THE NOVICE APPROACH TO 3.8KM
You would not necessarily be reading this if your were “okay” with swimming 3.8km before the 180km bike ride and 42km run. That always seems like the easy part. What’s hard in your mind, is risking life and limb to battle the elements whilst you thrash out almost 4000m of swimming in an open water environment. It can be daunting, especially for the 1st timer virgins. Help is at hand and it really is “not as bad” as you think it is. Consider it to be a warm-up before taking on the bike and run.
You will need to have a basic understanding of the correct stroke technique for freestyle to make 3.8km whiz by. Because it’s an endurance swim and is less likely to be a mad scramble for the line, technique plays an important part of a successful foray into an Ironman swim
The swim is almost 4km long. You tell the man in the street that they have to run that far and they would be worried. So it stands to reason that anybody contemplating swimming it, would have to be reasonably fit or totally insane to tackle the same distance
If you have always struggled with buoyancy, do no fret. Wetsuits are legal in probably 90% of the world’s Ironman events. This is one of the greatest inventions to come out of triathlon. Wetsuits have been around for ages and used primarily to keep one warm against the harsher elements. Not so the triathlon wetsuit. Yes, they do keep you warm to a certain degree but they have been designed and evolved over the last few years, to make you swim faster, that simple. If you can save anywhere from 5 seconds to 20 seconds per 100m by swimming in a triathlon wetsuit as opposed to a normal costume/tri-suit, imagine what damage you can do over 38 times that distance?
Now that we have the 3 principles in place, how do we go about setting to master them?
Freestyle Swim Technique
If you are totally clueless when it comes to the correct arm stoke, then may I suggest you hook up with a local coach for a couple of basic swim technique sessions. The coach can give you the guidelines you will need to master an adequate swim stroke. Having said that, unless they are a multi sports coach who truly understands the concept of the open water swim, you may end up wasting needless amounts of cash. Why? We would all love to swim like the pool swimmers do, what with their perfect hand entry and graceful stroke techniques. The reality is that we are swimming in the open water with no anti-turbulent lane ropes, hundreds of swimmers all on top of each other and we need to lift our heads to find the markers. Most of the time, a triathletes swim style is not as impressive as what it should be but open water swimming is a different kettle of fish and does require certain adaptations to one’s swimming stroke.
Get the hand entry and pull motion figured out and you are half-way there already. You can buy a number of products that will aid your quest to improving one’s technique. That together with some pointers from a coach or fellow experienced athletes, should give you the ammo you need to proceed to the next level.
Swimming is one of the few sports that require “more” than the usual to get up to speed. If you want to get running fit, no worries. Even after a lengthy spell off and a couple of sore aches and pains, you should find your running legs within a few days or weeks at most. Swimming is however very different. Most novice triathletes have either never done swim training before or they did it a good couple of year ago. To get an adequate amount of base fitness in swimming takes plenty of time and patience. You are looking at between 3 and 6 months at least of swimming ¾ times per week before you really start to feel like your getting somewhere.
Start with short distances and gradually build up i.e.: 50m at a time, then 100m, 200m, 300m etc until you can swim a full 1km without feeling a need to stop. Once you can do this, then 3.8km will not be that daunting anymore. You will also need to get down to the pool at least 3 times per week in the initial stages and after that, possibly 4 to 5 times per week as you get closer to the big day out. Swimming endurance and fitness comes with being consistent and unfortunately there are not quick fix methods to using this approach.
You should also look at entering and competing in as many open water swim events as you can. Pool swimming and open water swimming are different and require different approaches e.g.: you would possibly include some drills in the pool like lifting your head out of the water for a few seconds to see where you are going and then putting it back down again. Simple but effective. Your neck needs to be trained to do this otherwise you will battle when swimming in the open water with no black line to follow
One of the greatest inventions to come out of triathlon has been the speed specific triathlon wetsuit. With the buoyancy and speed features on the models available today, the average swimmer instantly becomes a good swimmer whilst the poor swimmer becomes an average swimmer. If it saves a top performing swimmer, 5 seconds per 100m with it on as opposed to a normal swim suit, imagine what it could do to your overall swim time over almost 4km of swimming. Make sure you get the very best to suit your budget. All the major wetsuit manufacturers have a series of models and often, the mid-range suits on offer are just as good as the top of the line but at a far better price point.
Sizing is also crucial. Get sized correctly or the wetsuit could cost you time in the end. Too small or too big and your wasting your money. Also bear in mind that with the increased mileage in your training schedule, you will probably shed 2kgs’ when you eventually line up on race day, so that is also important to remember when choosing a wetsuit.
Goggles are also important. A clear lense type and better quality pair will allow for better vision and a reduced chance of them misting up. So, check out the local suppliers and try a few models on and see which one best suits your needs and facial features.
That’s it for this month. We will start on a few basic swim programs next time and will get you on your way to “easily” mastering a 3.8km open water swim.