As you can see from the caption and the goofy expression on my face in the photo above, I was delighted to have survived the swim leg of the Bexhill Triathlon in 2011. I’ve had rough relationship with the swim in the events I’ve entered and since I’m planning to start my swim training in March, I thought I’d share some of my experiences.
A tip which completely revolutionized swimming for me is rather simple: “Drop your head to raise your legs and have the sensation of swimming downhill.” Before I read this and put it into practice, I struggled to swim at a steady, smooth pace. No matter how much I trained, I couldn’t get into a rhythm which allowed me to swim lap after lap like all the other guys at the gym pool. It frustrated me. If I slowed down, my legs started dropping so I had to kick and stroke harder to keep from sinking. Kicking and stroking harder meant using up all my energy, which meant I had to take numerous breaks between laps. Then I read the tip and everything changed.
Suddenly it felt as if I was floating more. I felt as though I could move my arms as slowly as I wanted to and that I didn’t need to kick that hard to stay above the water. No more sinking feeling. No more energy wasted on kicking more than a dojo full of black belts. The first day I tried it I swam 1000m non-stop. I just kept going and I recall a sense of disbelief that I was managing to continue. The day before I’d struggled to finish half that distance even with regular breaks.
Expect the swim start to be a crazy washing machine of arms and legs. Even the occasional fist (I was once punched in the jaw by a guy swimming next to me. After hitting me, he swam towards another triathlete and repeated the process. It seems he took the opportunity during the confusion of the swim start to get some free punches in on unsuspecting people). In my first triathlon I was concerned about the swim distance and if I would make it. I plotted the shortest course which meant that I ended up in the thick of things at the course buoys. Ever since, I’ve made a point of swimming on the outside of the pack. Even though this means that I probably swim slightly further, it is worth it if you’d prefer to avoid the traffic jams near any obstacles or turns. So far this has worked out well for me.
There have been at least 3 triathlon events I’ve entered where I truly believed I was going to drown or, less dramatically, grab onto the canoe or kayak of the life savers to disqualify myself from the race. For all 3, I had trained and could easily manage the distance. What I didn’t manage well was the adrenaline at the start of the race nor the shock of the cold water. Now I make sure I get into the water early so I can get used to the temperature and, as mentioned above, I keep to the outskirts of the pack. I try and start at my own pace and don’t race to keep up with anyone. The other thought I have is that, if I am in serious trouble, the life savers are right there to pull me up. This gives me a sense of security and allows me to focus on my Dory thought, “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just swimming…”
Good luck out there in the upcoming season. Any tips or experiences you’d like to share?