Training in the Time of Corona

Gabriel Garcia Marquez is one of my favorite authors, and if you haven’t read “Love in the Time of Cholera”, you should. This is where I borrowed my blog post title from. Many athletes have a lifetime love affair with the sport in much the same way Florentino loves Fermina in the novel, so here goes.

Athletes without access to a pool will while away their time with dry land and strength exercises before returning to their love of the pool and open water. So, be patient, and while you wait for the pools to reopen, here is a dry land workout you can do:

Warm up for 5 min on the bike, walk, or run briefly and then:

10x double arm freestyle pull
5x single arm right
5x single arm left
REPEAT

Dead bug
https://youtu.be/I5xbsA71v1A
3-5 min plank–rotate between all of the plank exercises

10x Chest Fly
10x Reverse Fly
REPEAT

Bridge
Monster Walk

10x double arm freestyle pull
5x single arm right
5x single arm left
REPEAT

Don’t worry, pools will reopen, and you will get stronger in the interim. For the bike, most of us can still ride outside. Use this time to explore new routes in your neighborhood, practice on hills, and ride with your family, if possible. The other great thing about the bike is indoor training if you have a bike trainer and a subscription to Zwift, Trainer Road, etc. You can decrease your time and focus on intensity, which will make you even faster when you do get back to riding outside. Also, you can virtually ride with friends on Zwift and other platforms to help stop the spread of the virus. Ride on!

Last of all, for the run, embrace running solo and without music. If you’re in an area where you do not have to shelter in place, go it alone and easy to maintain your aerobic base. Conversely, you can also take your workout to the track or treadmill to increase your speed and strength.

Here’s one of my favorite run workouts for the treadmill from my running journal from Runner’s World. The treadmill keeps you honest and your pace steady, so use it if you have one and are stuck inside (this workout can also be done outside):

3, 2, 1 Repeat Workout

Warm up for 10 min at zone 1 pace

Run 3 min at 30s faster than 5K race pace with 3 min recovery

Run 2 min at 1 min faster than 5K race pace with 2 min recovery

Run 1 min FAST with 1 min recovery.

Repeat 2-3x

Cool down for 10 min at an easy pace.

There you go! Stay true to the sport, but please rest and recover, check in with friends, family, and your neighbors, find time to read non-triathlon related books, catch up on home improvement projects, and sleep in! We got this! Practice social distancing and take care of yourself and others.

Swimskins, Wetsuits, and Tri Suits

Swimskins are fairly new to the sport of triathlon, but are they worth the price tag? Before we dive into what swimskins are and what they can do, let’s review the basic gear for a triathlete when it comes to swimming.

The most basic of gear is a tri suit, which is a one or two piece kit that you can wear comfortably for all three disciplines without adding more layers. Tri suits can be sleeveless or have sleeves like a bike jersey. If the water temperature is at 78 degrees F or above, you’ll need to wear a tri suit if you want to be considered for age-group awards. Tri suits range in price from $80-$250 each, depending on the brand, style, and materials used in making the kit. In reality, a tri suit is not necessary to compete–you can always wear a training swimsuit, throw on a pair of running or cycling shorts and t-shirt for the bike and run. No tri suit needed and no money wasted when you’re getting involved in a new sport; save your cash for the bike because it’s a machine that you throw money at anyway.

Next up in a triathlete’s swimming stash is a wetsuit. Wetsuits come in a variety of shapes and sizes from full legs and sleeves to a shorti wetsuit. If the water is cooler, you would wear your wetsuit over your tri suit for the swim. Wetsuits are fairly easy to put on and take off with practice and have a drawstring attached to the zipper to close the suit and to unzip it as you run towards transition. Wetsuits range in price from $80-$500 and up, so it can be an expensive addition.

The advantage of wearing a wetsuit is the added buoyancy neoprene provides, helping to correct dropped legs and other types of poor swim form and body positioning. Many triathletes swim a few minutes faster for the entire swim segment of the race, but if you’re already a fast swimmer with good form, you might not notice much of a difference. From a personal standpoint, I’m about the same speed with or without a wetsuit, but a wetsuit will keep me warm when the water temps are in the low 60s or upper 50s F.

