Swimming to TRI … Tips on Surviving the Swim in YOUR First (or Next) Triathlon

Let’s be honest, if you’re swimming laps at your local YMCA, then it’s probably not because you are a diehard lover of the swim.  You have a triathlon on the calendar, right?  Yeah, me too!  And that’s why I’m in the lane right next to you.

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Every time I meet a new triathlete, I hear the same story.  They fear the swim.  In today’s world, every parent I know, besides myself, has their kid signed up to be Olympic swimmers on a local swim team.  But in my day, swimming wasn’t all the rage.  Sure we went to the pool in the summer.  We swam in the lake with our friends and family.  But nobody was going to be the next Missy Franklin.  It was a different world when I grew up but it’s those “non swimmers” from my generation who are now creating the newest group of triathletes.  Why?   Cuz we are now middle aged women.  Looking for something that we can call our own.  Something outside the hubby, kids and the J.O.B.  Something just for us.

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And so we sign up for our first triathlon.  We know we can run, been doing that for a few years now, right?  And we learned to ride a bike as a child.  Once you learn, you never forget, right?  The bike may be old, need a tune up or possibly new tires (since the old ones were dry rotted) but it will cover the distance for a sprint triathlon.  So you’re in and registered.  But what about the swim?  Here is everything I know about swimming a TRI.  I’ve never taken lessons but have done a few swim clinics and I always ask advice from lifeguards, swim teachers, swim coaches or high school/college swimmers when I get the chance.  If you’re a swimmer, I’ll probably ask you questions, even if you are my 10 year old niece.  Smile

Triathlon SWIM Tips:

  • Relax.  You’re not going to drown.  And if you think you might drown, please stop reading this and go find a coach!
  • Practice may not make you perfect but it will ease your nerves.  You have to swim before your TRI.  Minimum 1x a week.  More if you have the time.  The more time you spend in the water pre-race, the better.  You will get more comfortable with each swim session. 
  • Get a good swim cap and a tinted pair of goggles.  Start using them in the pool  while practicing so they won’t seem foreign on race day.  Goggles are not required during triathlon but you do want to protect your eyes from other peoples fingers, the water & even the sun (thus the reason for tinted goggles).  Swim caps will be required and provided by the race to distinguish your swim start & age group.
  • There are no rules regarding the type of swim stroke in a triathlon.  You can freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, sidestroke or even dog paddle, as long as you get in and out of the water on your own power.  So if you start to feel panicky while swimming, pull your head out of the water and do a different stroke. 
  • Keep moving in the water.  Triathlon swims normally start in waves, usually by age group.  Each wave is separated by a specified amount of time, anywhere from 30 seconds to 2 minutes.    Meaning that groups will start before you and then there will be a group immediately behind you. Keep moving because the faster swimmers from the wave behind you will be upon you (and passing you) before you know it. 
  • Mentally prepare yourself to be around people while swimming.  This won’t be like your lonely practice swims at the Y.  There will be 20-100+ people around you at any given moment. 
  • There will be lifeguards and spotters in the water with or near you.  On boats, paddle boards, wave runners, canoes, etc.  If you cramp or panic, you can hold into a boat/paddle board/buoy for support as long as the lifeguard doesn’t have to actually assist you in any way. 
  • Fastest stroke for most people is freestyle, or front crawl.  Where your face is in the water. 
  • If you tend to swim crooked, try bilateral breathing, where you breathe equally on both sides of your body.  Easier said than done for someone like me.  Bilateral breathing has been a goal of mine for 4 or 5 years and I’m just finally getting it now.  Bilateral breathing tip (from a swim coach at the YMCA of Dekalb) – Use a kick board initially.  Hold the kickboard out in front of your body with straight arms.  Just kick to propel yourself & the board forward, then put your face in the water and practice breathing.  First breath on your strong side, next one on your weak side.  Couple times down and back & you’ll be ready to rock this on your own while practicing your freestyle.  You may get a few partial mouthfuls  of water (at least I do) but it will help even out your stroke and straighten up your swim.
  • Freestyle stroke requires that you lift your head out of the water on occasion to “spot” or check your position in an open water swim.  The most efficient way to spot is to do so right before you breathe.  So lift your eyes slightly out of the water in the front, then turn your head to breathe.  You just need a quick glance to make sure you are still on path.  Example HERE with a video in section #4.
  • If you are in a slip stream of another swimmer, you can just follow along and that will require less spotting (and less energy) on your part, just don’t follow them blindly in the event that they get off course.
  • Some TRIs, have a line or rope that runs between buoys.  If you can find the line and stay on it, you will not need to site because you can just follow that rope.  Sweet!
  • Swim freestyle with a wider arm stance.  Don’t cross your arms in front of your body when you swim.  Most of us ladies, bring our arms over our head and our hand enters the water in front of our head/face.  Wrong.  That’s wasting motion, kinda like running with your arms pumping and crossing in front of your body.  It’s the same thing.  Think wider, almost awkward, swim stroke where your hand enters the water parallel to the body.  Confused?  Hold your arms straight out in front of your body, parallel to the ground.  Like a movie zombie or sleepwalker!  That’s the position of arm entry.  At the side of your ears.  Not in front of your head.

