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Transition…Part 4…T2

As I mentioned in the last post, anything that you can do while you’re on the move should be done. This is why preparing for T2 should start about 100 yards or more before hitting the dismount line by getting your feet out of your shoes and riding the remaining short distance into T2 with your feet on top of your shoes. Triathlon shoes are designed so that when you undo the Velcro strap that it will be away from the chain and cranks as to avoid getting tangled up

As you start to approach transition (and if you’ve practiced it) kick one of your legs over your saddle so that you ride in ready to hit the ground running and don’t have to stop. The picture below is a great picture of a friend and I getting ready to do a flying dismount into T2. This i definitely something that needs to be practiced before race day since this really throws you off balance and you can easily lay yourself down on the concrete pretty quickly by tripping over your feet or or bike.


(Click to enlarge)

Dismount before the dismount line to avoid the wrath of the volunteer and remember the land mark that you found before you left transition so that you can get to your area as fast as you can. When you reach your transition area rack your bike by the handle bars since spinning your bike around and racking it by the seat is just going to cost you seconds. This is a legal rack according to USAT rules so don’t worry about getting DQ’ed or penalized for it.

As far as your shoe set up goes there are a few tricks to getting them on and getting out. If you know that your shoes are going to give you blisters then you have no choice other than to put socks on. Socks are difficult to put on with wet feet so if you can avoid it then do so but if you know that your shoes are going to give you blisters than you really have no choice. The quickest way to get your socks on fast is to put them on as part of your pre-race transition set up and roll them down over your ankle and heel so that only about 1″ of the toe box is left and then put them toe down in your shoes so that you know exactly where they are. An extra bonus tip is to make sure that you set the socks in your shoes so that heel is facing towards the back of your shoe so that you don’t inadvertently put your socks on and end up with the heel on the top of your feet. This would most definitely make either your transition longer or make for a very uncomfortable run.

IMG_0618 IMG_0620

To get your shoes on quickly make sure that you’re not still using shoelaces and have switched them out for elastic laces. I’ve been using Yankz for the last few years and love them. I set how tight they are the first time that I put them on and then never mess with them again until they need to be replaced or I get new shoes.

One final tip for getting your shoes on quickly is to either apply body glide or baby powder on the inside so that they slide and easily with damp and clammy feet.

The final step to getting out of transition quickly brings us full circle back to the initial topic of this post being that if there’s something that you can do on the run then do it. The only items that you need to put on in T2 are your shoes everything else can be taken care of on your way out to the run course.

So to put a bow on this whole series, if you’re still thinking of transition as just a way to get from the swim to your bike or from your bike off on the run the stop. Transition is an integral part of the race that could put you on the podium or keep you from it.


Posted in Transition

Transition…Part 3…T1

As noted in the previous post, before heading down to the water be sure to practice running from the swim entrance, to your transition area and then off to the bike exit. Make note of landmarks that will help guide you along the way. With those landmarks be sure to select something that’s not going to go away. That big bright balloon that’s there before you leave transition might pop, float away or be taken down by the officials. Instead notice something more permanent like a light post or trash can.

Transition 4

Try and keep your transition set up as simple as possible. This picture above is the perfect example of how not to do it. It might look straight and organized but after a couple of racers come through this place is going to be a mess. Can you imagine running up to this transition and trying to find your race number or nutrition? You might as well try to dig for an ice cube in the Sahara.

This picture below is my standard transition set up. Simple. Uncluttered. Cycling shoes are already in the clips (more on that later), helmet is on the handle bars so that I don’t have to kneel or stoop down. If your helmet can’t fit on the handle bars like this then hanging it on your handle bars by the chin strap is also perfectly acceptable. Be sure to also have the chin straps folded to the outside so that they don’t get in the way while you’re speeding through transition.

Transition 1 (478x640)

Sunglasses are always the hardest thing for me to figure out what to do with. If you put them in your helmet then there’s always a chance that they’re going to get smudged and if you’re OCD like me then that smudge will drive you crazy for the entire ride. What I’ve found to work the best is to put them on your aerobars like I show below. But don’t put them on in transition but wait until you’re on the bike and have your feet in your shoes.

