Triathlon race day tips for swimming success

Tri swim tips for your race

I think it’s fair to say that of the three triathlon disciplines it’s the swim that most people will struggle with. We’ve all ran and cycled as kids in at least some capacity so those probably come naturally to almost all of us, but swimming is the one that’s most alien as it’s so technique based and it’s not something that we’re able to practice every day. Luckily though it’s the shortest discipline in distance and I’d hope in time as well!

Written by Will Clarke

Will is a British triathlete. He's a former U23 World and European Champion, competed at Beijing 2008 and has twice been British national champion.  He now competes on the World Ironman 70:3 circuit.

Personally I find the swim the most beautiful part of the sport; try watching Ironman Hawaii without your heart pumping. Walking down to the start you’re super super nervous and apprehensive, the sun’s rising and all that lies ahead of you is a calm lake ready for hundreds of mad athletes to charge on in and chase their dreams. It’s something quite special in our sport.

Warm up

My first advice is to make sure that you take a good warm up. Put on your wetsuit carefully and go for a swim so you’re getting some water moving around the suit loosening it off around your muscles. It’s better that you don’t have the shock from cold water right at the start plus after a five minute swim and some sprints you’ll be much more prepared for the start.  

Select your start point

Then carefully select where you stand on the start line. If you’re a strong swimmer and you want to compete for the top placings then you should start at the front and in the mix with the best swimmers. Remember if you’re fighting then it means you’re up there! Try to pick the shortest line to the first turn. If you’re not so confident and you don’t like being surrounded by others then start towards the back or off to the side and this way you’ll get clear water and can race your own race at your own pace without fighting for others.

Triathlon race day tips for swimming success

The first turn

The distance to the first turn is usually quite short, often can only be 200-300m away and when you have a field of several hundred athletes it’s likely that a lot of you will reach that point at the same time and you’ll all want to get round that turn and out the other side relatively quickly. It can get rough but first thing to remember is keep swimming, keep moving your arms and your legs and if anything pick up your stroke rate because then it makes it harder for people to grab you and if anything they may give your wild arms and legs some room. If you find yourself too close to someone’s feet then use one arm to protect your face and the other arm to swim around the buoy. You might feel tired as you fight to get round the first buoy but don’t panic, you’ll be out the washing machine before you know it! Again, least confident swimmers, give the buoy a wide berth if you want to avoid a scrap!

Keep a straight line

It’s amazing how many athletes can’t swim in a straight line! It is a race, you don’t want to have to swim longer then you have to so always look where you’re swimming and trust nobody to guide you around the course because often they’ll be just as lost as you are! Normally the turns buoys are bright colours and are large enough to see from far away however often with these early starts the sun is right in your face making it hard to see anything. In this case pick a landmark on dry land to head towards. Maybe a lighthouse or headland. Worst case scenario just follow the wash of other athletes and you’ll generally be going in the right direction!

Most of all relax and enjoy it. You hopefully did all the preparation and the nerves will all disappear once the gun goes off!

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