So you have signed up for the Virgin Active London Triathlon then the realisation hits you that you have to swim 1500m in the River Thames. Which let’s face it is a pretty grim prospect. The swim seems to hold the biggest fear factor for those taking part in a triathlon, but as with everything training is key. The more you practice the less fearful it becomes.
Sean Kelly, who was part of Team GB as a swimming coach during the 2009 Beijing Olympics told the Guardian "The key challenges in open water are swimming in a straight line, being able to navigate your course and swimming with an economical, efficient stroke."
Below are some key areas to work on:
As with everything training is key. The more you practice the less fearful it becomes.
Sighting is when you lift your head out of the water to enable you to navigate the course. This sounds like a relatively simple thing to do, but don’t be fooled there is an art to this.
TIP: Try swimming lengths with your head out of the water; this helps to give you the strength you need to lift your head out of the water whist maintaining your swimming rhythm.
Drafting is when you swim close to another swimmer, usually either behind or to the side of them. Drafting effectively will mean you will conserve some much-needed energy for the bike ride and run that you face ahead. By swimming close to a person swimming at a similar speed to you means that you will feel the effects of the pull in their slipstream.
TIP: Swim directly behind someone. Close enough that you're almost touching their toes but not so close that you keep catching them as you swim. Admittedly this is a bit sneaky but it works.
Getting the rhythm of your stroke right is important when swimming outdoors. The rhythm and glide of your stroke is what propels you in the water. You find yourself a rhythm you are comfortable with, fast will not necessarily make you fast, a slower steady rhythm is best. Also make sure you stretch those arms out fully. Master these and you'll find yourself propelling through the water like a rocket.
Tip: Swim a length with your eyes closed, when you stop check whether you have swam in a straight line. Have you swum straight or have you veered toward the left or right? Repeat the process and see if there is a pattern, if you find there is you will need to adjust your stroke accordingly.
Master bi-lateral breathing (breathing every 3rd stroke) alternating left to right and exhale slowly and fully. Not exhaling fully is one of the most common reasons for running out of oxygen.
TIP: Practice most definitely makes perfect so dedicate some training time to the pool. Don’t think you need to constantly be training outdoors and in open water, even the professionals do most of their training in the pool.
Ahead of the big day
Before the event is due to take place you should most definitely practice swimming in your wetsuit. Might sound silly but a wetsuit can affect how you swim and you may need to adjust some of your techniques.
It is also advisable to take part in an open water swimming session so you have had some experience in swimming in open water. Virgin Active have an open water swim training session coming up that would help you tick this off of your training list. You can find additional open water swimming tips on the Virgin Active London Triathlon website.
Just remember, you've put the training in so relax and enjoy it. It will be worth all the training once you cross the finish line. Good Luck!