Now enter the swimskin. A swimskin compresses your body with hydrophobic material to make you cut through the water faster. Swimskins are also worn over the tri suit like a wetsuit and can be worn when the water temp is at 78 degrees F or above. Fast swimmers and pros who swim at 1:20 per 100 meters or faster, save an average of 2-6 seconds per 100 meters, which adds up quickly for an Ironman distance swim of 2.4 miles or 4,224 yards. However, the swimskin offers no extra buoyancy like the wetsuit and does little in the way of correcting poor form. It will reduce drag caused by form and your body line, but if you are an average swimmer, or if swimming is the weaker of the three sports, then it won’t help much in the way of decreasing fatigue caused by form and body position in the water.

So, should you get a swimskin? I wouldn’t. Most age-group athletes won’t actually benefit from wearing one on race day. Sorry, I wouldn’t spend the extra $200-$400 for one. Instead, I would spend more time in the pool since swimming is the neglected sport of most triathletes. If you do spend money on swimming, spend it on joining a masters team, get some new fins, a snorkel, pull buoy, new practice suits, open water goggles, fun swim caps, or a workout book for swimming. The point is: get better at swimming first before making another big gear investment in a swimskin that you’ll use a handful of times in practice and possibly for the wetsuit illegal race. And for the love of all that is holy, do an actual swim workout in the pool, learn how to do flip turns or efficient open turns, do all of the competitive strokes, and use the clock provided because you don’t need a watch for swimming, but that’s another blog post entirely.

USAT Nationals

 

Cleveland is my home town, so when USAT decided to hold Nationals for 2018 there, I was beyond thrilled. Two of my athletes were also competing as well, which meant that a trip to Cleveland was in order.

If I’m not participating, I love to be a spectator for these events. The weather leading up to Nationals looked iffy at best with thunderstorms in the forecast, but by race day the skies cleared, and the Lake was deemed safe for swimming after high bacteria levels from storms forced beach closures on Tuesday.

At 7am on race morning, the water was calm like glass. That quickly changed–winds picked up and hacked at the smooth surface, creating greater than two foot choppy conditions far away from shore where athletes cut through the water. Sighting with water slamming your face from every direction is nearly impossible, yet the swim went on for over two hours with staggered heats to prevent bike traffic and congestion on course.

I set up the app to track my athletes, got coffee, and sat down on the rocks near the Lake to watch the swim. From the rocks, I could see where the bike and run courses seemed to overlap from the Shoreway to the trails below, which made this event very spectator-friendly. The Lake was clear from my vantage point revealing the rocks hidden below. But don’t let the calmness fool you–Lake Erie is one of the most treacherous of all the Great Lakes with an average depth of 55 feet and a max of 210 feet combined with a nasty undertow that has pulled many swimmers offshore and has swallowed numerous ships en route to interior ports. One man from Oklahoma died during the race and was found floating at the surface, rendering CPR useless. He was pulled out by the US Coast Guard who did their best to resuscitate him. (I didn’t find out about this until after I got home since I was already waiting for one of my athletes to exit the water).

Because of the location at Edgewater Beach, I was able to see each of my athletes finish the swim and locate them on the bike and run course. This was a challenging race with one of the hardest swims I’ve ever seen combined with hills on the bike and run. Athletes who competed in this event are tough, just like the city of Cleveland.

Cleveland is the kind of town that gets up when it’s knocked down, and this event is part of the revitalization of this rust-belt city.  I hope that all of the athletes enjoyed Nationals, despite its challenges and tragedy, and will come back to visit the city to appreciate its museums, especially the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame, the restaurants, the West Side Market, Playhouse Square, and much more. If you are an athlete visiting the city of Cleveland, bring your gear! Cleveland has hundreds of miles of trails and roads through the Cleveland Metroparks and along the Towpath for the Ohio and Erie Canal. I’m happy that USAT chose Cleveland to host Nationals, and I’m proud to be born and raised in this great city.

Congratulations to my athletes for competing in a tough race with the best in the nation!