Transition 3 (640x478)

A good rule of thumb is anything that you can do on the move , do it. If you’re in transition putting on your shoes, helmet and sunglasses then that’s time not spent making progress on the course.

Which brings us to your shoes.

Trying to run out of transition with cycling shoes is slow and dangerous, especially if you’re on wet cement. It’s by far fastest if you’re able to put your shoes on while they’re clipped into the pedals already. If you’ve never tried this before then try it on a trainer first before trying it on the road or in a race. I learned this lesson the hard way. I tried this for the first time at a race and ended up dropping one of my shoes and having to run back with one shoe on to grab it and in doing so nearly fell over my bike. This isn’t a lesson that you need to learn for yourself. After you get finish with a trainer ride take some time to practice getting in and out of your shoes.

Keeping your shoes level while running out of transition so that you don’t have to fish for them is an important part of this. Rubber bands are a popular tool for this but since my wife is an environmental scientist, she’s not so keen on littering on the course so instead I use Tri Clips to keep my shoes in place.

Transition 2 (640x478)

Before you leave transition put Body Glide in the heel of my shoes to help get my foot in easier Baby powder also works great.

After you mount your bike get your feet on the top of your shoes and get some momentum behind you before trying to get your feet into your shoes. After you’re moving at a good speed is the time to reach down and slip your feet in and fasten your shoes.




(photos from Triathlon Notes)

Now you’re off. Next week we’ll talk about how to swiftly get off onto the run.


Coach Patrick
USAT Level 1

USAT Coachtp-certified-coach-150

Posted in Transition

Transition…Part 2… Before Race Day & Race Morning

Being prepared for transition begins well before the gun goes off for your swim wave to start or before you jump into the pool on race morning. If your routine on race morning is “I think I’ll put this here and this over here” then it’s time to take a step back and look at things logically. Transition all comes down to being neat and knowing exactly where everything that you need is at. The big mistake that most beginners and even some more seasoned athletes make is that they see transition as a “rest” between the swim to bike and bike to run. You have to keep in mind that the clock is still running.

What You Need
I can’t fully answer this question for you since I don’t know what specific race or distance you’re doing but before race day you need to ask yourself what gear you really need in transition. If you’re racing a sprint or Olympic distance triathlon then transition set up is very similar with an amazingly few pieces of gear that you actually need. Racing a Half Ironman or Ironman is a completely different story and set up but the basics still apply.

Let’s go through the list of items that you might bring with you to transition and categorize them accordingly:

The swim is easy. You don’t actually need anything in transition for the swim since it’s the first leg of the race. Just don’t forget your swim cap and a spare pair of goggles in case the strap on your first pair snap.


  • Must Have
    • Bike
    • Helmet
    • Shoes
    • Fluids (water or sports drink)
    • Sunglasses – This one all depends on the weather but regardless I recommend wearing some kind of eye wear either to block the sun or the wind. Glasses with interchangeable lenses are a life saver on an overcast day.
  • Optional
    • Gloves – I see far too many people trying to put gloves on wet hands for a 13 mile ride. Unless you’re doing a half or full Ironman with no aero bars leave the gloves at home. If you do have aero bars then it doesn’t matter what distance you’re racing, leave the gloves at home.
    • Bike pump – Every race I’ve ever been to have had bike techs on site so  either pump up your tires at your car or use the bike techs on hand.
    • Bike shorts – I’ve done 2 Ironman’s comfortably in triathlon shorts. With training you can survive fairly comfortably without needing to put on cycling shorts
    • Socks – If your cycling shoes will give you blisters then by all means put socks on. If you’re not sure then do a short training ride sans socks and see what happens. If a short ride goes well then start increasing the distance until you’re riding your race distance without socks and without any problems. (I’ll discuss a fast way to put socks on in the next post)


  • Must Have
    • Running shoes
    • Sunglasses – During the run, sunglasses do more than block the sun; they also help prevent you from becoming tense. If you have the sun in your face and have to squint then your face starts to tense up which will cause the rest of your body to tense up as well, starting with your neck to your shoulders to your arms, etc.
  • Optional
    • Fuel belt – this all depends on the length of your race. For a sprint you don’t need any nutrition and for anything longer I suggest trying to train with the nutrition that will be available on course so that you don’t have to carry extra weight.
    • Socks – If you’re going to get blisters then it will be during the run. Just like my suggestion with your bike shoes, go for a short run and pay attention to any hot spots forming. If you don’t feel anything then increase the distance until you get up to your race distance. If this works then try it on a race simulation day to make sure that you still don’t have problems after your feet have been basting in cycling shoes for a few hours
    • Hat – I think I run with a hat at this point  out of habit more than anything else.

