Most people swim many, many more meters than they need to during the swim leg of a triathlon, adding minutes to their time in the process.
By working on your sighting while swim training, you can improve your swim time quickly and with minimal effort.
I wrote about it in the following article: Open Water Swimming Tip: Swim Straight Like the Pros
Be sure to practice your drills and bilateral breathing – preferably in open water conditions. In so doing, you should avoid results as seen in the following video from the guys at Swim Smooth. It highlights the perils of poor sighting.
Try practicing sighting and say goodbye to long, snaking swims where the end never comes, and say hello to fast, efficient swimming.
Try some of the following swim workouts, adding sighting as a key drill and reap the benefits of a swim time that is minutes faster!
Goal: Race Pace swimming
I like to break down the 1500m into smaller chunks and get my swimmers working towards their race pace. If you can hold your target time over fifteen 100m’s, or seven 200m’s, etc you will hit your target time in a race 1500m.
David Wilkie, Olympic gold medalist used to prepare for the 200m breaststroke by doing, for example, 30x50m at his race pace. That’s a tough set, and got his body used to swimming fast.
For example: Target time for 1500m is 30 minutes. This equals 2 mins per 100m.
Warm up: 400m: 50m drill, 50m swim
4 x 25m build each 25m to fast (90%+) pace; 15 seconds rest
Main set: 15 x 100m at race pace (2mins in the example above), 20 seconds rest in between each 100m.
Cool down: 200m: 50m non-freestyle, 50m kick
Set can be done as yards also, but calculate it based on 1650 yard swim and do 16 x 100 yards.
Don’t just plod up and down with long, continuous swimming. Swim fast and the results will come much sooner – leaving you time to work on growing hair and mustache as good as David Wilkie’s!
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.
Alarms – set your alarm to give you plenty of time to grab breakfast, set up transition and get ready for race start. Don’t create unnecessary stress! Enjoy the process in a relaxed frame of mind with your teammates.
Breakfast – have a healthy breakfast to lay the foundation for your race. Plenty of carbs, light and easy to digest – lots of water, fruit, oatmeal.
Course – know the course in advance. Anticipate the hills and sharp turns, know where you are and when you can pick up the pace. Is the swim an out-and-back or how many buoys do you have to swim around? Do you cycle past transition before looping back to rack your bike – how demoralizing will it be having it in sight but not yet being able to get off the bike?
Determination – you’ve done the hard work, now reap the rewards. Believe in yourself.
Equipment – make sure you have packed and organized all your race-ready equipment, and tested it in advance.
Form – as you tire in each leg and towards the finish line, do not forget your technique. It will distract you from the pain and keep you working efficiently to the end.
Goals – don’t forget your goals and race plan. They are what have sustained you during the long months of training and hard graft. Achieve!
Hydration – water and energy drinks. Keeping hydrated will help keep you going in the heat.
Injury – be sensible, don’t race if injured and avoid any long term damage. Manage injuries in training so you can start the race.
Jelly-legs – Oh man, doesn’t it suck trying to run after the bike? Fear not, it passes! Ease into the run, sneak in a couple of quick exercises while in transition. Run 1 minute or a mile easy and then build into race pace. Enjoy conquering this bit, it’s part of the fun of triathlon.
Kicking – not on the swim! Let your legs trail behind you, it’s the one body part that is allowed to be lazy! And manage the bike leg in order to save your legs for the run.
Lists – use a list to make sure you don’t forget anything and take the stress and second guessing out of your preparation.
Mental skills – don’t doubt yourself before the race starts, stay strong as the pain kicks in, race tough, don’t panic when things go wrong and believe in yourself. The hard work is done, now it’s time to put the plan into action.
Nutrition – make sure you’ve tested your nutrition options during training. When to eat? Energy gels or drinks? Bananas or snack bars? Coconut water or Gatorade? You have plenty of options each with their relative merits – decide which is right for you and test if it works for you before race day.
Open water – practice your swimming in the open water, not just in the pool. It is a totally different ballgame. Get used to the lack of visibility, the crowding and choppier waters.
Pacing – pace yourself within each leg, and with the entire race in mind. Don’t ruin your run by attacking hills on the bike, don’t drain your legs by pushing the swim and don’t be too aggressive coming out of transition.
Quick – be quick! Be fast! Short fast strides on the run, good cadence on the bike, in and out of transition like lightning, a glorious sprint finish, and quickest of all with a smile.
Racing – who are you racing? Yourself, the clock, your rivals? Compete but always with your goals in mind.
Sleep – get plenty of sleep in the days before your race, don’t waste your energy worrying and enjoy a good nap the day before!
Transitions – practice in advance, know your routine and set up your equipment the morning of race day. Be efficient while transitioning, catch your breath on the bike and ease into the run after T2. Be organized.
Utilize – your gears on hills, all the drills you’ve worked so hard on, your body’s capacity to push harder than your brain thinks is possible, external motivations, your internal voice to keep you pushing forward.
Visualize – your race in advance. Picture yourself with perfect technique, strong and fluid, relaxed and smiling, finishing fast, enjoying the race and doubt-free. It will become a reality.
Warm-up – have a plan. Will you jump in the water for a quick swim or does a jog work better? What stretches and exercises do you like? Are you going to have a short spin on the bike to loo out the legs? How long does it take you to get in the zone? Test your various options and don’t do anything new on race day.
X-factor – you have it. You’ve done the hard work. You are fit and strong with great technique. Look and feel good on race day and know that the hard work will carry you home in a blaze of glory.
You – It is about YOU and no-one else. Run your race, don’t get distracted by faster athletes. Take your line and stick to it, let the others work around you. And yes, the crowds are cheering for you. Lap it up and use their support.
Zip! – zip up your wetsuit before jumping in the water and zipping around the course!