General Discussion Triathlon Talk » Your open-water swim in your very first race Rss Feed  
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2019-03-24 9:36 AM


Subject: Your open-water swim in your very first race
Hello tribe!

What was the swim portion of the first triathlon you did like?
Was it what you expected?
Did you go into it feeling prepared (confident you could complete the distance)?
What would you have done differently, if anything?

Thank you! :-)

2019-03-24 12:22 PM
in reply to: 0

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Eugene, Oregon
Subject: RE: Your open-water swim in your very first race
Probably my experience was not typical for most new triathletes. I was a pretty strong pool swimmer and had quite a bit of open water experience, albeit mostly from almost 20 years before my first tri, when I was living in Hawaii and hanging out with friends who surfed. I could never learn to stay upright on a board, so I would body surf or swim around while they surfed.....I did go out the day before the race and swim around in the ocean to get used to it again!

My first tri was a non-standard distance with an ocean swim of about 600m. Current was fairly calm, the water warm (in southern Vietnam) and it was a small field, so it was not too stressful. I do remember being frustrated that most people started too fast, and I found myself having to swim around a lot of bigger people, mostly guys, once they slowed down. (This has continued to be an issue for me in most races unless the swim is organized in self-seeded waves rather than by age or gender. I'm a pretty lightweight 40+ woman whose wave usually ends up starting at the back, a decent distance swimmer but tend to start slowly and then speed up.)

The "highlight" of my first tri swim was spying what I was sure was a jellyfish with about 200m to go and going into an absolute panic. (I have few hangups about open water, but jellyfish are one of them, having been very painfully stung by a big one in my early 20's). I picked up the pace dramatically, sprinted for shore, and in the process swam right over my friend's husband. After the race he told me he'd ended up with his hand caught in the "jellyfish" and that it was actually a rainbow-striped plastic bag.

Honestly do do know how I would have prepared differently. I was well-prepared to complete the distance, having been in a master's swim program for several months prior. More recent open water experience would have been helpful, but it wasn't possible at the time. It was very helpful to get in a swim near the course the day before--I always try to swim the course, or at least part of it, before the race. Every body of open water has a different "feel", particularly in the ocean, and it helps if you don't feel it for the first time on race day.

Edited by Hot Runner 2019-03-24 12:41 PM
2019-03-24 2:15 PM
in reply to: 0

Subject: RE: Your open-water swim in your very first race
It was a little 450 yard swim on a sprint. I breast stroked it. Went in later in the group and stayed outside so as to not kick anyone in the head. I will tell you I passed a fair amount of people. I am a fast breast was my big event on the swim team as a kid. Bonus: sighting is a breeze when you get a straight ahead look in front of you every time you come up for air.

Edited by HaydenHunter 2019-03-24 2:17 PM
2019-03-24 2:27 PM
in reply to: triathlete_to_be

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Sunbury, Pennsylvania
Subject: RE: Your open-water swim in your very first race
My first tri was a TriRock sprint in Annapolis MD. The swim was in the bay.

It wasn't about the distance, it was all about open water conditions. That day it was pretty choppy. I took a lot longer to finish that part than I had thought i would.

I've done tris in bays, lakes, ponds, pools and the Atlantic Ocean. Anything with a current is one kind of challenge, anything with a tide and/or riptide is a whole other animal entirely.

Since I live in the middle of a rural area where regular training means pool swimming, and some very limited summer river swimming, there was little I could do to really prepare for the challenges of ocean and bay swimming, even though I went to the beach all the time growing up.

2019-03-24 8:45 PM
in reply to: TheClaaaw

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Subject: RE: Your open-water swim in your very first race

Mine was a 400 yard murky lake with water temps in the 60's. I was a confident swimmer, had been participating in a swim class 2 days a week and I had been training in my friends pond to get used to the wetsuit. She prepped me for what to do if I accidentally swallowed the cold water. 

