Open-Swimming Training Tips for Triathlon

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You’re an avid runner and a solid cyclist — so adding”complete a triathlon” to a list of must-dos looked like a no brainer. However, now that you’ve picked your race (yay!), it’s time to start training. And, along with logging a lot of miles on the run and at the saddle, it also involves getting comfy on the swim.

Whether you are a veteran swimmer or you feel like a fish out of deep water, then open-water swimming is different than swimming in a pool. Insert in race-day elements — potentially choppy water, fellow racers jostling for position around you, no lanes to keep your goal in check –, and you’ll quickly see why lots of aspiring triathletes experience extreme moments of dread after they hit the water.

But fear not: Here’s advice for open-water swimming out of 16 triathletes who have been around, swam it, and lived to tell the victorious tale.

1. PRACTICE

“Sign up for swim-only races before you do the full triathlon.

2. TAKE IT EASY

“Slow and steady may not win the race, but just ease into it and take your time.” — Betsy Leto

3. DON’T FREAK OUT

“Someone once told me,’ When the water is not clear enough to view, get ready to feel unidentifiable things with your hands, face, and feet, and don’t freak out.’ Just keep swimming and avoid getting punched or kicked in the face.”

4. BREATHE

5. TRAIN IN OPEN WATER

Training in pools and controlled settings doesn’t give the real experience of what the open water is like. Training in open water allowed me to understand for myself how to effectively adjust stroke and form when there are different tides, choppiness, etc.. This helped me get more comfortable with cold water temperatures and had the bonus effect of helping ease muscle soreness and promoting recovery.” — Christian Shaboo

6. JUST HOP IN

“If you’re jumping off a barge or a dock, you can sit down and hop in or ease yourself in. Keep an eye out for your fellow racers, but I know that for me, the thought of jumping into open water and going straight into the swim almost gave me a panic attack the first time I did it.” — Shannon Otto

7. FIND A COACH

“Train with a coach to learn how to breathe. For a long swim, in particular, that makes all the difference.” — Daphne Matalene

8. TRAIN WITH A PARTNER

“Swim with a partner so you can work on getting used to getting bumped, jostled, and elbowed in the face.” — Elizabeth Carr

9. SWIM STRAIGHT

“Practice sighting and always keep track of buoys or other landmarks. During my first open-water swim, I zigzagged all over the place because I thought I was swimming straight when I was not. It wasted a ton of time and energy.” — Kiera Carter

10. HANG BACK

“I panicked during my first few tris so now I just let everyone start in front of me.” — Theodora Blanchfield

11. PRACTICE IN YOUR WETSUIT

“Practice in your wetsuit before the race.” — Teresa Webb

12. KNOW YOUR SAFETY STROKE

“It’s good to have a safety stroke. That way, when — not if — something happens that embarrasses you, you’ll know what to do. That may mean going to the backstroke or breaststroke for a bit to catch up and help you be more deliberate.” — Jonathan Crane

13. FLIP TO YOUR BACK IF YOU PANIC

“Stay to the back and don’t be afraid to flip to your back. Much of the panic beginners experience is exasperated because they can’t breathe normally to calm down in the chaos. If you feel panicked, float on your back and catch your breath.” — Anna Rhea

14. ENJOY THE CHAOS

“Visualize a mosh pit. Enjoy the chaos.” — Johanna Bjorken

15. Locate A RHYTHM

“Sometimes, it can feel like you’re breathing through a straw. Try to find a rhythm. What helps me is looking at the beautiful lake or surrounding nature at every stroke and remembering how lucky I am to be swimming in a gorgeous lake with lots of people.” — Whitney McFadden

16. “DON’T DRINK THE WATER!”

— Joe Fox

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