Tim Don’s top tips for coming out of the water feeling as fresh as possible and ready for the bike.
It is so easy to burn too many matches in the swim at the start of a race, which comes back to bite you towards the back end of the run. One of my old coaches used to say to all his Ironman athletes; “don’t neglect the swim. It is imperative to keep your swimming up as it is a great means to get aerobic conditioning without the load of massive run miles or the time needed on the bike”. Swimming well could unlock your bike and your run. Over-swim and you are on the back foot from the gun and will suffer massively, trust me I’ve been there done that!
Training for race day
The best way to not come out of the swim completely spent and be ready for the bike is to swim within yourself. Sounds simple right…but can be very hard to do once the gun goes and we get carried away. The hard part is we very rarely do a straight 1.9km or 3.8km swim race distance in training, so when it comes to race day how do we know how to pace our swim? Every 3-4 weeks in training to do a T20 or T30; this means holding your best pace for either 20 or 30 minutes. It can be boring and bloody tough, but man if you have a few of these under your belt your pacing will be so much better come race day. You will have that edge and the feeling of confidence that you’re swimming the correct pace to not burn too many matches.
Going into the swim on race day
If you think you might be swimming too fast, then you most likely are and that's not good with the whole race ahead of you. There are some cheeky tricks as well. If you are the type of athlete who likes to build into the swim; swim on the outside so you can move around people as you up the pace. If you like to start fast and hold on (that’s me!) then get some good feet. Getting on the feet can really get that heart rate down at a fast pace. Swim about 30-50cm behind someone to get a massive slip stream or if you have practiced in training sit on their hip / swim on their hip in the bow wave for extra savings. Keep sighting and don’t just follow as the person whose feet you are on could blow up or swim off course, then you are in trouble. Make sure you take the turns at the buoys tight and don’t slow onto the corner. It’s the opposite to cycling where you would crash if you don’t slow down, in the water you want that speed to stay as high as possible.
If it’s an Aussie style two lap swim where you get out and run after one lap, make sure you know where you are going and don’t run like Mr Bolt; pace yourself. If someone is just in front of you, try and use this to get onto their feet. Similarly, if someone has been swimming on your feet and tickling your toes, use this as an opportunity to break the elastic. As they are in the slip stream it means they are not as strong as you and are most likely hanging on and over swimming (unless they have read this!)
Increase your kick for fresher legs
In the last 100-200m of the swim increase your kick to get some blood back in your legs ready for the run to transition and the bike. Especially in long distance triathlons when the swim is 3.8km.
Your biggest takeaway from this should be to not neglect the swim in your race as it can have massive positive or negative connotations for your whole race!