Sure enough - race start was small but a mass start. I started at the back of the pack since this was my first race and pretty quickly swallowed someone else's splash. My lungs constricted a bit from the adrenaline, the cold water and the wetsuit. I flipped to my back to settle down then got mad and took off like bat out of you know what trying to make up for the poor start. 


2019-03-25 6:45 AM
in reply to: trigal38

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, Pennsylvania
Subject: RE: Your open-water swim in your very first race
Mine was my second OWS ever, sighting was a challenge and I went pretty far outside of the markers adding a considerable amount to the swim.

Once I got over the 1/2 way point and understood that I could get to the end, my everything freed up and it was fine.

Get in as much OWS as you can before race day, you won't regret it.

During my second race, my wet suit zipper blew up (I guess I added some lb's) twice while we were staging to get in. This killed me. I kissed the first kayak I could find, then somehow, all of my nerves calmed and I was GREAT the rest of the way.

Third race, not wet suit legal. My slowest time but easiest effort of all three.

Ohhh...The Swim...


2019-03-25 7:07 AM
in reply to: triathlete_to_be

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Tacoma, Washington
Subject: RE: Your open-water swim in your very first race

My first tri swim was.... back in 1984. Before tri wetsuits. I had been a fairly strong swimmer, though not particularly fast. I had no problems with the distance (half-mile, if I remember right). But I hadn't done much open water swimming, and certainly never a mass start. Okay, check that -- I'd never swum in a group before at all.

The start scared the crud out of me. I go pinched between two others that both forced me down while they clubbed their way over me. Then had some one clawing at my feet. Once traffic and my panic cleared a bit, I got angry and got moving.

Things I've learned that helped, even to today with probably a couple hundred tri's under my belt:

* Look at the swim course, and look for something on the horizon to use as a sighting aid to get to the first turn. Caps and buoys can all look the same when your eyes are looking at water level.

* Get in the water before the start and get your face in the water. Get past the "gasp reaction" that is completely natural when putting your face in the (cold) water. Warm up a bit, get to where your body relaxes, then line up for the start.

* If the first turn is going right, line up to the left, so that you don't get pinched into the buoy as the crowd veers toward it. And vice-versa.

2019-03-25 7:23 AM
in reply to: triathlete_to_be

Subject: RE: Your open-water swim in your very first race
Chicago Sprint last year. Took swim/open water training lightly. Kicked my butt. Thank god I was able to cling to the dock. Almost considered quitting. Since then I've dedicated almost all of my training to swimming.
2019-03-25 10:34 AM
in reply to: jdwyer02

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, Minnesota
Gold member
Subject: RE: Your open-water swim in your very first race

I looked back at my race report from my first tri.  (2007 yikes).  I was a very timid swimmer, so I picked a beginner friendly race with a shallow swim.    The one item of note is that I was surprised by the chop caused by other swimmers.  That was always a problem for me, really, getting splashed in the face unexpectedly.  It is possible to practice this in the pool with another swimmer purposefully swimming right by you.    It also works to swim on the outside of the pack, assuming you can breathe on the side that is away from the group.

p.s. learning to breath both directions is invaluable.


2019-03-25 1:06 PM
in reply to: #5256997

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Subject: RE: Your open-water swim in your very first race
My first race swim was open water, Ironman 70.3 Augusta. I did most of my training swims in a pond so was confident in swimming in open water; although, I didn’t feel confident about the distance.

The swim went well and I finished a lot faster than I expected. It did take me a good 200m or so to get into rhythm. I couldn’t get my breathing in check so I had to take a minute and do some easy glides to get my heart rate back under control.

As far as changing anything...I’m not sure. I probably need to work on my breathing a lot more. My swim technique in general needs a ton of work.

