Most triathletes compete in both triathlon and running races. Occasionally, they’ll dip their toes into trail racing and mountain bike racing. The one thing that is not spoken of as often is the swim only race. Swimming may not be everyone’s favorite sport amongst the three disciplines, but it is extremely important to feel comfortable in the water for several reasons. The first is that it’s the sport with a higher level of risk. The second is that the swim sets you up for the entire day. The swim won’t necessarily get you on the podium, but a bad swim can derail momentum and exhaust you. The third is that swim training helps increase your cardiovascular fitness overall, so the more you swim, the fitter you will be. Open water and masters swim meets are a great way for triathletes to improve their comfortability in the first discipline of triathlon.
In order to become more comfortable in the water, a good idea is to complete a swim only event. There are many options to choose from and swim only events are just as welcoming as other endurance events.
Open Water Swimming
If you live near any body of water, you will more than likely be able to find one. U.S. Open Water Swimming has a calendar on their website that features many of these events around the country. The Marathon Swimmers Federation also has an extensive list. Don’t let the word marathon scare you. There are distances for every ability.
To get started, hit the pool. If you are a new swimmer it’s best to practice as much as you can until you are comfortable enough to head out to open water. For open water swimming, you don’t need much equipment beyond what you already have. Goggles, suit, and cap are great for good conditions. If the water is chilly, a wetsuit is recommended. For an additional level of safety and comfort, an open water swim buoy is a great purchase. The open water swim buoy is an inflatable flotation device with a belt that provides more visibility to those around you. It can be used as a floatation device if needed, and some feature dry pockets where you can store items while you swim.
As always, it’s best to train for open water with others. It’s preferable to have someone as a spotter on the shore, but if not, swimming in a group is also helpful. And, if you have friends who prefer to kayak or paddleboard, invite them along. Just as you would hydrate and work on fueling for your triathlon, you need to consider the same when heading to an open water swim. Always listen to your body, and get out of the water when you feel fatigued.
Master’s Swim Meets
If you are interested in seeing how fast you can swim over even shorter distances, look into Master’s swim meets. Master’s swimmers are swimmers over the age of 18. (That probably means you!) Most Master’s swim meets will allow you to swim “unattached” if you don’t officially belong to a Master’s swim team. However, they will more than likely enforce being a member of U.S. Master’s Swimming or paying an additional fee. This is similar to being required to have a U.S.A. Triathlon membership for most triathlons. In addition to that, there are swim events that are strictly for fundraising and supporting great causes. One example is the Tampa Bay Frogman Swim that raises funds for the Navy SEAL Foundation.
Master’s swim meets are a lot of fun! And there is no need to be intimidated. There are swimmers of all ages and abilities. Diving from the blocks is not mandatory and you can do an in-pool start if you are more comfortable. Should you wish to dive in from the blocks, be sure to practice this with a coach. You can find swim meets listed on the U.S. Master’s Swimming website. Even though you are swimming shorter distances, going all-out can really drain you! Be prepared with snacks and hydration during and after the meet.
If you find swimming daunting, the best thing you can do to get better and ease your swim anxiety is swim more! Find the open water and masters swim meets in your area.