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Happy Monday babes and welcome to National Triathlon week! National Tri Week is a nationwide initiative that celebrates the sport of triathlon. Its geared toward education, celebration and participation in the multisport lifestyle. I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to post some triathlon related content that isn’t just about me and my ramblings about training. Plus, as I mentioned in my last post, as a new Women for Tri ambassador I’ve made it my goal this year to help educate women and breakdown barriers in the sport of triathlon. What better to do that then sharing fun and informative posts this week?
Today were talking all things SWIM!
If you’re new to the sport, a triathlon is a race that consists of three disciplines: a swim, a bike, and a run. There are varying distances of triathlon races. Some range from short sprints, roughly 16 miles or so, to full distance Ironman which is 140.6 miles total! No matter the distance, the swim portion of the race is always the first to take place. It’s also generally thought to be one of the most technically difficult disciplines making it incredibly intimidating for most newbie triathletes. If you don’t come from a swimming background and you’ve never had to swim aside from summer pool days then the task of learning how to swim can seem daunting. Fear not my land loving friend, if you’re up to the challenge, you’ll be growing fins and calling yourself a mermaid (or merman) in no time!
The most important thing to remember about the triathlon swim is that it’s not nearly as intimidating as it seems. In triathlon you will have two types of swim in any give race. Either an open water swim which will take place in an open body of water such as a lake, river, or ocean. The other option is a closed body of water, aka a pool swim, which can take place in a lap pool, outdoor pool, or lazy river….yes, even a “lazy” river. Hello, Spa Girl Tri – Gaylord Texas!
As for how to swim, for the most part, anything goes! You can free-style or front crawl, doggie paddle, back-stroke, or even breast stroke if you want. Most triathletes will gravitate to freestyle, but it is not uncommon to see athletes doggie paddle or backstroke on race day. I myself had several races where I needed to flip over and backstroke to catch my breath. For endurance and safety purposes, the freestyle will likely be your best bet. But don’t fret if you need time to learn! It took me a couple of years to get the form down correctly and to learn some of the basic mechanics.
Hiring a coach is always a good option if you have the money however, there are also a ton of free resources you can take advantage of. When I was learning to swim I found some great YouTube channels like Go Swim, Simply Swim, and TI Swim that had easy to understand tutorials on basic stroke mechanics and swim drills. These videos helped me visualize what my body should be doing in the water and I was able to take those tips and translate them into physical changes in the pool.
I also took a few small swim classes early on. You can sometimes find these at local recreation centers, community colleges, or even swim schools. I never had the money to invest in an all out swim school however, I did keep an eye out for one off classes that would connect me to coaches for guidance. For example, my community college offered a swim class during the summer on weekends that taught all the basics of swimming including water safety and several swim strokes. I signed up for the 6 week summer class and loved having someone there to critique my stroke. About a year later I found a Groupon for a newly opened swim school that offered a 4 week adult swim class and signed myself up for that as well. Also, local tri clubs are going to be incredibly helpful. Most have coached swim workouts in lap pools as well as open water swim training during the summer months.
When you’re just starting out and learning good form, it may also be helpful to use swim training equipment. These are things like pull buoys, snorkels, fins, or kick boards. Check out my post on Swim Essentials for a list of things I bought while learning to swim that I still use to this day. A lot of these items can be used to help learn good form. Kick boards, for example, are great for learning how to kick or freestyle catch and extension. Even to this day I use my kickboard during every single workout.
If you’re still feeling intimidated by the thought of swimming in water with others, you can always start with reading materials first. When I took my first swim class the coach recommended reading Swimming and Water Safety by the American Red Cross and Total Immersion by Terry Laughlin. These two books go over the basics of swim safety and stroke mechanics. Also, be sure to check out swim section of TimeToTri.com there are a ton of awesome articles on everything from How to Learn to Swim to Open Water Swim Training.
Learning to swim can be difficult and it takes time and lots and lots of practice, but it is not impossible. Remember that it gets easier over time. Keep focusing on your technique, practice those swim drills and if you’re feeling fearful of the swim on race day, pick a race that’s indoors and just stop and stand or rest when you need to. Every Ironman was a newbie once and yes, we’ve all had to learn. I started as a sinking rock and now I find that the swim is one of my favorite disciplines.
Priscilla is Dallas/Ft. Worth based nutritionist and blogger.