eyes need to clear the surface to see, you can breathe to one side as normal. This will reduce the effect on your legs/back.
With your head up, either with or without a wetsuit on, the elbows will need to be higher in order for the hands to clear the surface of the water on the recovery of the stroke. This may lead to a short finish at the back stroke which should be avoided as it reduces the power generated from each stroke. Always try and push back past the hips before starting the recovery phase of the stroke.
Check out the swim course
Knowing the swim route in advance will aid you when it comes to racing. Things you need to be aware of are:
- Position of the start line – this can be some distance from the swim entry and is worth knowing. You do not want to have to sprint 400m to get to the start line on time
- Which direction around the course you need to swim. Some courses are more complex than others.
- Which side of the buoys to swim – this is usually dictated by the direction of the swim.
- How many laps you need to do.
- Position of the exit from the swim and the route to transition.
It is worth picking non-moving objects (such as trees, electricity pylons etc) that are in line with but beyond the buoys. Once at water level, it can be difficult to focus on the buoy itself due to swimmers, waves, splashing etc in the way. Frequently race organisers issue swim caps that are the same colour as the buoys; this can make sighting accurately a little more difficult.
By implementing just a few of these tips you will be more confident in the water and will enjoy the race all the more.
Stay tuned as the next post will contain tips for what to do right before the open water swim!