Don’t fret about the swim if you’re putting in the work. Remember you can always regroup in the water.
2019-03-25 1:08 PM
in reply to: BikerGrrrl

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McAlester, Oklahoma
Subject: RE: Your open-water swim in your very first race

Originally posted by triathlete_to_be Hello tribe! What was the swim portion of the first triathlon you did like? Was it what you expected? Did you go into it feeling prepared (confident you could complete the distance)? What would you have done differently, if anything? Thank you! :-)


Well...I did a sprint Triathlon in 2008 with a 500yd swim.  I don't consider that my first triathlon considering I hadn't been in a pool for over two years before they started my timer and I jumped in the pool.  The I had less than 20 miles on a bike in the two years leading up to that race too so I just consider it a day of cross training in my runner days, but the swim in that race was a serpentine pool swim.  You swam up one side of the pool lane then back down the other side, ducked under the lane dividers, and kept going until you had been up and down every lane in the pool.  You had to predict your swim time and the fasts predicted swimmer went first down to the slowest swimmer. They started swimmers about every 10 seconds and I think some of my friends were about off the bike before I got in the water that day.  I over took a few swimmers and had a few over take me.  Having people swim over you throws you off your groove and slows you down, but I don't feel it is not a big deal to run into people in the water.

My first real Triathlon was in 2015.  It was a 1.2 miles swim in a large lake.  That race had an in water start.  There were about 300 people in the race.  I had been swimming for 16 weeks and had the basics down but still lined up on the back row.  I young kid that was about 17 years old was in front of me.  He was joking around with the other athletes in the water.  It helps to keep things light when I was doing my first open water swim start.  I didn't find out until a few weeks later that the kid in front of me had his Pro Card.  He just did the swim in a relay with two middle aged age groupers from where he worked.  I didn't have any problem with swimming over people in front of my at the swim start though.  He left a wide open gap in front of me.  Yes, I ran into a lot of people, but again it wasn't a big deal.  You got change directions and keep swimming. 

The swim was NOT what I expected in my open water 1.2 mile swim. I expected everyone to line up 100m out of the water and spring to the shore and dolphin dive in. I expected a ton of contact at the start with everyone swimming over each other.  It was a lot my calm that what I had built me self up to expect.  Did I feel prepared? For the start?  Yes!  For the 1.2 miles? No!.  I had never swam 1.2 miles before.  The longest I got up to in training was about 1,400 meters.  I wasn't sure if I could keep my face in the water without panicking of a full 1.2 miles or if I would get tired before I got to 1.2 miles.  My goal was to swim smooth and easy and try to stay in the front crawl the whole way.  I did pretty good. I did get leg cramps at about 1,500 meters into the race which required me to do back stroke for a while while I worked out the cramp, but I had a great swim time going about 15 sec/100yds faster than what I was able to do in my training.   The swim is short.  When you line up for a triathlon on race day the swim is going to be a easy.  It is the run that you should be worried about.  That is longer and and comes after you have already swam and biked.  

2019-03-25 3:43 PM
in reply to: triathlete_to_be

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Extreme Veteran
Subject: RE: Your open-water swim in your very first race
Hahahahaha my first triathlon open water swim was a catastrophe!

Thought I could make it with freestyle/dog paddle. It was "only" 500 yards....

100 yards in, reduced to side stroke, backstroke.. survival stroke.

Thought about swimming to shore before the swim exit.... somehow got done but pretty sure I was last out of the water.

What helped to improve my swim quickly was:
Learning to breathe correctly.
Learning to sight correctly.

After that it's working on parts of your swim form.
2019-03-25 7:00 PM
in reply to: TriJayhawkRyan

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Subject: RE: Your open-water swim in your very first race
Lol. I was self taught for my first sprint. I had been swimming in the local lake (hey its free!) and had done at least double the distance in training. I was a little nervous because I had been swimming about 100m out along the shore, and the race went out towards the middle and back. The mass start was what had me freaked out, so I did a three count before running into the water, which worked perfectly for staying out of the churn. Then, about 3/4 the way through, the wave behind me completely ran me over!
2019-03-26 6:34 AM
in reply to: riles32807

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Middle River, Maryland
Bronze member
Subject: RE: Your open-water swim in your very first race

Actually quote from my race report in 2010.  It was probably even worse than this:

"See above notes on course, but the measurements were WAY off. The swim leg winner posted a 15+ min 750M swim, which is way off. Probably closer to 1K swim. I went into the swim with the idea of enjoying the experience. Which I did, for a LONG time. I swam mostly freestyle with a little bit of backstroke thrown in. SLOWLY, but that's OK, that was the idea. My sighting was awful because my goggles kept fogging up. I think I swam so far off course I almost was swimming in circles.

