It’s that time of year again when event organisers deem the British open water venues to be warm enough to host races – it’s unlikely to be warm though! If you’re taking on your first open water triathlon, what can you do to prepare?
The first thing you’ll need is a swimming specific wetsuit, rather than a ‘shorty’ or sailing type wetsuit. Thanks to support from Solo Sports, I use the fantastic Arena Carbon Tri Wetsuit which offers buoyancy, great flexibility around the shoulders and a reverse rear zip for a quick transition. The most important thing is to get a wetsuit that fits you – too big, small or tight and you will have reduced movement for swimming and may feel constricted and struggle to breathe normally. On the other hand, with a wetsuit that’s too big, you’ll have water flushing through with every stroke which can be cold and unpleasant, not to mention create extra drag. It’s worth trying on a suit for size before buying, so either in a shop or borrow one from a friend, and remember each brand has slightly different sizing.
Once you have your wetsuit I would recommend you always practise in open water at least a couple of times before your event. The first time may only be five to ten minutes but you can focus on getting used to the cold water rather than actually trying to do a full training session. Over subsequent sessions, you can build up your tolerance to the temperature and then you can practise some skills such as ‘sighting’. Unlike swimming in the pool, in open water you have to navigate around a course, usually marked out with brightly coloured buoys. In order to swim the shortest possible distance, you should aim to sight every 10/15 strokes which involves raising your head slightly to check you’re still heading in the direction you need to be. If you rarely sight you may end up swimming well off-course and covering much further than required. You can practise sighting in the pool as well as in open water and the aim is to be able to seamlessly fit a forward glance into your usual swimming stroke. Some open water specific goggles can further help such as the Arena Envision which I use. They offer a wider field of view than traditional pool goggles in order to see the buoys during a quick glance when sighting. Its also worth considering the lenses in the goggles based on the conditions of the day; clear lenses may be best on rainy, grey days but if it’s sunny you may want tinted goggles – many triathletes take two pairs to races.
Transition offers another potential time-saving in a triathlon, so being fast and efficient at taking off your wetsuit can really make a difference. Each time you use your wetsuit you have an opportunity to practise getting it off quickly, so don’t just absent-mindedly peel it off whilst chatting away, make an effort to do it as quickly as possible! Its best to have a system so you’re not just randomly wrestling with the suit, and a wetsuit generally comes off best when there’s water inside it, so start as soon as you can after exiting the water. When I come out of the water I know my left-hand grabs the velcro flap and my right pulls the rear zip cord. I then use my right hand to pull the suit off my left shoulder and down the arm. Repeat for the opposite side and you can have both arms out and the suit down to hips before you arrive at your transition spot. Once at my transition spot I push the suit down from the hips to the knees and then adjust my feet to stand on some part of the suit before pulling my right leg sharply upwards so my foot slips out. With just the left leg remaining I stand on the suit with my right foot and repeat the process pulling my left foot out; sometimes it may need a little helping hand to slide the suit over my ankle and clear of my foot.
- A wetsuit that fits you well.
- Acclimatisation to cold water.
- Practise sighting.
- Appropriate goggles.
- Have a system or process to get your wetsuit off quickly.