5 things nobody tells you about the Ironman® swim

Many new triathletes all fear the same thing: The swim.

While there are plenty of first time triathletes with a swimming background, most have the majority of their experience on the bike or with running.

The thought of swimming in open water with 2,000 other people can be terrifying – but here are 5 things nobody tells you that can help put your mind at ease.

1.) You can rest on the kayaks

The Ironman® swim course is always outlined by volunteers on kayaks. And guess what? If you’re tired and need a breather, you can hold onto one and rest!

Now, the key rule is you can’t propel yourself forward after having stopped to rest. But if you want to sit there, breathe and tread water with your arm on a kayak, go for it.

Just make sure to wade back into the open water before swimming forward again.

2.) You can change your swim stroke

The most common method of swimming is freestyle (or as some call it, the crawl).

It tends to be the fastest of the 4 main strokes (freestyle, breast stroke, backstroke, butterfly), and the one most people associate with swiwmming.

It also has its downsides for amateur swimmers. Mainly that for 95% of the stroke, your face is under water.

If you’re racing Lake Placid, where the water is crystal clear? Maybe that’s not a big deal.

But if you’re racing… basically anywhere else where visibility is slim/none – it can be intimidating for the average person.

It requires significant sighting (more on that later) and can be taxing after long stretches.

A solution? Switch to breast stroke every 40-50 strokes.

Why breast stroke? Well, you look directly forward, your head stays out of the water longer, it’s generally an easier stroke (all things equal), and it’s a completely different set of muscle movements to give those used during freestyle a break.

Alternate between the two, and while you might lose a few seconds here and there of your time, the lack of increased fatigue will benefit you later on.

3.) You have to look where you’re going

It’s important while swim training to practice sighting.

Whether you do that by switching to breast stroke or you learn to sight while swimming freestyle, you HAVE to look where you’re going.

While there are giant buoys in the water marking the course, they’re only useful if you look up to see where they are.

Don’t waste time and energy simply because you stopped paying attention and swam off course.

4.) Be honest with your self seeding

Self seeding by pace before the race starts, is not the time to stroke your ego.

If you usually swim a 2:00/100m pace, you’re probably not going to swim a 1:45/100m pace on race day – so line up with the 2:00 group!

Other than simple honesty, the benefit here is you enter the water with people your own speed. That means you’re not crawling over (or getting crawled over) by swimmers all around you – and if you have any anxiety about the number of people in the water – this will help a ton.

If you seed properly, it won’t feel any different than swimming with your friends in your lane at the pool, which after all, is what you’re most comfortable with.

5.) Wetsuits help!

Wetsuits aren’t just for staying warm. In fact, many Ironman® hopefuls will wear them even when the temperature reaches the upper limit of wetsuit legality.

Why? Because a good wetsuit (like one from Roká) will be very thin and flexible from the waist up allowing for proper swim stroke/arm movement – and then be very thick and buoyant from the waist down.

One of the most common faults of average and beginner swimmers is allowing the hips and legs to drop into the water creating excess drag.

The strategic buoyancy of a wetsuit helps to correct this fault by lifting the hips and legs higher and allowing the upper body to settle into the water.

So yes, they’ll keep you warm, but they’ll also help you swim more efficiently which over the course of 1.2 or 2.4 miles – makes a big difference

Bonus tip: Make sure you train properly

This is obvious, I know, but make sure you’re following a proper triathlon training plan regardless of the distance you’re racing. You can check out more on the swimming philosophy of our 140.6 triathlon (Ironman®) training plan here.

The swim might just end up being your favorite part of the race

I can’t tell you how many athletes, after the race is all said and done, come back and say “wow, I almost wish the swim was longer! That was my favorite part!” (or something like that).

It can be an amazing experience. A quiet and beautiful one too. Remember these tips, and use them in training and on race day.

The key to a good swim for a beginner triathlete, is comfort. So find what makes you comfortable and do that.

The rest will follow.