The first sport in triathlon is swimming. They say that you can’t win a race on the swim, but you could lose it. I’m grateful that I grew up swimming, so I’ve always been pretty comfortable on being in the water and that I’m somewhat efficient in getting from point A to point B. However I know not everyone is like that — maybe you stayed on the boat instead of jumping off, or never even got near the water! Don’t let that hold you back from trying a triathlon… get comfortable swimming!
Here are my top tips for getting into swimming:
1. Take a private lesson or two. It is so worth the money for the personalized guidance on how to improve your stroke technique. They should give you some drills to practice to improve on your weakness.
2. Find a pool that is accessible on your schedule– and practice as much as possible! You should practice as much as possible, and in swimming more than running and biking, technique is everything. Even if you get in for 20 minutes 3 times a week, as a beginner that may be better than a single 1 hour-long session. You want to remember the feel for the water, and for being as efficient as possible in the water. Here in Chicago, I know people who can make it to the 5:45 AM masters swim practices three times a week. I also know people who swim at the Chicago Park District, where it’s most economical but the schedule may not mesh your schedule. And then there’s XSport, a 24 hour gym where most locations have a pool. For the mom who swims at 4 AM to be home before her kids wake up, that works for her! Shorter & more frequent swim practices are better because you will build the muscle memory and it will be when you are not too fatigued. If you spend more time swimming after you’re fatigued, you will not have as good form and will be re-inforcing bad swim technique.
3. Figure out how you train best. Do you want toys? If so, my favorites are the fins and kick board. A pull buoy is helpful as well. For paddles, pick smaller ones first. You don’t want to develop a poor swim technique because you’re trying to pull as much water as possible. In a race you won’t have those paddles! But if toys help you get going, then by all means, use them! Try out whatever your pool has first, then buy what you think might be a good addition, or what your coach recommended. Look on Pinterest for sample workouts… I’ve started a board to share workouts and tips when training for your first triathlon – please feel free to follow as I pin more! Your must-haves to start swimming: Swimsuit, goggles, and a cap. I like SwimOutlet.com for my swim purchases as they’re most economical and the swimsuits last a while.
4. Figure out how to breathe. This may be obvious, but in swimming your face is underwater, so you need to figure out how to breathe. You could stick your head up and swim “tarzan style” but that’s not too efficient speed-wise, and you’ll tire yourself out quickly. When I’m looking for swim technique advice online, I turn to Swim Smooth. It’s a great online resource (and team of coaches) for tweaking your technique. Their articles and newsletters explain very clearly how one’s technique is inefficient, and show how you how to change the technique. Here’s a great article that breaks down the key tips in figuring out how to breathe while swimming.
5. Do Drills. After a swim analysis, or a session with a coach or more knowledgeable swimmer, they should suggest some drills you can do to work on your weakensses. Do these every time you swim. They will help you reinforce the better technique. This is also when you can use toys, like hand paddles, fins, pull buoys and more.
Last year before I started training for Louisville, I got a private swim analysis. It was helpful for me to see myself on video. I got my swim analysis done by Coach Keith. I’m doing another one this week to get some new pointers based on where my swim technique is now.
New swimmers – what questions do you have? Experienced fish, any other tips?
Last night I went to yoga (I’ve been twice now in a week! same amount as the last six months!) and the intention for the practice was a quote:
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. -Lao Tzu
It’s serendipitous because I had just started finished reading this book and was thinking about how to share the “one step at a time” guide for triathlons. The book is Triathlon for the Every Woman by Meredith Atwood, who may be better known as Swim Bike Mom based on her blog. And here is my book review!
First thing I liked about the book: the subtitle is “You Can Be a Triathlete. Yes. You.”
It was a quick read – I read it in free moments and while traveling, and was done in less than a week. And I loved that it takes the same approach as my yoga practice: one step at a time. Just start one step at a time.
But the swim bike mom does more than get you to start your first step; her stories and advice get you going in the right direction, one step at a time. I actually don’t recall if there was a training plan included. But the point is that it’s one step at a time. At your pace. Start with a 5K. Or a swim lesson. One step at a time.
My favorite tips from the book:
Wear Earplugs -- I’ve been meaning to try earplugs when I open water swim, and Swim Bike Mom explains why it can be helpful (save the fine ear bones from being harmed by cold water)
Repeat rap lyrics when cycling (e.g. Till I Collapse, which may be my unofficial Ironman mantra).
Giving your workout five minutes on those days you don’t want to work out.
Bananas are the ideal natural sports food
Poo before your race
Measure your sweat rate to figure out how much to drink.
She also brought up some fighting words from Chrissie Wellington, Ironman World Champion:
When negative thoughts arise, we must deliver these negative thoughts a knockout punch before they have the chance to grow and become the mental monster that derails your entire race. (source)
Overall this was a great book and I really enjoyed hearing about her experiences. Meredith tells it like it is, and that is that triathlon can help you grow in confidence, get healthier and more athletic, but also is a sport that can be ugly and hard and not as glamorous as we might think. But we must take the good with the bad, and she, like I, believe the triathlon good outweighs the bad.
Read any good books lately? I’m looking for suggestions!
… we’ve got 5 days to go! This shit is real, and I’m finally feeling ready.
I’ve done my longest workouts EVER. Including a 12 hour long training day consisting of swim, bike, run (& eat). I may have just done my longest Open Water Swim this past weekend, probably not a taper “do,” but it was definitely a confidence builder.
I’ve practiced in my speed suit, my tri kit, my helmet & gu’s.
I’ve visualized this race. Que sera, sera. What happens, happens. You leave it all out there on the floor (well, rein it in until mile 18 of the run, then let it out).
And I was so touched today by my co-workers who decorated my cube space with Ironman cheers:
It’s been a long six months, and i’m still processing what I’ve learned through the training process, but I’m ready to go!
Pretty much everything I’m searching in my free time is related to Ironman. I’m looking at things on Recovery from Ironman, how to decide if you want to do another one, how much practice in your speedsuit you need (it’s still 60’s in Lake Michigan), and I found this posting I thought I’d share on 20 Athletes You’ll See at Ironman: