The Swim in Triathlon
When starting out as a triathlete I wouldn’t say I was particularly skilled in any discipline. Yes, I’d consider myself a good runner, but definitely lacking a lot of fitness and technique after all these years. My cycling was very limited in that I’d been riding a mountain bike for a couple of years but that was it. My swimming was definitely my weakest link, like most I’d learnt to swim when I was young and was perfectly capable, but my time was mostly spent paddling around on holidays and never in any sort of competitive environment.
As any triathlete will know the importance of the swim discipline varies greatly depending on the race distance. Arguably it is at its most significant in the Olympic distance (1500m swim, 40k bike, 10k run) as it becomes more of an endurance element. Technically as the distances are exactly half in the Sprint distance it should carry equal weighting but I don’t see it as so as 750m swimming is more of a well, sprint. In the ‘Ironman’ distances the swim is even more skewed, at Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire next year I have to swim 1900m, bike 90k and run 21k so as you can see most disciplines are double again over an Olympic apart from the swim which is ‘just’ another 400m.
A little over 12 months ago having just being diagnosed with a hernia, I rocked up at ‘The Pingles’ to meet many new friends at Nuneaton Triathlon Club. The lovely Vanessa took me, like so many before me, under her wing and guided me coughing and spluttering to the other end of the pool. Over the coming weeks I persevered and over time was able to string a few lengths together without stopping for a break, it even at times loosely resembled front crawl!! I starting watching various pro events on TV and as I always do was intrigued to see the speed/times they were swimming. Even now the 1:10 per 100m that the pros do in ITU events seems way out of my abilities and to be fair the fact that in Ironman races they’re doing under 1:30 per 100m for the 3800m is probably also beyond my capabilities 😀.
I didn’t spend much time in open water over the summer but went at least once a week. My biggest issue there is a psychological one, I need to get over my initial fear with the water as it often affected my breathing. Thankfully things were improving as the season ended so fingers crossed we start from where we left off next year!
I now feel like I can swim though… In my first race I swam 9:04 for the 400m pool swim, which is the sort of pace I now do as a warm up at a club session over the same distance or longer. I am now part of the BRAT Club and have a coached session on a Monday evening and through numerous drills, that hurt a lot at the time, I’m really starting to see improvements. As with most things, technique is key and understanding how all of the elements link together has been key. From the angle of arm entry, to the ‘catch’, the position of your ams as they pull through the water, the head position, the roll of the hips, the angle of the leg kick… it’s a lot tot take in when each stroke is over in about 5 seconds! As well as the coached sessions I spend a lot of time doing my own sessions from Sara McLarty’s excellent blog and also watching a lot of videos, particularly the Speedo ones:
At the moment my weakest link is definitely my kick, I’m persevering with the drills using fins, but my word do they hurt! I may be unique in that I am far slower when using fins – I can happily lead the lane doing everything else but drop to the back when we put the fins on – maybe having Size 11 feet and thus huge fins isn’t ideal!?
It’s clearly all working though as on Monday I was overjoyed to set ‘a new PB’ for 100m of 1:37… And that was near the end of a 2k set with lots of leg kicking drills! It may be the shortest discipline of the event and theoretically the least significant for me, but i’m enjoying seeing the improvements.