In 1984 there was an tri that was based on each leg taking approximately the same amount of time. It was called the Equilateral Triathlon and the swim leg was 5.6 miles, the bike 50 miles and the run 20 miles. The swim took me 2:05 that day and I can tell you I was pretty happy that concept never really caught on.
The Ultraman in Kona, a 3 day event circling the island has a 6 mile swim from the pier in Kona to the Kona Surf Hotel. The day of the swim we had to swim into a pretty strong current and I was first out in 2:50. Talk about your sunburn! The back-of-the-packers were out there for 5 or 6 hours.
Those were nightmare swims that would make a hungry white pointer a bit anxious beforehand. Luckily most swims aren’t quite as daunting. But the swim still is the frightening part of the race. The anxiety we all feel at the start of a race always surprises me. You would think that eventually that uneasy but excited feeling would wear off after a couple of hundred races but it doesn’t and that’s one of the most addicting parts of sport, especially ours. That excitement sometimes is accompanied by a small lapse in logic and we start our two to 15-hour race as fast as we can go! Not good.
Here are a few thoughts regarding the swim part of the race for you to mull over during your next long swim set.
- Try to breath your normal breathing pattern right from the beginning of your race. Sometimes its hard to do that with people swimming on top of you but you’ll deal with the fast pace much better with some oxygen.
- If you don’t seem to be able to find the right goggles to allow you to see when you lift your head out of the water then try going without them. I never use them in lakes (except Lake Illawara) and sometimes not in glaring conditions or swims under 1 km. Its important for confidence and relaxation to see where you are going.
- Vaseline everything! Use a lot too. It will come off eventually. I put some on my saddle too just before going down to the swim. Baby oil or tanning oil is also good for the legs of your wetsuit from the knees down. This allows the suit to slide over itself and not get stuck. Vaseline actually can speed up the deterioration of your suit so you might want to wash it off when you get home. Some people say that the extra coating of the gel on your body might cause overheating but its not a factor. And bring a rag or old t-shirt down to the transition too so you can wipe the vaseline off of your hands.
- Its a good idea not to get in and warm up if the water will make you cold. That would be worse than no warm up. Instead just do some stretching and a little jogging on the beach to keep your temperature up. If you feel you have to get in to practice going through the surf or something then make sure you have some one waiting there on the beach with a towel and/or a jacket for you to put on if it is cool outside.
- •Draft if you can! Even going a bit crooked can be tolerated if you are humming along with a group that’s moving along faster than you would be by yourself. You might be going 3 – 5 seconds per hundred meters faster in the draft than solo, so you would have to be convinced that your line leader was way off for you to pull out and take a shorter route.
- The swim finish and getting to your bike quickly and getting your wetsuit off are areas for every one to give thought to and to practice. You can easily gain or loose 20 – 30 seconds .
- Learning to body surf and read and time the waves is not that hard to do. It just cuts into your tanning time next trip to the beach. Its worth the trouble to get into a few big ones too if you have the chance just in case you get some in a race. Australia probably has the highest percentage of events with surf than any country in the world. I can’t wait until some one comes up with a race that combines triathlon and surf ironman (purposely not capitalized because its not really an IRONMAN as we know them). That will be blast! And practice running out of the water FAST and getting your wetsuit off at the same time.
Getting through the swim with a solid performance all the way through to getting on your bike will be the way to have your most satisfying race.