Got into a decent rhythm about halfway through then started to tire a bit the last 200 or so (you know, the EXTRA 200). Last 100 was miserable; I felt like I wasn't even moving forward.

Wait, what the heck was that???!! Oh, it's a good female age group swimmer who looks like she's swimming under water, passing me like I'm floating still (which I more-or-less was).

Wife was worried about me because I took so long. She was ready to come into the water after me. "Finished" finally and felt OK standing up (remembered to kick last 50 to get legs warmed up).

All-in-all, I experienced everything. Goggles fogged up, got kicked in the head, kicked someone else, went way off course, got climbed over by a chick."

All that aside, I still finished, then made up a bunch of time on the bike and run.  The slow swimmer bonus is that you get transition to yourself. 

2019-03-26 11:20 AM
in reply to: triathlete_to_be

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Albuquerque, New Mexico
Subject: RE: Your open-water swim in your very first race

I'm probably atypical.  

My first tri was a sprint with a 400 yard(?) swim in a small inland lake (strip mine lake).  It was a small race with only 75 or 80 participants divided into 3(?) waves.  I let my wave splash around for 10-15 seconds before starting and had no problems with the swim even though I'd only swam  once in the weeks leading up to the race.  

I was a lifeguard and swim instructor and had swam for fitness off and on between age 16 and age 40 when I did the race.  I'd been a Boy Scout and a Boy Scout Leader where we swam from docks, canoes, etc.  We had to pass a swim test annually and I'd learned that the key to passing was to go slow.  I'd done mile swim multiple times, generally in a pool, but at least once in open water.  As a scout, we had to jump in water fully clothed and use our clothes as floatation.  As an adult, I'd demonstrate this.  I'd been scuba certified and water skied.  Being in murky water didn't scare me and I was confident because of my background that I'd be OK during the swim even if I wasn't fast. worst tri-swim experience was my second season and a sprint with a 500 yard(?) swim.  I'd been training for a HIM and was (ahem) cocky about my ability and so started at the front of the wave...I was completely gassed by the turnaround.  Lesson learned, and I generally let the group dissipate a bit rather than join the mayhem.  

2019-03-26 2:17 PM
in reply to: triathlete_to_be

Subject: RE: Your open-water swim in your very first race
Mine was a 800 meter lake swim at the Irongirl sprint triathlon. It was in a protected lake but I really had no idea what to expect. I purposely picked a women's only event so I wouldn't have to deal with aggressive males. I rented a wetsuit that ended up being a little too big but served the purpose (it was a rental I got online). The first time I actually wore the wetsuit was at the race (newbie mistake). Only swimming I did was in the pool and I was terrible. I started swimming about 6 months beforehand and this was a goal race for me. My technique was awful and I was slow but I was able to get through the least in the pool.

Race morning I was a nervous wreck. I felt so unprepared and my biggest fear was that I was going to drift away and they would have to come get me. I didn't even care if I was the last one out of the water, I just didn't want them to have to come rescue me. I kept thinking I was going to be a one and done triathlete. I came from a running background and loved cycling but I was definitely not a swimmer. I didn't like the stress of training for 3 events.

I was one of the last ones in the water. I got in and once I started swimming all the fears went away. I was actually enjoying myself. A few times I would drift away from the buoy line but the kayak people were so nice and made sure I didn't drift too far out. I remember passing someone doing backstroke and I didn't understand why she was doing that (silly me didn't think other strokes were allowed).