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Source

  • One your hand enters the water, reach in front of you to get the full motion of the stroke, then pull back in the water with loose fingers (not a tightly cupped hand which wastes energy) toward your hip bone.  At the same time your body is rotating for efficiency and to get ready to take a breath.  When you hand gets to where your hip was, the hip should be gone because the body has tilted/rotated.  When I’m in the water, I imagine my hand almost pushing my hip up and out of the way.  Not a perfect example below.  I’d like to see his hip rotate out a bit more on the top pic but still a decent example.

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Source

Complete diagram of full stroke.

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Source

That’s pretty much everything I know about swimming.  If you have additional tips, please share because I am far from an expert and would love to learn more!!  Know that I’m not fast but I can cover whatever distance.  I’m trying to get to the pool at least 2x a week now.  Still not a lot but better.  I just think about my bilateral breathing, wide arm stance/entry, reaching thru the stroke so as not to cheat myself, and then body rotation where my hand pushes my hip out of the way.  I still need  to work on my flutter kick.  Sometimes I forget to kick.

If you plan to wear a wetsuit in your TRI, watch the first video in this link HERE.  Judy, please watch it cuz I’ll need you to help me get my too small wetsuit on at Steelhead!!!

Other helpful TRI posts: 

** Swimming to TRI ** Amanda – TooTallFritz

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Hidden Treasurers …. The Spencerville Covered Bridge

I took all of 2014 off cycling due to the sudden move from IL to IN.  The stress of finding a new house while packing up the IL home.  All while working full time.  Being a full time mom with a hubby who had pretty much already moved ahead of us for work.   And let’s not even talk about how crazy long it took to complete the move itself.    I basically didn’t do much last year other than run to maintain sanity, then try not to lose my mind while I wasn’t running ….. and I didn’t even do that very well.  Regardless, since last August, I’ve been running on my country roads here in rural Indiana.   Should be boring, right?

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Wrong.  I’ve had a couple close calls where I was almost struck by unaware motorists.  One time a lady was so close to me that I could have reached into her car and touched her child who was riding passenger.   Did she see me?  Probably not.  Was the sun in her eyes?  Maybe.  Or was she trying to teach me a lesson to “get off the road”.  Possibly.

As a result, I was a bit worried about getting my bike out.  In fact, I was scared.   While running, I’m legally obligated to run facing oncoming vehicular traffic.  While cycling, I’m legally obligated to ride with vehicular traffic.  Blind to what is coming behind me.  Blind to the fact that someone may be unaware that I’m on the road.  On a bike.  Vulnerable.  At His mercy.  If it weren’t for my love of triathlon; I’d probably have left my bike on the trainer again for 2015.  But I’m signed up for Ironman 70.3 Steelhead.  And I must ride.  Outside.  On the road.  In the wind.  Up and down whatever hills I can find.  Alone.