As I mentioned in the previous post transition is a part of the race. A majority of people look at their results at the end of a race and see how they fared in their age group in the swim, bike and run but completely skip over how they compared in transition. If you find that you’re not one of the top three fastest transitions in your age group then it’s time to start adding that in as one of your “workouts” each week.

Practicing transition isn’t difficult and doesn’t have to take up a great deal of time. It just takes you making time for it. If you’re already out for a run or ride during the weekend then when your workout is done spend ten minutes practicing how you’re going to go through the motions of transition. How are you going to get your bike shoes on? How are you going to dismount your bike? Etc.

Transition practice doesn’t need to be complicated. You don’t need to go and buy or make yourself a little transition rack. When I practice I simply lean my bike up against my car and set up everything by my front wheel.

One piece of advice that I’ll give when practice T1 is to stand about 20’ away from your bike with a water bottle. Squirt down anything that is going to have a piece of gear put on it. Everything goes on harder when you’re wet. Run up to your bike with wet feet, hands and torso and try putting on all the spare articles of clothing and start thinking about what you can do without.

Keep It Simple
I think we’ve all heard of K.I.S.S. – Keep It Simple Stupid or the more politically correct Keep It Stupid Simple. Transition needs to be the least complicated part of your race. In T1, after you’ve gone from horizontal to vertical, you’re legs are a little wobbly and your heart is pounding, the last thing you want to have to do is think. If you have a bike pump, shirt, gloves, hat, helmet, shoes, sunglasses, nutrition, and a wombat all scattered around your transition area chances are that you’re going to start fumbling and dropping things but if you keep everything organized and compact then you’ll be in and out in no time.

My mantra for transition is “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast”. Don’t run into transition and try to put your helmet and shoes on at the same time. On the surface it might sound like a quick way to get out but when it comes time to actually executing you’ll probably at least drop your shoes or worst, knock yours or someone else s bike off the rack. During your practices decide the order you’re going to do things so that on race day you have no debating in your head as to the order of operation. Do one thing, do it well and then move on to the next thing.

Don’t Get Lost
Final bit of advice before you exit transition and head to the water and start racing is to know where you are and where you’re going. Stand at your transition space and make a mental note of where you’ll be running in after the swim, where you’ll run out with your bike, where you’ll run in with your bike, and where the run out is. Practice running in from the swim to your transition area. Make sure you know what row you’re on and what the shortest route is. Notice land marks and count the number of rows to your bike. For example, as you run in know that you’re on the third row right across from the lamp post or trash can. Doing this will prevent you not only losing a lot of time in transition but also keep you from looking like a buffoon.

Next week we’ll discuss T1

Coach Patrick
USAT Level 1

USAT Coachtp-certified-coach-150

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Transition…Part 1…Opening Thoughts

If you ask someone what the fourth leg of triathlon is you might get the answer of either “Nutrition” or “Transition”. Neither answer is wrong and you might find that your answer changes depending on what phase of training you’re in. This week’s discussion is on the importance of transition since I had a very good lesson this very topic recently.

A couple of weeks ago I raced the Rose City Triathlon in Tyler. This is the fourth year that I’ve competed in this great race and the last two years I’ve finished just off the podium in fourth place. This year I was determined that I was going to at least get on one of the steps. I laid out a good training plan, was determined and had the desire to do the work necessary to obtain my goal. Then life happened and a wrench got thrown into the plan. After looking for a job for more than a year after graduating with her PhD, my wife was hired as an Environment Science professor at Texas A&M University Texarkana. She was hired on the 5th of August and we had to be move by the 26th of August so instead of training for my peak weeks I found myself packing boxes every night after work which ended up causing me to have 5 straight days of no workouts whatsoever. Landing on the podium was starting to look out of sight. After the move I was able to get back into a routine but it was obvious from my workouts that I had lost a lot of fitness with the chaos from the weeks before. Now I just wanted to go race as hard as I could and look to next year for a podium finish.

