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Confidence in Triathlon Swimming by John Post, MD

Through early morning fog I see,visions of the things to be… Johnnie Mandel, Suicide is Painless, M.A.S.H.

This week, as we prepare for the 2012 racing season , I’ll bypass the injury pipeline and pass on a little experience. After making many mistakes over the years, I can reveal the secrets to not only your fastest safe swim but how to be equipped for those unexpected problems that can throw a wrench into your whole day.

In other words, this is why I keep a spare pair of goggles in my suit. You must think of things that can go wrong, and have a solution in mind, well in advance of the race. Let’s divide these into:

Equipment issues – cap, goggles, suit

Personal issues – need to warm up. need to pee, sunscreen, body prepped for wetsuit removal

Nerves – fear of the immediate future, possible panic attacks

Event issues – being hit or kicked, choking on the water, swimming off course

We’ll assume for this piece an athlete in a sprint tri, wet suit legal, with at least one race experience. I’m pretty sure that almost everybody practices transitions now. If not, 30 minutes on Youtube choosing what seems to work best for you, is invaluable. You’ve planned an early arrival at the race for body marking, transition set up, and generally getting the lay of the land. You’ve thought about swim conditions, goggle selection (newer rather than older but not new ones) and have brought 2-3 pair – including one that’s shaded for a bright sunny day. Although many recommend goggle straps under cap, that’s never worked for me. I just make sure that as I’m donning my wetsuit…after the bathroom break of course…that I’ve lubed my ankles, neck and shoulders, wiping off my hands before I touch my goggles. I keep a second set in my suit and a tiny bottle of anti-fog in my hand which I discard just before the gun. I don’t zip up my suit until 2 minutes before my warm up swim asking whomever is standing next to me for assistance. Once in the water, I know I’ll need to pee again and just let it fly knowing that it will be rinsed out shortly.

At this point, right before the gun, if I had to credit one thing for being relaxed, it’s pre-race preparation. Viewing the swim course the day before and maybe even going for a short swim, accompanied of course, can pay innumerable dividends on race morning. Practice is a real confidence builder. That, and not being in any hurry at all make for one relaxed triathlete!

Once my wave starts, I try to stay a little off to the side of the main group to get my own little piece of the water even if it means I add a few yards to avoid being hit or kicked…or both. If I inadvertently inhale some water and start to choke, I tread water until it clears. There’s no harm, or penalty, for grabbing a surfboard or boat till you’re stable, that’s what they’re for. It’s safety first, remember? And then, it’s back to sighting the swim course. The old philosophy of just following who’s in front of me doesn’t work all that well in open water swimming. I highly recommend that you practice sighting the other end of your lane at the pool daily, even if it’s just one 25 yard lap of your warm up, and you’ll be surprised at how skilled you become.

Lastly, I’m surprised how easy it is to get “pissed off” at a fellow triathlete who happens to interfere with your swim somehow. My advice is to just shrug it off, stay loose, and think about the finish line. That gives you the advantage and keeps the race fun. Ready for a swim PR?

For Those Who Can’t Run or are Always Injured