I’m not an experienced triathlete, but I am comfortable swimmer. My mom, (a.k.a. Mama Chris) will be swimming on teammate Abra’s HyVee Triathlon team next month so we’ve been talking quite a bit about what she can expect. She asked me to put together some thoughts/observations/”things that surprised me” for her so I thought I’d share…
#1: Don’t research Ironman Swim Starts right off the bat. Definitely don’t do a google image search for them! If you have never done an open water race, it is most likely NOT going to be anything like the crazy mass swim start that is part of an Ironman or half Ironman. I also have learned that even the mass starts in smaller triathlons look scarier from videos and pictures than then feel in the water. The bodies don’t quite seem as close together in the water as they look in pictures and videos.
#2: Do find out what kind of start it will be so you can go in without surprises. Will it be in waves? A mass start? From the beach or from a tread? Is there a video of the start on you tube from the previous year?
#3: Check the swim times from the prior year of the race you’re doing and compare them to your estimated time to determine where you should start.
#4: If you are a strong swimmer, DO NOT listen to people telling you to start at the outside or back of the pack. If you are a slower and less confident swimmer, that is where you want to be for safety. If you are faster and you start with the less confident/slower swimmers you will have to struggle to navigate around people off the start to get where you belong in the pack. This could result in more face-kicking. If you start in the front/middle you’ll be in a more comfortable position. See #3.
#5: If you’re a stronger swimmer, towards the middle of the swim (or end depending on the distance) you’ll start to approach the slower swimmers from the waves ahead of you. Be prepared to navigate around people who may be stopping to rest or doing backstroke/breaststroke/treading. If you are a less confident swimmer, once you get out of your wave’s start and are finally feeling comfortable, you’ll feel the next wave coming behind you. Mentally preparing for this can alleviate anxiety when it happens.
#6: There is usually a greater concentration of swimmers near the turn around buoys
#7: It is good to know what side the buoys will be compared to what side you breathe on. If they aren’t to the side you breathe on, don’t panic. I’ve found sighting to be much easier in an actual race than trying to sight when I swim alone or in a small group. I can only breathe left and I’ve done swims with buoys on the right without issue.
#8: It is easy to get your heart rate too high off the start from sheer adrenaline or that natural panic survival instinct. It is easy to feel like you need to race out of the pack right away as though being chased by a shark. If you feel like your arms and legs are lead, slow down your stroke (and your mind!) and focus on breathing and slowing your heart rate. Remember…there will still be a bike and run waiting for you and going balls-to-the-wall on the swim will do you no favors later in the race!
#9: In your training swims, stop periodically, tread water, take your goggles off and put them back on, then continue swimming. This way, if you have a goggle issue during the race, you’ll be prepared!
#10: Train in what you’ll be wearing for the swim at least once to avoid any unpleasant wardrobe malfunctions on race day.
#11: Wear mirrored goggles if you’ll be racing outdoors. It makes a huge difference with glare.
What observations did you have from your first tri or open water swim that could be helpful to others? Please share them in the comments to help alleviate Mama Chris’ fears.