I pushed as hard as my body was able to throughout the entire race but knew that I wasn’t going as fast as I knew I could. The long and short of it is that, as expected, I didn’t race as well as I had hoped for and had a slower finishing time than I had the year before by 38 seconds. Much to my amazement my time was still good enough for 1st place in my age group. After getting home and being able to really study the results I found that I wasn’t the fastest in any of the race legs. I was 2nd in the swim, 3rd in the bike and 3rd in the run. So how did I get ahead of everyone? Transition. My T1 time was the fastest in the age group by 19 seconds and T2 was the fastest by 20 seconds. I don’t say this to brag, I say this to help you realize how extremely important transition is to your overall race, especially this one where there was only 41 seconds that separated 1st and 4th place, with only 6 seconds between 1st and 2nd.

Over the next couple of weeks I’m going to give a number of tips that you can take into your next triathlon to help you move your way up to a higher step on the podium.

Next week we’ll discuss what you need to do before race day and on race morning.

Coach Patrick
USAT Level 1

USAT Coachtp-certified-coach-150

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Posted in Transition


Last week Coach David gave us some great tips on race day mental preparation. This week I’d like to continue along that same line of thinking and talk about that ever so important question that we all must face eventually.

If you’re new to racing you might not have experienced this all that often yet. But if you’re a seasoned veteran to the triathlon scene I’m sure that you’ve been asked a million times over – Why? Why do you get up at the butt crack of dawn just to get into a cold pool for an hour long swim? Why give up your weekends for a 7 hour bike ride on Saturday and a 20 mile run on Sunday? Why do you do this to yourself? How is that fun?

Off the top of our heads, when we’re asked by friends, family and coworkers we can all answer these questions pretty nonchalantly and spout off the typical answers that we hear all the time, “I want to lose some weight”, “It’s fun for me” or “I want the tattoo”. But when you’re 85 miles into a 110 mile ride, there’s a stiff head wind and it’s 35º outside, that’s the only time when you will have to stop and take pause to think about the true answer to this question, maybe for the first time. More than likely the answers that you’ve been giving your friends, family and coworkers are not the truthful ones after all. Suddenly your previous responses are no longer enough to get you through the last two hours of your ride. This is when you’ll pull off to the side of the road, do some major soul searching and maybe even shed a few tears right there.

Why am I doing this?

Luckily, this is one of the few times in life when there truthfully is no wrong answer. Really, I promise. There might not be a wrong answer but there are definitely answers that are not right for you. The answers that you’ve been giving up to this point are probably not the right ones for you. In the end are you really going to put yourself through all this just to lose some weight or for some skin art? Maybe, maybe not. That’s for you to decide. But it wouldn’t surprise me if the conclusion you come to is so personal that it’s something that you won’t ever share with anyone.

When it comes to race day it’s almost a certainty that the doom and gloom will pay you a rather nasty visit. Your mind can be a very powerful ally or your worst enemy, it all depends on what you’ve trained it to be and if you can convince it to think otherwise when it screams “Stop!”. If you don’t have the above question answered correctly then your mind will know it and continue to pester you and reek havoc on your day. But, if you have been honest with yourself you can turn this demon into your greatest strength that will take you over the finish line victoriously.

When you answer this question at that lowest of points you will never be the same triathlete again.

Coach Patrick
USAT Level 1

USAT Coachtp-certified-coach-150

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Mental Race Preparation


Some racers start trying to mentally prepare for a big race the night before by “psyching” themselves up with some motivational music or other last minute efforts. While this approach is not necessarily bad, it does not serve to fully prepare athletes for the true mental demands of a challenging race. This post will discuss a more in-depth mental preparation in 2 main areas: positive self-talk and focus. It also provides guidance on how to incorporate these two areas into your written mental race plan. You are going to write a mental race plan, right?