IMG_8613

Basic Triathlon Terms

When I first started the sport of triathlon, I had little knowledge of triathlon terminology. I asked what some of these terms meant if I didn’t know, or I requested an explanation in conversation. Below is a list of basic triathlon lingo and definitions. There are many more, so if you have a favorite, please leave a comment below.

T1: The transition between the swim and the bike. Transition is where all of your gear is stored during the race; you will have a designated spot, or you’ll find a spot. Rack your bike by the saddle or handlebars and place your gear at the front tire. You have about 12 inches of space in width off of your tire.

T2: The transition between the bike and the run.

Pro: A professional athlete

Age Grouper: Amateur athlete–most athletes fall in this category.

Athena: Division for women 165 lbs. or more. These athletes can still be age groupers if they choose.

Clydesdale: Division for men 200 lbs. or more. These athletes can also be age groupers.

Aero: Riding with your arms on the aero bars. It makes your body smaller and more aerodynamic so you can ride faster.

Clipless Pedals: Triangular clip on the bottom of a road shoe. If you are attached to the bike by the pedals, you can push and pull through each pedal stroke, making you a more efficient cyclist than simply riding on platform pedals (flat pedals that come with most bikes).

Road shoes: Usually have a triangular clip on the bottom of the shoe and have more support for long rides. Adding special inserts are a good idea to keep your arch from collapsing, causing toe numbness and/or lower back pain.

Triathlon Shoes: Similar to road shoes, but there is a loop on the back of the shoe for flying mounts. These shoes are more breathable, but may be less comfortable for really long rides.

Hybrid Bike: heavy and multipurpose bike for the road or trails. Some new triathletes will have this bike. Great for commuting.

TT Bike: The geometry is a bit different from the road bike, with a steeper seat tube angle that forces the rider over the handlebars for a more aero position. Great for fast and flat courses or spring or Olympic triathlons. Shifting is in aero, but brakes are on the hoods.

Triathlon Bike: A road bike with aero bars that came with the bike. More comfortable than a TT bike. Shifting and brakes are on the hood with a ram horn handlebar setup.

Road Bike: Similar to the triathlon bike, but no aero bars (can be added later if you get a different fit for the bike). Has a ram horn handlebar, shifting and brakes are on the hoods.

Cockpit: The whole front area of the bike where all of your stuff is located.

Bento: Bag for food and fuel (original word is from Japanese and refers to a packed meal).

Saddle: The bike seat. There are TT saddles and road saddles. Find one that is right for you. If you go numb, get a new saddle.

Bar ends: Caps for the end of your handlebars. If you don’t have these, officials won’t let you race.

Draft Legal: Refers to cycling close to other cyclists to save energy, especially when windy. If a race is draft legal, you can draft off of other cyclists. Most triathlons are not draft legal, so you need to leave three bike lengths in between you and the next cyclist. If you enter this zone, you have 15 seconds to pass or you may receive a time penalty from the officials.

Drafting: Drafting is legal in swimming. You can draft off the hip of a slightly faster swimmer or at their feet and swim in the bubbles coming off of their feet. You may swim any stroke in a triathlon, so be careful if the swimmer you are drafting off of starts doing breaststroke! You might just get kicked in the chest or lose your goggles.

Sighting: Bringing your eyes to the surface to look for buoys on the swim course.

Kayak: Lifeguards in kayaks. If you run into trouble, swim over to a kayak or signal for one, rest and/or get assistance. You cannot make forward progress with a kayak or paddle board, but you are allowed to rest.

Duathlon: A race where you run, bike, run.

Aquabike: A race where you swim and bike, and then you’re finished! No running. These races are great for athletes who can’t run, are injured, etc.

Aquathon: A race where you swim and run.

Tri Kit: A one or two-piece suit to wear for all three sports.

Wetsuit: Worn over the tri kit if the water is cold. Wetsuit legal is below 78 degrees F for age groupers and below 68 degrees F for pros.

If you have anything else you would like to add to the list, comment below!

Philly Women’s Triathlon

The Philadelphia Women’s Triathlon with Delmo Sports had a 400 meter swim in Kelly Pool, a nine mile ride, and a 5K run through Fairmount Park. I couldn’t have asked for a better day: low humidity and a beautiful setting.

