Open water swimming can often cause stress levels to rise, and in particular the start.
It’s stressful and crowded and impossible to get into your stroke rhythm. For some, it’s the beginning of the end and they proceed to fall apart in a fit of panic.
It’s perfectly understandable to be intimidated by the swim start but there are tips to minimize the stress and overcome the difficulties.
1. Practice. Swim in open water as often as you can before the race. This will get you used to the varying conditions. Specifically, practice the start in packs of swimmers – you can also do this in the pool.
2. Know what to expect. Know that it will be crowded, you will have no personal space, you may get kicked, your stroke will feel terrible. Manage your expectations so you are not surprised and distracted. Know that if you keep relaxed, kepe breathing and keep swimming the crowd will thin and you can get into your stroke.
3. Don’t panic! Conditions are not ideal, but this is triathlon and this is why we do it! Varying conditions are part of the challenge, just like rain on the bike. Keep breathing – in and out, regularly. Stay relaxed, overcome that urge to panic. Let other swimmers sprint to the front. Focusing on your technique and getting into a rhythm will distract you from the chaos. To be honest, most other swimmers, like you, are just trying to find some space!
4. Stay to the outside and/or the back of the pack. Let the faster swimmers take the inside line, the pack will follow them. It might mean some extra meters to swim but it should lead to calmer waters and less jostling.
5. Shorten your stroke at the start, This will keep your stroke turning over and make the most of the lack of space. You don’t want to be reaching your arm forward only to land on someone’s leg and not being able to get a good catch for the pull. Once the crowd thins and the madness diminishes, you can focus on a longer stroke for efficiency.