Positive Self Talk

For most long course triathlons, it is unrealistic to think you’re not going to have any negative thoughts or emotions during the race. Some of these negative thoughts can be quite powerful and debilitating toward the end of the race, especially if you haven’t developed a sound mental plan to deal with them. How are you going to deal with that late race, serious fatigue that makes you ask “Why am I putting myself through this again?!” How are you mentally going to handle the frustration from continuously strong winds or being passed frequently? The answer: Learn to first identify situations and causes of common negative thoughts and harmful internal self talk, and then replace them with positive, but realistic self talk. It must be realistic or you won’t believe it. If it’s gusting 25 mph, and you try to tell yourself that you LOVE the wind and “this is a piece of cake”, you’re not going to believe it and you’ll probably end up make yourself more frustrated.

Written Mental Race Plan: Spend some good time and try to identity 3 “hot-button” situations you’ve encountered over the last couple of months that caused you to have negative self-talk. Write down a short description of the situation along with the underlying cause (frustration, fatigue, boredom, pain, despair, etc). Also include the negative self talk and think hard about some realistic, positive replacements.

Example 1: A strong wind really slows me down on the bike

  • Underlying Cause: Frustration that I’m not able to maintain desired speed or that I have to work so hard to maintain it
  • Negative Self Talk: “This just sucks”. “I hate the wind.” “I cannot maintain a good effort against it”. “I’m just beat mentally against it”
  • Positive, Realistic Replacement: “The wind is strong, but it will make me stronger in the long run”. “This is an opportunity to test my mental toughness”. “I’m doing a good job of staying aero”.

Example 2: I start to get quite fatigued at the end of a long session

  • Underlying Cause: Fatigue from having to stay focused for so long.
  • Negative Self Talk: “This is no longer fun” “Why am I out here?” “I can’t go on”. “What’s the point of doing this if I hate it?”
  • Positive, Realistic Replacement: “I put myself in this position of purpose: this is the meat of session”. “This is where I’m getting the most benefit. Right here. Right now”. “It’s always easy the first hour. It’s this last hour where I’m really building my fitness”. “This is money in the bank for race day.”

Mental Focus

Often times when I find my focus waning, I’ll try hard to think about what I should be doing instead of letting my mind wander around in “distraction land”. I start to get a little upset and critical about my lack of concentration. However, this line of thinking is judgmental and counter-productive. Thinking interferes with prime focus because it often conjures negative emotions which can actually lead to reduced performance. Focusing, on the other hand, is objective and detached from judgment or evaluation. If you make a mental mistake, just accept and acknowledge it and move on. Don’t dwell on it, but instead start focusing on positive things that can be used help improve your performance, such as proper nutrition and pacing.

A key way to direct your focus in an appropriate way is to remember four P’s:

  1. Positive: This is quite obvious, but you want your focus to have a decidedly positive twist even if you’re trying to correct a form flaw. For example, if your cadence on the run tends to slow down as you fatigue, focus on maintaining “quick, happy feet” instead of “not plodding along”. See the positive twist.
  2. Process: This one is huge because it requires shift in the way many people focus. Instead of focusing on the outcome of the race (i.e, actual completion, finishing time, ranking, etc), focus on the process of getting to the outcome. When you focus is on the outcome, your performance will often decline because you’re no longer focusing on the things that will help you execute well such as pacing and nutrition. Furthermore, you’ll often drift away from optimal intensity because you’ll get nervous or worried about reaching your optimal finish time. To focus on the process, ask yourself the question: “What do I need to be doing right now?” This leads nicely into our next P…
  3. Present: Don’t focus on the future or upcoming portions of the race. A long course tri is too much for your brain to comprehend all at once. Eat it one bite at a time. When you’re late in the bike and you’re starting to get a bit fatigued, don’t let yourself think about the looming long run ahead. Instead, stay in the present and just focus on what you should be doing at this very moment. Is my pace appropriate? Am I eating and drinking according to plan? Do the conditions demand any changes to the plan? Likewise, don’t dwell on the past. If you had a bad swim or T1, don’t dwell on it. Accept it and move on!
  4. Progress: This last P basically means that you should focus on your own progress and not that of others. While it’s OK to occasionally use “a rabbit” to give you a short boost, you should in general strive to maintain your own pacing plan while monitoring your personal progress while not comparing yourself to other racers.