The pool swim began with two swimmers side by side and sent off five seconds apart, which made it more like a free for all open water swim, but in a pool. I noticed a few swimmers bottlenecking at the turns, which meant that flip turns were out, and some swimmers thought they could swim faster and went in an earlier heat, but slowed down after 50 meters.

After observing the first heat, it was time for my heat. I knew I couldn’t do flip turns under the lane lines with all of those swimmers in the way, and I planned to pass people who were slower. That’s just what I did. I kept pace with a woman I was talking to before the race, and we flew by the slower swimmers ahead of us; at one point I passed in between two swimmers, and she passed on the far left. Boom!  When I could, I drafted right at her feet because she was a tiny bit faster than I am. When I got out of the pool, I ran the longer than usual distance to my bike in transition.

My T1 was quick, and I was off on the downhill of the bike course in no time. MLK Drive still had potholes, and I’m getting used to aero on my new bike, so I stayed upright the whole time. I passed a bunch of cyclists, and only three people passed me. I felt strong on the bike, despite my high heart rate, enjoyed the scenery, and then rode up the big hill to transition after the short nine mile ride.

T2 took even less time than T1. Soon after I started, a new triathlete caught up to me and asked if she could run with me for a bit. Her goal was to not walk at all during the 5K, and she wasn’t sure if she could keep up with my pace. I thought she could maintain the pace I was running, and she stayed with me throughout the whole 5K. We ran by Shofuso House, sculptures in the garden, and a beautiful fountain before making our way back to the finish, talking throughout the run. She kept saying she wasn’t a good runner, but I reminded her that she was indeed running and running well for her first triathlon.

About a half mile from the finish, I told her that we need to pick up the pace and take bigger strides. Being six feet tall, she had no problem with that. I took faster little steps to match her big stride, and we finished strong. Best of all, she didn’t walk for the entire 5K and met her goal.

Could I have run faster? Maybe. But that’s not what this sport is about. Congratulations, Anastasia! I hope you’re celebrating with friends and family tonight! Maybe I’ll see you next year at the Philly Women’s Triathlon! I plan to race again, especially for that medal the size of a small plate! Congratulations to the athletes who train with me at the Y and raced today! You know who you are and you all ROCK!

Firecracker Kids’ Triathlon

This little gymnast did her second triathlon over the Independence Day holiday in Cambridge, MD, where Ironman Maryland is held, with her BFF from Norfolk, VA. She’s done more than her fair share of 5Ks, and even though triathlon is not her main sport, she can still hold her own in a race with swift kicking on the swim, an easy transition to the bike, and then nailing the run. She’s strong and determined to succeed.

The kid already has her eye on my road bike with the aero bars to replace her current hybrid so she can ride faster. Maybe when I upgrade my roadie, she’ll get my old one? She already hops on it while it’s on the trainer even though her feet barely reach the pedals with the road shoes attached. Her eyes are aglow when gazing at my time trial bike that she refers to as my “Ferrari”. She can’t have that one though.

She’ll have to wait on a new bike until she outgrows her old one. In the mean time, she’s still fast on her hybrid and is learning about the support from other athletes on the course, especially from her BFF.  In one of the photos, her friend took off her shoes since she finished earlier, but she wanted to run her friend in, which is exactly what she did–barefoot.

Triathlon is always more fun with friends who are willing to go on this crazy journey with you. I hope that these two will do many more races together and have a sport they can grow into.

Philadelphia Escape Triathlon

It took me awhile to get to this post because even though I was looking forward to my first triathlon of the season, I felt broken going into race day, mentally and physically. I was fighting chronic fatigue: getting sick once a month, too high of heart rates in training, and all of my muscles seemed to revolt and refuse to move. I knew I was overtrained, but didn’t comment on any of my workouts in Training Peaks for my coach to assess since I am so focused on Ironman Chattanooga, not wanting to miss a single workout.

This is also the time in the training cycle when things get tough–long, lonely rides and runs, early morning swims, not keeping up with the Meet Up group I started–all of that shook my confidence.

