Feel confident, with our triathlon beginner swim tips
So you've signed up to your first triathlon – congratulations! Get your swim phase sorted, with these preparation tips for first-timers:
Swim in open-water – at least once
How will your body react to cold, choppy, water? How will your breathing and stroke need to be adapted? To feel at your most confident on the start line, it is important to have experienced open water swimming, before your event. Familiarity will help limit the potential panic of new experiences (alongside a frantic group start!) on race day.
Ideally, you want to replicate the conditions of your open-water swim and then (where possible) include a brick session with your bike, immediately afterwards.
Quick tricks for replicating open water training in the pool
For the majority of novice triathletes, the pool is where the bulk of their triathlon swim training takes place. Measured and controlled, it is a world away from open water swimming. But that's not to say you can't use drills and exercises to help simulate aspects of your open water race experience.
Simulating longer distance 'no-break' swims
In the swim phase of your triathlon, you don’t have the luxury of resting during what is usually, at least, a 400m swim. There are no walls to push off from or make use of for added speed and momentary respite. To replicate the effort of a longer swim in the pool try this simple drill:
Begin by swimming 150m continuously, without pausing or touching the pool walls at each end. Remember to factor in a 'no-touch' turn around as you approach the wall. If space in the pool allows, loop under the lane ropes to give yourself a larger turning circle, and swim to the other end within the same lane.
Work up to a continuous 300m if you can, to help build your endurance and stamina.
Get to know the venue
Ideally, you might put in a few recce swims at your triathlon venue but, realistically, unless it is local, you may need to bank on arriving early on the day, or the day before, to check it out. If arriving a day early is viable, get a practise swim in. We're not talking far; just so you can get a feel for the surroundings, what's underfoot, what the entry and exit look like, and whether you have to re-enter at any point during the swim.
Tip: Look at the swim course and work out whether there are any large, fixed landmarks (pylons, tall buildings) or notable trees on the horizon that you can loosely use for sighting.
Swim in your wetsuit – and practise getting in and out of it
Don't become unstuck on race day because you're not familiar with the ins and outs (literally) of your wetsuit. Practise getting in and out of it prior to your event (allow at least 15 minutes to put it on), and get accustomed to swimming in it – even if your only opportunity is in the pool. The added buoyancy may change your stroke somewhat, so familiarise yourself with how this is likely to feel.
On race day, use lubrication to aid getting the suit on and off, and 'flush' your wetsuit before you line up for the start. Flushing, where you remove excess water and squeeze out air, creates a vacuum-packed effect, hugging your body for a better fit.
Simply immerse yourself and let your suit fill with water, then return to land, squeeze out the excess and secure your suit in position.
- Your wetsuit should be snug enough when dry that it’s almost uncomfortable. Too loose and it will take on water. However, too tight when wet and you will feel restricted
- Once your feet are in, roll the suit up gently, inch by inch. Don’t treat it like a pair of trousers by pulling it up from the waist or hips
- Where possible, enlist a friend to help zip the suit up at the back, saving you pulling your shoulders
- Apply lube to your forearms, neck, shins and calves. For an easier exit, don’t forget to apply to the outside of the suit at the wrists and ankles
Get in some swim-to-bike brick sessions
Although not nearly as easy to coordinate as bike-run brick sessions, swim-bike transitions are worth the investment of your time – namely because of two words: vascular shunt. This happens when your body transfers its efforts from being horizontal in the water to being vertical, as you emerge from the water into transition. In other words, the blood is swiftly moved from the muscles previously doing the work (the upper body) to the muscles suddenly in use, as you run towards T1. Often this switch can be accompanied by a disconcerting dizziness or unpleasant feeling, followed by leaden legs as you start the bike leg. To get the blood pumping to your legs, try kicking a little harder in the last 50-100m before you exit the water. Meanwhile, mini brick sessions make an excellent addition to your training.
Open water mini brick session:
Train with a group of friends and have an open water venue close by? Set up a brick session, including a run to ‘T1’ and transition on to the bike (take it in turns if you’re worried about bike safety.) Swim hard for 150-200m, exit and run 100m to your designated T1. Use this time to rehearse unzipping your wetsuit. At T1 change and cycle for 10 minutes at 80-90% of your maximum heart rate.
Which goggles do I need for triathlon? - Normal, Polarised or Mirrored?
No-one wants to stop mid-swim to empty their goggles, so ensure yours fit snugly and are leak-free well in advance of your event. Opt for a goggle with anti-fog coating, then consider whether you want a normal, polarised or mirrored lens. Worried about glare? Polarised lenses are useful for races because they reduce the glare caused by light reflecting off the water surface – this is important because glare can make judging distances and sighting landmarks trickier. Mirrored lenses are ideal for bright, sunny days, as they offer a darker lens view, shielding your eyes by reflecting light away from them. However, they can be less suitable for low light levels.
The perfect beginner triathlon kit