Just about everyone has a fear of the mass swim start in any distance triathlon. Growing up as an ocean swimmer, I’m in the minority when I hope for a little bit of rough water to give me a tiny advantage. Most everyone else hopes for glassy water and not to get kicked in the face and have your goggles fall off. Here are a few swim tips I’ve learned over the years and a great video for Ironman mass starts:
1. Practice at the location of the race (if you can) so you can get comfortable with your environment. Even if it’s just the day before your race, it can still alleviate some fear.
2. Put your goggles under your swim cap. It’s possible that some body contact could knock off your goggles, but having them under your cap should prevent them from falling off.
3. Make sure to use a lot of Body Glide on your neck if you are wearing a wetsuit. Nothing is worse on a long swim (or days afterward) than feeling like your neck is being rubbed raw. Ouch!
4. Seed yourself correctly so people don’t swim over you. If you are a slower or less confident swimmer, don’t go in the first row for the start. People will swim over you. Avoid this by starting toward the back. Use their draft and if you pass people, that will give you confidence.
5. Don’t swim the hard-line next to the buoys unless you are a very fast and confident swimmer. The fast swimmers behind you will take that path and they will swim over you if you are in their way. Go to the opposite side of the buoys–you’ll have more open space and be able to swim your own pace without a lot of contact.
6. If you feel uncomfortable or scared, don’t be afraid to do the breast stroke, side stroke or back stroke. You’ll keep moving forward and can get your bearings. You could also hold on to a kayak or paddle boarder for a minute. This won’t disqualify you and then you can continue again.
7. If someone is continually slapping your feet, take it as a compliment (albeit an annoying one) that you are going fast enough for someone to draft you. And do a surge to see if you might be able to lose them. If you find yourself drafting someone, try not to slap their feet not only because it’s annoying but because they could try to kick you.
8. Steer clear of people doing alternative strokes such as breast stroke. They will inevitably kick you if you get too close.
9. Learn how to sight. I call it the “peek and breathe.” I take a peek ahead, turn my head right and breathe while finishing the stroke. I also count my strokes, this not only relaxes me with a rhythm, but makes sure I’m sighting every 6-10 strokes and not going off course.
10. Know that most people are very worried about the swim so relax, we’re all in it together. Be smart, protect your face and know that when you make it to land, you have the bike to think about because the swim is done.
Does anyone else have helpful swim tips or other ideas for open water swimming?