I raced anyway. The swim went well. The water temperature was 74 degrees, and even though everyone and their grandma had on wetsuits, I left mine on the shore with gear check: I knew I would get too hot. The cold water only felt cold for the first 100 meters–I flew by the buoys marking every 100 meters, fought the swirling current at times and made it to the swim finish in a respectable time. But, my nagging headache from the day before was still there, I had menstrual cramps, so I drank a bottle of Tailwind in T1 to keep dehydration away because today was going to be HOT and humid as the day went on.

I set off on my bike and almost crashed within the first ten minutes while messing around with my bike bento. I’m glad no one was around me at the time. I climbed the first hill of the ride, which made me want to quit. My legs burned so much that I wasn’t sure if I could possibly do another hill let alone eight total on the course followed by a run. No matter how my legs felt, I pushed through the bike, rode by athletes walking their bikes uphill, and clung desperately to my brakes on steep downhills that totally scared the crap out of me on my new bike. I am not used to going that fast since my road bike is much heavier.

As soon as I racked my bike, I set out on the run. The course was shaded for the first quarter mile, but then it was in full sun. My cramping returned, and my headache worsened. I thought I was going to pass out more than once. I walked a bit to prevent going to medical and finished the run and the race.

But, I was pissed off. I trained hard, too hard, and I paid for it. I don’t even want to discuss my finish time or place because it just plain sucked. I could have done better. I know I could do better.

I talked to my coach and ran with her while she was passing through Philadelphia. I cried on that short run because I felt like such a failure. She understood.

So, I’m taking about two weeks to recover. The workouts are less demanding, I have more time to think, read, write, paint, garden, and do all the things I usually don’t have time for in the middle of triathlon training, especially during Ironman training. I saw my friends over Independence Day and made plans to meet for some of those long and lonely five to six hour rides rides to make them a bit less lonely and a little more fun. I also went to a sports massage therapist to help with my sloping shoulders–I plan to go back once or twice more before the Ironman. In other words, I plan to use these two weeks to remind myself why I do this and why I should take care of myself first.

This race will be a reminder of what I am capable of because it was one of the hardest races I’ve done. I am looking forward to the Philly Womens’ Triathlon this weekend, rested and ready. And as for Ironman Chattanooga, I’m coming for you.

Triathlon on the Cheap

 

I kind of see the sport of triathlon as mid-life crisis sport because it’s so freaking expensive. TT bikes, aero helmets, designer tri kits, fancy bike shoes–all of that costs lots of money brand spankin’ new. And it’s nothing short of intimidating to see athletes donned in full tri gear when you have a hybrid bike and a regular swim suit. So, how can you get into this sport if it’s so expensive? It’s possible with a little bit of cash saved up and some patience. In fact, lots of triathletes didn’t buy all of their gear new before they even did a triathlon, so why should you?

Your biggest expenses will be a bike and a gym membership with a pool. Many road bikes can be purchased used for around $500, and gym memberships vary. Oftentimes, if you teach at least one class at your local gym, you can get a discounted membership, so look into that. I pay $120 a month for a family membership to the local Y, but since I work there, it’s a lot less now. For the record, my road bike cost $500. However, a word of caution if you’re like me: your bike(s) will be a hole that you throw money at all the time on maintenance and gear. The thing to remember is that the cheapest way to buy speed without upgrading your bike, helmet, jersey, tri kit or whatever is to become a better cyclist. Anyway…

You’ll need some bike tools, spare tubes, and a helmet. But other than that, here’s what you really need:

