The open water swim leg of a triathlon is very often the part of the race that is hardest for the athlete to control. When there are many swimmers starting at the same time, often with very different levels of skill and fitness, things are going to happen to disrupt your “perfect swim”. If you avoid the following, you will at least improve your chances
1. Can’t see the buoys!
Have you ever wondered why you can buy goggles with amber, blue, clear, smoked or mirrored lenses? Each colour of lens is specially suited for particular light conditions. Don’t leave it to race day to find out that if you swim towards the sun on a sunny day wearing a clear lens, you won’t be able to see a thing! Avoid this by wearing a smoked or mirrored lens on a bright day.
2. Goggles get kicked off
This does happen – not deliberately because we triathletes want to be aggressive but just because of the nature of a congested mass start. We all want to get a good start and we usually aren’t thinking about the swimmers around us. Avoid getting your goggles knocked off in the melee by first putting on your lucky swim cap, then your goggles, and finally your race hat over the top.
3. Avoid the crush
You may find yourself in a large group of swimmers all heading to a turn – around buoy. This is like swimming in a channel that is becoming smaller and smaller as more swimmers squeeze in. Avoid this situation by swimming wide, maybe up to 4-5 m, from the buoy. Let the brave fight it out while you swim around the outside without shortening your stroke, changing your breathing or expending additional energy. To do this efficiently, you need to start in the right place, and navigate around the course – plan ahead….
4. Don’t get angry – get away!
You may find yourself next to a swimmer who is happy to hit your head or shoulder every time he takes a stroke. How should you react if this continues? Take a quick look up and find a better line. There is nothing to be gained by losing your temper and trying to retaliate – your heart rate will go up, you will shorten your stroke or stop completely and you will waste valuable time and energy. Move away steadily and calmly from the errant swimmer.
5. Drafting – the truth
This item is particularly aimed at novice triathletes and some age groupers. Coaches love to teach drafting (swimming closely behind the feet or close to the hip of the swimmer ahead) as an open water skill. We all understand why. Making full use of a drafting opportunity is an awesome experience resulting in a faster time using less energy. For novice triathletes however trying to draft can end up a waste of your time. A novice swimmer can become so focused on “finding” the right feet that they forget their stroke, their sighting and their pacing – all of those fundamental things that result in a good swim. You should know how to draft and be grateful when the opportunity arises but don’t get obsessed with it.