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home » training for swim starts

For triathletes who don't have a swim background the swim start can be scary indeed. Dark water with zero visibility; no lane line to follow; waves that make breathing and sighting tough, and swimmer traffic with the possibility of contact all are factors to contend with.

My first and perhaps most predictable recommendation is to do open water swims! Not every athlete has the opportunity to do these in a lake or ocean, but they're invaluable, reducing swim start stress on race days. Taking it a step further, swimming with others in close proximity simulates race day even more effectively than solo swims.

Make open water swims as realistic as possible by running in and going right into race pace. Find objects in the water or on the land to use as sighting references. Go fast for at least part of every open water swim, don't just tour!

If you don't have open water swim access you can still do some helpful work in the pool. For those that usually swim solo, to jump in with a masters group helps you get used to having others around. Practice sighting once a length for part of your swim. Sight as arm enters out front, not as you breathe. Keep head as low as possible.

Almost everyone who's serious about being competitive on race day sprints out at the start for good position. The exception are those with swim background who really can sprint; no need to worry about them!

During race season I recommend a swim set of 15x 100 where you intentionally sprint the first rep, then go slightly slower for second rep, then slow to normal pace that you can hold for the rest of the reps. My first 100 could be 5 seconds faster than the third.

If being close to other swimmers puts you into a panic, line up on the side and move in as the group spreads out. You will swim extra distance, but that's the compromise for safety.

So often athletes tell me post race about how they were kicked and such. The fact is that when you make contact with another swimmer it's usually your fault. During swim starts I'm often slowing down, speeding up, or moving to the side to avoid others. If you just put your head down and never look forward or to the side you assume the risk of making contact.

It's not always possible, but warming up for the swim start is crucial. In fact if you haven't got time to do any other warm up before the start, choose a swim warm up. Warming up at the race venue helps you relax and get used to the conditions. At races in cold water a warm up helps reduce the shock factor.

Most of the fatalities at triathlon events have happen during the swim. Prepare as thoroughly as possible and take whatever precautions you need to make race day safe.

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