I was probably one of the last ones out of the water but I didn't care. I got through it and ultimately finished the race.

It ended up being a great experience for me and paved the way to more races, including several full IMs. I fell in love with this sport and the challenge of training for the 3 events. If I had to do it all over again I would have gotten swim lessons and did some open water swims before the race. Once I realized how terrible of a swimmer I was and how bad my technique was I got swim lessons. It was really hard to break bad habits and learn the correct way to swim.

2019-03-26 9:38 PM
in reply to: triathlete_to_be

Subject: RE: Your open-water swim in your very first race
It was brutal. I finished but it was a terrible experience. In retrospect, I think I just went out way too fast, swallowed some lake water and from there the panic started to set in. In my second race, I started very slow and methodical for the first few minutes and then picked up the pace as my confidence grew. Never had an issue after that first race, but that first one was ugly. I think you'll find that many of us share a similar story about our first race.
2019-03-27 1:53 PM
in reply to: triathlete_to_be

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2019-03-27 4:01 PM
in reply to: brickbd

Subject: RE: Your open-water swim in your very first race
Originally posted by brickbd
The minute I stop having fun, Im done!!!!

As I said to my friend after my first sprint, 'We really need to work on our definition of "fun"'. But, yes I agree. =)
2019-03-28 5:04 AM
in reply to: riles32807

Subject: RE: Your open-water swim in your very first race
My very first race was an aquathon race 3 years ago, with 0.5 km swim and 4.08 km run stated. It was a non-wetsuit race. I did 00:14:01 for swim (46%), 00:00:46 for T1, and 00:20:41 (38%) for run, total 00:35:29 (43%).

I had no swimming background and was a total beginner in swimming at that time, needing more than 4 minutes even for a flat-out 200 m, however I was used to open water at the very beginning, comfortably completed the distance very slowly.

The next year I was doing 00:13:21 on the swim, but 00:25:10 on the run as my fitness deteriorated a lot in that time.
2019-03-31 10:56 AM
in reply to: Parkland


Subject: RE: Your open-water swim in your very first race
I actually think this is an important topic for new triathletes to think about. Open water swimming is tricky and I've seen people panic at the start of the race. The wetsuits can feel restricting, having tons of people around and the general race chaos can be really scary.

Personally, I accidentally rubbed sunscreen onto the inside of my goggles in my first triathlon race. I ended up swimming without using the goggles and was fine but it wan't one of my finer moments.

I would recommend people practice before racing so that there is less likelihood of panic. If you're in the PNW area (North of Portland OR) I put on a free open water swim race series in the summer.

Good luck to anyone who is racing for the first time this season!!!

2019-04-01 6:58 PM
in reply to: mlegrand

, Pennsylvania
Subject: RE: Your open-water swim in your very first race
Strange...Just opened up the Matt LeGrand "laundry as the fourth discipline" on you tube...hahahaha


2019-04-07 7:42 PM
in reply to: triathlete_to_be

Subject: RE: Your open-water swim in your very first race
I grew up as a competitive swimmer but gave up swimming in college because of burnout. I only swam when necessary until I decided to get physically fit again. I did an Indoor tri and had a blast so I decided on trying the Tri-For-a-Cure.

At the start of my wave, I got pushed off the dock and my leg got caught between a rock and the dock, breaking some bones in my foot and ankle. Finished the race because I had no idea what I had done. Needless to say I was a bit disappointed in my swim time, but was okay with my bike time. Did I mention my bike was a 15 year old mountain bike that weighed a lot? Run was a struggle for some reason haha.

A week later it still hurt so I went to the doctor. Ended up having surgery and was in a cast and boot for several months. 6 months after surgery my doctor cleared me for full training. Silly doctor had no idea what training was like and I ended up back in a boot for another 3 months. I still need to have surgery to replace my posterior tibial tendon, but that will have to wait because I do not want to be in cast and boot for 4-6 months!

Moral of the story - women only races can be brutal!
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