Training for any major event can be strenuous on your body. Where triathlons are involved, this danger can be a little more extreme, especially during the swimming leg. While getting anxious or making a mistake during the land sections can cause a sprain, or potentially a fall from a bike, on the open water swim section, simple anxiety or exhaustion can prove very dangerous, especially for new triathletes. According to a 2017 medical study, two-thirds of the deaths and cardiac arrests connected to triathlons happened during the swimming leg. You need to keep safety in mind so that you can make it to the end of the race. Here are some of the ways that you can prepare yourself for open-water swimming when you’re new to the sport.
Stretching is a good idea before you do any kind of physical activity. A pulled muscle or cramp on the swim can prevent you from finishing the race, or even from getting yourself to the safety of a lifeguard, kayak, or shore.As a part of your stretching routine, you should also practice breathing exercises. Swimming requires a different level of discipline with your breathing, and stretching sessions are a good time to practice fully inflating your lungs, and holding the air in with a minimum of tension. Consider starting your training regimen with yoga to help you prepare.
The buddy system is imperative when you’re swimming in open water. If you start to experience a problem when in practice, you want someone that has your back. Swimming with lots of other people ensures that you can remain safe together, but during a race, the competition and the number of people will make you invisible if you have a problem. This is why it’s so important to practice on your own, but to still have another person with you if you have problems. If you don’t have a swimming buddy, a friend can monitor you from a boat, which will also allow them the opportunity to keep a better eye on you.
A wet suit is another good idea to keep new triathletes safe -- the built-in buoyancy makes you faster and safer, and the suit will help you retain body heat in cold water. Wetsuits come in a variety of styles from long sleeves and full legs to shin-length or shorts with sleeveless tops. They are also available in two-piece configurations. Make sure your wetsuit doesn't feel too tight or too hot, as this will have the opposite effect from keeping you safe. Another trendy product is a safety buoy, which is an individual, brightly colored flotation buoy that trails behind you as you swim. It helps make you more visible to boats, and provides an emergency flotation device if you need a rest in the middle of your swim. Most of the buoys are well designed, but they will still slow you down a little. You can view this as a good training device, increasing your resistance in the water. You may initially think these products are overkill, but if you’ve never done open-water swimming, you must not underestimate the danger of unexpected waves and currents and your own body’s panic response when you can't see the bottom, or a fish or water plant brushes up against you. Even experienced swimmers can have panic attacks when doing long open-water workouts.
Swimming in open water is different than practicing in a pool. This is because there are other types of hazards that you could encounter. Maintaining your composure even in the face of these obstacles can save your life. If you feel as though you’re starting to panic, find a focal point. This may help you enough to get over whatever it was that set you off in the first place. Practicing enough before the triathlon will help you practice managing your fear response and keeping your head about you in a dangerous situation. Your triathlon race should never ever be your first open water swim. Even if it's highly inconvenient, you must practice open water swimming before your race. If you can't, register for a race with a pool swim instead.
Training requires more than just dedication to the sport. Use these techniques to help you prepare for the open swimming portion of the race.
Brooke is a writer and fitness geek who advocates having your swim spotter use a boat with a marine engine. Boats with marine engines are quiet and don’t expel too much CO2, making for cleaning breathing in the water.
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