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Triathlon Swimming Tips

Thanks to Ironman competitor and triathlete, Kelly Mahoney, for her insights into the world of endurance athletes. Train for and master “the swim” with these endurance and triathlon swimming tips.

Triathletes prep for a swim.
Mahoney prepares for the Gull Lake Triathlon swim.

Swimming is a sport unlike any other and was difficult for me to tackle initially.

I thought I had all the tools I needed when I resolved to complete my first sprint triathlon last summer. I mean, I’ve been swimming since I was a baby, what more is there?

Turns out, quite a lot. First, I needed an athletic swim suit, along with goggles and a swim cap. The goggles were a bit tricky to find, and learning how to put on a swim cap required a little YouTube viewing. Then I needed a place to swim, which prompted finally joining a gym (for better or worse).

I rapidly learned I didn’t know how to swim, either. After a few laps, I was exhausted. I met with a swim coach and it made a huge difference for me.

Then things got serious this training cycle. I had to hit the pool at least twice a week for as much as an hour at a time. I’ve added a few tools to my repertoire as well to do the best I can without a coach. My swim workouts usually shake out to include one distance/endurance based session and one interval workout per week.

For the endurance workout, I’ll focus on completing a certain number of laps with the best form I can muster. For example, this morning, I ticked off 50 laps, or 2500 yards. So with each stroke, I focused on where my hand entered the water, then reaching forward and down. Mentally, I think about reaching the wall of the pool and scraping the bottom of the pool to try and get the most out of each stroke. I’m also working on bilateral breathing, so I’ll work to rotate my body and pull all the way through each swim stroke. Lots to think about, right?

Ironman competitors prep for the swim.
Mahoney tackles the Ironman 70.3 Racine.

For my interval workouts, I’m working on pushing my heart rate to the max and getting these workouts done as quickly as possible. Common workouts include 100-yard sprints with 50 yards of stroke work in between as a cool down, repeated 8 to 10 times. Another I do frequently is a pyramid workout of sprints, start with one lap in length and working up to five laps then back down again. In between, I’ll practice 50 yards of bilateral breathing to cool down.

Keeping track of my laps can be a total PITA. Some days, I think I swam somewhere between 28 and 35 laps because who knows once I start thinking instead of counting. One of my counting tricks is to think about the number rather than just repeat it in my head. Sometimes I think about what the number means in my life (23, the year I bought my house, 16, the year I started driving, etc.), but other times, I think of what I would like to eat “X” of. As in, four cookies, 14 skittles, etc. It’s just amusing and not actually what I eat, but it works.

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