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All of a sudden, I remember how much I love cycling.  How much I love my bike.  How great it is to fly down the hills.  How horrid it is to struggle UP the hills.  How freeing it is to be able to ride for hours on end to parts unknown.  On one of my recent rides, I went looking for something that I had read about, in a small town near my home.  A covered bridge.  Indiana is known for it’s old covered bridges (98 in all) but I had no idea that one was so close to my new home.  The Spencerville Covered Bridge was built in 1873 and it’s a mere 11 miles from my house!

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A hidden historic treasure.  Basically in my backyard.  One that not many locals think about since traffic has long been rerouted away from the bridge to protect it from overuse, modern vehicles and big massive semi trucks that have previously damaged this old girl.   Now she just sits awaiting our arrival.  While I was there multiple people pulled up and snapped pics.   One couple even lingered, looking at this piece of modern day history, walking the interior planks.  There is a small parking area on the east side of the bridge for those who want to do more than just drive by.  If you are in the area, go check it out!

I’m thankful to be back on the bike.  I’ve been trying to ride more and run less.  Easier said than done for this runner.  But I’m enjoying the journey.  Enjoying my bike and the wind in my hair.  I love finding hidden treasures like the Spencerville Covered Bridge.  I enjoy riding new roads and finding new routes, particularly if there are a couple hills on which I can practice climbing and shifting. 

** Get Out and Find YOUR Local Hidden Treasurers!  ** Amanda – TooTallFritz

Marion Rotary For Shoes Marathon & Hot Weather Running Tips

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Marathon #21 was in the great state of Iowa, in Marion, just north of Cedar Rapids.  It was the Marion Rotary For Shoes Marathon.  And it was hot.  And hilly.  But I had a great group of friends who made the trip with me.  From left, meet Lindsay (Glitter Girl on the Run), Judy F, Amanda W (Get to Goal), Derek, Julie M & myself.

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We also met Kim from Running on the Fly and her friend, Barb (not pictured). 

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The 2015 Marathon for Shoes was held in June for the first time.  The first two years were held the third week in April and apparently the weather both years was crazy cold with either snow or wind/rain/sleet.  So the 2015 edition was pushed out til June and cold it was not.  In fact it was hot.  So hot that most of us would have done a choreographed rain dance had we thought it would produce a cloud or drop of rain from that beautiful blue but steamy sky.  But alas, no rain.

Packet pickup was at a local school gymnasium and there were a handful of vendors.  Nice, friendly people.  Easy packet pick up.  Free parking.  Nike tech shirt as the SWAG.  You could have been in and out with your shirt & number in less than 10 minutes.  But you had to get your packet the night before the race or there was a late pickup fee the morning of the race.

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The race started in front of a local high school at 7am.  Easy, free parking.  A handful of port-o-potties.  Chip timing.  Beautiful blue skies.  The race started on time without much of a production.  We were across the timing mat in less than 30 seconds, along with the half marathoners and a handful of relay runners.  Not a huge race, less than 500 people at the start. 

Then came the hills.  One right after another.  Then a few more. And the never really stopped.  The temps that were in the mid 70s at the start climbed to mid 80s by the finish.  The course was mainly on country roads with some neighborhoods.   There were a couple sections where we ran along busy highways separated from the zooming cars by orange cones.  Highlights were an old cemetery and a small park.   The coolest thing we saw was a piece of art in the form of corn stalks just before mile 7.

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Around mile 7, the half marathoners turned off and it got pretty lonely.  I’ll be honest, I was so thankful to have friends running this race!  We mostly stuck together and just dealt with the hills heat as it came.  Very slowly.  With lots of walking.  Aid stations were every 1.5 miles or so apart.  They offered warm water & watermelon AdvoCare Rehydrate (tasty and way better than traditional sugar laden sport drinks for your body!).  There were lots of people on bikes offering bike support, asking us if we were okay, calling SAG for those who needed a ride and calling 911 for those who dropped.   There were a handful of spectators scattered throughout the 26.2 miles.  The best spectator award goes to a nice couple who put out their sprinkler as we ran thru one of the last neighborhoods.  We were super thankful for that sprinkler and ran thru it like a bunch of 5 year olds.  I think I even squealed with delight!  Winking smile 

Running in high heat and 100% humidity is pretty dangerous.  I wouldn’t recommend it.  However, weather for pre-registered events is an absolute unknown.  There is no way to predict what the day will bring but only what we can do to make our chances to survive the elements a bit better.