Written Mental Race Plan: Come up with 2-3 personal keywords or phrases for each of the Four P’s above. These keywords are brief, descriptive reminders of what you need to focus on to preform well. They can be physical (e.g., easy breathing or long stride), technical (e.g, high elbow for swimming or head up for running), tactical (e.g, patience or finish strong), or mental (e.g, positive or attack).


Coach David Gillen

Posted in Uncategorized

Making Friends With Hills


There are a number of aspects of training that get dropped by the wayside for any number of reasons. Either there aren’t enough hours in the day, we just don’t want to do it or we don’t understand why it’s so important. Hill intervals are one of those things. The reason why you’re not doing them however is for you to decide, but let me tell you that you should be hitting the hills each week.
Before you go and find the steepest and longest hill in town let me throw out a word of warning: hill intervals should not be attempted by those who are still building their running base. The more intense the workout, the more risk you are of walking away with an injury that will put you on the side lines for weeks if not months. With that said, this doesn’t mean that hill work can’t benefit you as well. More on that below.

Warm Up

Hill intervals should always be preceded by a quality warm up. Get your heart rate up by running a few miles at an easy conversational pace on relatively flat terrain. During the last half mile include some short 30 sec. strides to open up your stride length. Keep in mind that the warm up is not your workout. With everyone pressed for time it’s tempting to “warm up” as fast as you can so that you can get the hill repeats in, get home, shower and get to work. Don’t rush the warm up!

Which Hill Is The Right Hill?

This partially has to do with your fitness level and what it is that you’re trying to accomplish with the workout. Looking for power? Then choose a hill that is short but has some good steepness to it. Wanting stamina? Then find a moderate grade hill that has some length.

I’m racing a flat course, why should I do hill intervals?

Hill training does far more than just mentally and physically prepare you for a hilly race. By doing hill intervals you’re basically doing resistance weight training but without going to the gym. The muscles in your hips, upper leg and knees are forced to work together to fight against gravity and make a neuromuscular connection between those muscles. The muscles groups that you use for sprinting are basically the same groups that you’ll use on hills which will make you faster on that flat course race. Also, while hill intervals can cause injury if they’re performed incorrectly, e.g. to early for a beginner, or at too high an intensity, running hills can also be solution to not getting injured. By running hills you’re strengthening muscles around joints that are imperative to your everyday running. By building these specific muscles you’re giving support to tendons and ligaments in those joints that are often prone to injury.


There are many different ways to go about hill workouts depending on what your goal is and what phase of training your in. Here are just a few options.

  • Bounds – Bounding up a hill is really the opposite of what you want to do on race day but during training it can be a great way to build power in your glutes and quads by taking long powerful strides for 50 to 75 meters. Recovery should be a slow walk back down to your original starting point. 4-8 of these once a week should be plenty.
  • Strides – As mentioned above, the last thing that you want to during a race is take long strides up a steep hill. You’ll burn your legs out and hobble for the next few miles until you recover from that effort, if you recover at all. The number of steps that you should be taking up a hill has a lot to do with your leg length and your height. Find a cadence that feels right to you and your body make up. Just know that each step should be short, fast and efficient.
  • Fartleks – This is one of my favorite workouts because I enjoy high intensity workouts and what’s more intense than hill fartleks? These work the same as fartleks on flat ground. While maintaining good hill running form (short steps, slight forward lean and pumping arms), push hard up the hill. For the recovery you can either jog at an easy pace back down or even walk. These are hard efforts so they should only be done once a week.
  • Walking – Yes, walking. Still building your running base is no reason to avoid hills. Walking up an incline can still give you that satisfying burn in your quads, glutes, hamstrings and calf muscles and raise your heart rate all while avoiding the pounding and muscle/joint stress that your body will take during running hill workouts.

There’s no reason to be afraid of hills on race day. If you’ve been doing hill workouts then you can approach with confidence what most racers are dreading. Remember that just like riding a bike, your run stride and cadence have different gears that you should utilize. If you’re climbing a steep hill on your bike you shift into “granny gear” and up your cadence. Your run stride has that same gear so use it while tackling your next hill.

