Written by: Ian Murray
The most stressful moment of any triathlon is the first 300 meters of the swim. The panic that most new triathletes experience in the swim is not caused by a single event, but by a combination of stresses that escalate the tension and spin things out of control. Here are tips to help you remain calm and find a swim rhythm that is both comfortable and sustainable.
Get Hot, Stay Hot
Most age-groupers race early in the morning and swim in water that is chilly, if not downright cold. This is why, from the moment you wake up, you must overdress. Dress in layers to keep your core temperature elevated and to maintain warmth as you make your way to the race, set up your transition, perform your warm-up and put on your wetsuit. Going into a race very warm will ready your body to perform sooner than if your body were cold, and you’ll be less affected by the chilly water temperature.
Perform a Physical Warm-up
Going from a deep, peaceful sleep to the start of a race without fully waking up the body can be a shock to the system. The easiest warm-up is a short run outside the transition area. While still slightly overdressed, run for eight to 12 minutes. Start easily with a jog and build from there. Be sure to include a few short, sharp intervals of approximately 30 to 50 seconds that elevate the heart rate to at least 80 percent of maximum. Jog in between those intervals so that the body becomes fully awake without becoming fatigued.
Wetsuits On and Up
We all put our wetsuits on the same way: one leg at a time. But those in the know go the extra step of pulling the fabric high onto the shoulders. Once your suit is on, use the pads of your fingers (not your fingernails) to pinch an inch of rubber in the thigh and hike that up so the suit is tight in your crotch. Then pinch an inch at the hips and pull that to the midsection. Keep hiking the material up and up until there is absolute freedom in the shoulder area to allow maximum arm rotation during your swim stroke. This will make you feel less constricted throughout the swim.
Before your race begins, get into the water. This gives you the opportunity to get the feel for the water, the taste in your mouth, the smell in your nose and some water between you and your wetsuit so that you overcome the shock of the temperature well before the start. This will also give you a chance to swim and loosen up your shoulders.
Dry Land Warm-up
In some races, there is no opportunity to get in the water before the start. In that case, activate your chest and shoulders with easy pushups from your knees, arm swings that cross the body, large arm circles and then arm motions that mimic a swim stroke.
If you’re a fast swimmer, get to the front of the group rather than starting in the back and having to swim over slower swimmers. If you swim slowly, go to the back of the group and swim steadily from the start at your comfortable pace. If you’re a tweener, start near the front and off to one side. That will allow you to avoid the stress of the “scrum” by pulling off to that side if things get too chaotic.
Ian Murray is the head coach of the Los Angeles Tri Club and the author of the instructional DVDs, “Triathlon Training Series” (Triathlontrainingseries.com).