Tips for running in the heat:

  • Wear a hat or visor
  • Wear sunscreen to keep your skin from frying
  • Dump water on your head and body to keep yourself as cool as possible
  • Wear light colored clothing
  • Use ice or cold water to increase the rate of cooling
  • Run thru sprinklers or open hydrants, if available
  • Use sponges or cooling towels if the event offers these things
  • Take your time, decrease your pace, and WALK to keep your body temp as even as possible
  • Replace lost salt with salt tablets, electrolyte drinks/gels or by eating salty foods

Bottom line, even if you do all of the above, your rate of success will depend on how your body can ultimately deal with the heat.  Some people handle it much better than others.  Some people can’t handle it at all.  One of my friends still has a headache from the heat and dehydration suffered on Sunday.  Another friend had no idea why we struggled so much because she “loves running in the heat”.   It’s all about your body and how it can adapt to the conditions and that is super hard to predict.

Ultimately, everyone in my group finished, most of us with bragging rights over our new “personal worst” time.  But we finished under our own power because we did what was necessary for us and that meant slowing WAY down to endure the weather.  Here is Judy and I running around the track toward the finish line.  We were two happy campers to have finished another marathon in yet another new state. 

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Being safe always trumps running fast.  It’s certainly not fun but something we all learn over time.  If you ran in Marion on Sunday and are feeling bad about your race, know that only 124 people FINISHED the full, only 243 FINISHED the half and there were only 9 relay teams that crossed that finish line.  Finishing really was winning in Marion IA on Sunday.  Be proud.

Amanda – TooTallFritz

Sunburst Marathon …. 2015

I’ve ran the Sunburst Races multiple times but each time, I’ve ran the half marathon.  It’s definitely the race with the most participants and a manageable distance for me when I’m also training for other events.  The full marathon, is a bit of a push.  Always difficult.  Always taxing.  Always an event where anything can happen.  But I took the gamble for 2015 and threw my cards in for the full.  26.2 here I come … and fortunately, Julie came too.  Smile

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This was our 20th marathon.  Although we haven’t ran all the others together, we have ran a good number together over the course of 2014 & 2015.  So it was a bit of a celebration and we were excited to be on the same number at the same race.

Temps were cool, in the low 60s at the start and climbed to 70 degrees by the finish.   This race is known to be a “hot one” so I was happy about the weather!  The sun was shining and it was a beautiful day.  Easy packet pick up the morning of the race.  Easy, free parking!  Cute shirt.  Early 6am start to get the marathoners on their way before things got too busy with the other races.

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Due to the construction at the Notre Dame stadium, both 2014 and this year (2015) boasted new finish line areas and new courses. 

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I thought the course this year was very well laid out.  We saw lots of sites.  Ran various trails & waterfront paths.  And we were mostly shaded, which is a huge bonus!

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As usual, the aid stations were plentiful, approximately every mile in most areas.  There were a couple aid stations that offered GU, wet/cold sponges & bananas.  Nice set up and friendly volunteers.

We ran thru the same neighborhoods as in previous years but didn’t spend so much time “circling” as we had in the past and that made me pretty happy.  I’ll be honest, I had not heard anyone say anything positive about the Sunburst Full from previous years.  Most of the people I know who have ran it previously don’t plan a return trip.  As a result, I was nervous about about the race.   But I think the course change really knocked it out of the park.  There were a couple spots that could still use some improvement but overall I think they really did a great job.  And they added a killer character building hill at the end.  Both the full and the half ran up “Hallelujah Hill”.  Or at least we were supposed to run up it.  Julie and I walked.  She probably could have ran it cuz she is a decent hill runner but I was in walking mode by then.  Smile

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The finish on the Irish Green was much better planned out this year.  There looked to be plenty of space to hang out and wait on friends.  Melanie & Jill were awaiting our finish after their first half at Sunburst so it was nice to see some friendly faces at the finish. 

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#20 is in the DONE column!  Next up, the Marion Rotary for Shoes Marathon in Marion, IA on Sunday! 

** Amanda – TooTallFritz **