The number one reason I hear not to commit to a triathlon is concern for the swim. I’m fortunate enough to have grown up with a lifeguard as a mom and weekend outings to Caddo Lake, which makes me the most confident on the swim than any other leg. For those who have a different story, all you need is to jump in (pardon the pun) and start training to get comfortable in the water.
Start in the pool and practice your freestyle stroke. Remember that a typical Sprint-distance tri only consists of a 600 - 800 meter swim, depending on the race, which lasts about 20 minutes. That’s not long at all. If you get tired as you’re swimming along, you can always roll over on your back and catch your breath, as long as you keep moving forward.
You’ll want to practice a few swims in open water so you get the hang of swimming without a lined lane to follow and a wall to kick off of. For Austinites, Barton Springs is a chilly, but excellent choice. Ian and I figured out that if you go from the ladder near the dam area to the steps just before the diving board area, it’s about 80 meters. Do 10 lengths and you have your half-mile. Open water is an excellent time to start sighting, aka, looking up every third or fourth stroke to make sure you aren’t going to run into anyone. Having other swimmers around is uncomfortable at first, but you get used to it and will find that (at least on race day) people who bump into you are courteous and will move out of the way. After all, they want their own swimming space as much as you do.
I covered gear a little bit in the Attire post, so you should have a basic sport swimming suit. Most races issue swim caps to identify who is in which starting group (wave), so you won’t have to worry about buying one. Amusingly, I have four hot pink caps because they always give that color to the youngest female group. Since I should age out of the babies group this year, I’m hoping to diversify my swim cap colors! Anyway, some people will have big open-water swim goggles, but normal pool goggles have worked fine for me. In fact, a vendor at this year’s Trek Women Tri expo told me that tri gear manufacturers are getting away from the larger, clunkier goggles in favor of more sleek versions. Just find something that fits your face and practice with them.
On race day, the swim will be first (in 99 percent of cases). That’s a good thing for those who want to get it over with. It can be a bad thing since you’ll have overall-race anxiety on top of the swim anxiety. The best way to calm your nerves is to pick a location in your starting wave that works for you. I tend to choose a spot on the edge near the back because like to pace myself; I’m not racing anyone. Many of the swimmers who start off sprinting get worn out in the middle anyway, then I pass them. :)