  1. A swimsuit–buy on sale on Swim Outlet or your local shop. I got a Speedo Endurance swimsuit for $50 at Toad Hollow in Paoli, and it will last me for a few years. Yes, a Speedo Endurance suit will last for a very long time, so buy one you like! And, it’s cheaper than spending $20 on a suit that will only last a month (I did that and won’t do it again).
  2. Cap and goggles–$15 for both. Make sure the goggles fit your eye sockets without the strap before you buy. The most expensive pair may not be the best pair.
  3. Running shoes–look for sales! I got a new pair of Brooks Adrenaline for $80 instead of $120 at my local store. Replace them every 300-500 miles.
  4. Cheap running shorts or cycling shorts.
  5. A used road bike $500-$800.
  6. Helmet, spare tubes, saddle bag with tools, CO2 cartridges. $20-$60 for a helmet and $40 for everything else. Bonus if you buy cycling glasses to protect your eyes from rocks and whatnot. Tifosi is a less expensive option compared to Oakleys. $70 vs. $120.
  7. Beach towel–for your transition mat (find one at home).
  8. A bag to put it all in–check thrift stores, use a canvas grocery bag, anything works.
  9. Water bottles–free at many races or pick up two for $10 each or less.

I guarantee that you will not be the only one at a triathlon to swim in a regular swimsuit and throw on a pair of running shorts for the bike with your running shoes, especially for a local sprint tri. That’s another thing: do local sprint races that are way cheaper than branded races.

It took me a few years to get a tri kit, clip in shoes for my bike with the new pedals, an aero helmet, Roka goggles, a TT bike (I bought mine used for $1800 on Ebay), and all of the other stuff that goes with the sport. Heck, I’m still saving up for gear like new racing wheels for my awesome TT bike because my bike and gear is how I like to spend my money besides family trips. So what are you waiting for? Borrow a bike, get a used one, and sign up for one of your local triathlons!

French Creek Racing Swim Series

It’s hard to believe with the Philadelphia Escape Triathlon coming up on June 24 that this was my first open water swim of the season. Weather rolled in and scheduling changes prevented me from taking the plunge in May and earlier this week, but I’m fortunate to live in an area that offers all kinds of open water swimming opportunities. This is the first year that I’ve tried one of French Creek Racing’s open water swim races: 800 meters in the Schuylkill River north of Philadelphia. I signed up for the whole swim series and plan to go to most of them along with a few at Marsh Creek Lake with Mid Atlantic Multisport. French Creek Racing has some awesome swag though, and after the swim is a BBQ, which I highly recommend.

The water temp was around 70 degrees Fahrenheit, the river cast for pollution was green due to a lack of rainfall and runoff, and the current was moving at over 3000 cubic feet per second (cfs). I have a sense of what that means for swimming since I’ve been in the ocean currents before and a few lakes with a current, but I didn’t fully appreciate the power of the Schuylkill that creates world class Olympic rowers from the famed Boathouse Row.

I have a better idea of what 3000 cfs feels like now.

The swim started from a small dock with the course running clockwise around the buoys. Swimmers were told to keep the buoys on the right and to swim on the far left in order to stay out of the strongest part of the current, except for the end when we all had to swim between two buoys before slapping the timing board. Kayakers and lifeguards were out and had to keep paddling to remain in one place. I got worried when I noticed that.

I started my swim with the current for 25 meters and rounded the first two buoys, breaking out ahead of all of the swimmers in my heat except for two men who kept up with me the whole time. As soon as I rounded the second buoy, it was into the current for all three of us. The water was frigid and numbed my hands and feet. I tried to sight the two buoys in front of the 422 bridge, but I couldn’t see them with the setting sun. I looked towards the shore where we started to get some sort of visual and then took about ten to fifteen strokes before glancing to the shore again, but I was in the same spot in the water. What is this? A water treadmill? Am I swimming uphill? I took another fifteen strokes and had the same view on my right. Another fifteen strokes reinforced the fact that I was going nowhere fast–literally. I headed for the opposite shore even farther left and finally hit some warm water, which meant it wasn’t moving as quickly. Then, and only then, did I start making progress after five to eight minutes of swimming in place.

The kayaker and buoy up ahead started to appear closer as I drafted off the feet of the guy in front of me to save some energy. When I rounded the third and fourth buoy, the current helped carry me to the finish.

Wetsuit or not, the power of the Schuylkill is no joke. I plan to swim here again and swim smarter, and I’m relieved that the Philly Escape Triathlon is a point to point swim with the river’s current.