Coach Patrick
USAT Level 1

USAT Coachtp-certified-coach-150

Posted in Uncategorized

Just Keep Swimming


 I want to tell you about my first open water experience. I was training for my first triathlon which was going to be an Olympic distance race. I had been swimming since I was young although I was never on a swim team. I wouldn’t say that I was a great swimmer but I was definitely proficient in the water and very comfortable in my abilities. When the temperature finally got warm enough to hit the near by lake, the wife and I transitioned our swim training to the open water. We found a very safe place that was a no boat area with a buoy line that was approximately a 1/4 mile for each lap. My wife dove in first swimming as well as I’d always seen her, she swam in high school after all. I hesitated a bit but followed closely behind. I was immediately shocked by the fact that I couldn’t see anything, Texas lakes aren’t really known for their clarity, and I’ll admit I had a few moments of panic. I take this experience very seriously now as I train some experienced and some not so experienced athletes. If I, a very able swimmer can find myself in a state of shock and panic upon my first trip into the unknown realm of open water swimming, how do my inexperienced athletes feel?

A few years ago there was an article published in The Washington Post in regards the number of deaths during this year’s summer racing season. The total comes to 9 athletes out of more than 243,000. In the grand scheme of things that doesn’t sound like much but even one death is too many for a sport that is growing rapidly.

Fingers have been pointed in many different directions over the last few years to try and establish why it is that deaths occur during the swim. Official causes of death are limited to drowning with minor heart abnormalities being identified if about half of the victims while a heart attack has never been the identified cause of death. Unfortunately there’s no way to identify a panic attack postmortem.

The author’s hypothesis is that this has everything to do with athletes, experienced and inexperienced, panicking due to various reasons including the excitement of the moment, the chaos of swimming into and over other people, chest constriction of the wet suit, the darkness and coldness of the water, competitiveness and the desire not to quit when friends and family are watching. So what is it that an athlete can do to get more comfortable in an open water setting?

  1. Purchase a wet suit well in advance of race day. Most of the time getting a wet suit may require an online purchase based on body measurements provided by the manufacturer. Of course this is not a guarantee that the wet suit shipped to you will fit right. If it doesn’t fit then return it. Most of the time manufacturers are quite accommodating with returns but be sure to read their return policy before you make a purchase as some of them might not want their suits being used in a pool. If you’re only a week out from your A race with a brand new wet suit in tow, that could spell disaster when you find out that the chest or shoulders are too tight. Which bring us to…
  2. Take your wet suit on multiple test swims. If it’s still too cold to get in the open water than take it to your gym’s pool for a few laps. More than likely the indoor pool will be a bit too warm to spend much time in it but it’s a great opportunity to try it out under controlled surroundings. But be sure to rinse the wet suit thoroughly afterward to get all the chlorine out. Really you should rinse your wet suit after every use anyway.
  3. Enlist your friends. Grab a group of friends and head to the pool. Stuff 5 or 6 of them into one lane and start doing laps. In an enclosed lane there’s no where to go but forward and no escaping body contact. Remember that more than likely your friends will beat you around far worse than anyone will on race day.
  4. Close your eyes. There’s no black line come race day so get use to being able to see nothing. Open your eyes every 5-6 strokes just to make sure that you don’t run into a lane divider or wall though. This can also be a good tell to see if you have a balance issue in your stroke as you’ll tend to pull to one side.
  5. Sighting. Figure out your sighting technique now. Ask your coach for their advice on the best way to sight and try it in the pool. The one flaw with practicing to sight in the pool is that you can’t look very far off in the distance which you’ll have to do on race day.
  6. Open water practice. I hear far too many people in transition on race day saying that they’re nervous because this will be their first open water swim. They should be nervous, they’re about to jump into something where they have no idea what to expect or how to react when something happens that they’ve never experienced before because they’ve sought solace in the safety of a pool for all their training. Try and get into the open water as often as possible leading up to your race. This will take away from pool training time where you can work on drills but the mental gains you make doing this will pay dividends on race day.

Open water swimming doesn’t have to be a scary experience if you’ve prepared both mentally and physically for everything that can happen. Enlist the help of your coach, experienced triathlon friends, and the internet to get you to a comfortable place where you stop treating the swim as “just a way to get to the bike” and more like another leg of the race that you get to rock.

Or you can always try this.

Coach Patrick
USAT Level 1

USAT Coachtp-certified-coach-150

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