To sign up for any of the French Creek Racing Open Water Swims, click on this link:

Open Water Swim Series

Open Water Swimming Tips

With the Philly Escape Triathlon coming up on June 24, it’s time to get back into the open water for some practice swims. If open water swimming is something new to you, or if you panic at the beginning of each triathlon season in open water, here are some useful tips:

  1. Practice in your wetsuit. Many early triathlons are wetsuit legal, so get used to swimming in it. If it feels like it’s choking you, you can trim your wetsuit, but be careful not to cut any seams.
  2. Go for an open water swim practice. French Creek Racing has practices and races that you can participate in and so does Mid Atlantic Multisport.
  3. Know the swim course and how many times you need to swim around buoys, what direction you’ll be swimming in, and how the swim will start–is it a run in beach entry? Walk in wade, and wait? Tread water and wait for a mass start? Jump or slide off of a dock? Or will you jump off the back of a ferry and swim to shore?
  4. If you can’t practice in open water before your first race, do your best to get into the water for a practice session prior to the event, if allowed. Some races do not have warm up sessions in the water before the race start. For a practice swim, hop in, totally submerge your face, blow some bubbles, and take a few strokes out and back. That is usually enough to settle your nerves; there’s no need to swim a 1600 or anything as a warm up.
  5. If there is no open water practice before an event, when you enter the water for your start, take your time, get your head wet, fix your cap and goggles, stay away from the other swimmers, and start off slowly, gradually building your speed.
  6. When problems occur like goggles filling with water, your cap slides, a cramp strikes, another swimmer swims over you, kicks you, punches you, or pulls you by the ankles, know that you can turn over on your back to fix many of these issues. Except for jerks in the water who try to pull you by the ankles, you can’t fix assholery, but you can kick really hard.  Do breaststroke for sighting when fatigue sets in. If you don’t know how to do breaststroke kick, do a dolphin kick or flutter kick instead, it still works!  And, if you really need it, you are allowed to hold on to the lifeguard’s kayak, paddle board, or rescue tube while you rest, as long as you are not moving forward. You can also swim any stroke in a triathlon, even side stroke.
  7. Practice open water skills in the pool. A few skills I practice with my athletes during our Saturday “group workout” of 600 yards include drafting off of another swimmer’s feet (this works if they are similar in speed to you, but just a bit faster), dock entry off the starting blocks (I teach a stride jump to prevent athletes from going too far under), corkscrew for rounding buoys, sighting 3-6 times per 25 yards, dolphin dives for beach entry, head up freestyle for sighting in high waves, and bilateral breathing to swim straighter and more balanced.
  8. Know what to do if you get a panic attack in the water. In a panic attack, your heart will race, and you’ll have difficulty breathing. Have a plan. I’ve had panic attacks in open water away from the guards and shore. I turn over on my back, focus on breathing in for three and out for three while kicking lightly and sculling with my arms so that I’m still moving. I tell myself that I am a strong swimmer, and that I can do this. After about 30 seconds or more that seems like an eternity, I turn back over and continue swimming freestyle. If you are close to a guard, ask them for help, hold on to the kayak or rescue tube until you can calm down. Whatever you do, do not try to grab onto a guide buoy because there is no way you can hold onto that, and you’ll only wear yourself out trying.

Here’s a fun 600 yard set you can do to practice some of these triathlon specific drills mentioned above:

8x75s (600 yards) as

Odds = 25: dolphin dive to the deep end / head up freestyle / 25: get out in the deep end and jump off the starting blocks with a stride jump / sight 3x as you swim to the shallow end with alligator eyes (no need to pick up your whole head) / 25: run to the deep end, dolphin dive 1x / swim breaststroke to the wall. REST. That’s one 75!

Evens=  25: Underwater flutter kick until you pop up / bilateral breathing every 3 strokes / wall kick for 10s / 25: corkscrew 3x in one length / pull up or gutter press or vertical kick in the deep end / 25: fast as possible freestyle. REST. That’s two! 6 more to go just like that!

If you have a friend, practice drafting off of each other for one of the lengths. You can draft off of the feet by swimming in the bubbles, just out of reach of the other swimmer’s feet, or you can swim off the hip of another swimmer.

That’s it! Enjoy the triathlon season already under way!