It is my experience that athletes enter into triathlon with mainly two different perspectives:
1) I grew up swimming
2) I am not a swimmer
This is usually a polarizing difference as athletes begin their journey. I fall into the first camp. I grew up swimming. Not only that, I grew up swimming in open water. I am a descent swimmer still and often lament that it’s the shortest part of any triathlon. What I realized the first time I saw someone take 4 strokes in a race and then turn around in a panic is that regardless of distance, if you fear the swim, it can feel insurmountable.
In addition to just ability and confidence swimming, most triathlons have their swim in open water and most athletes train in a pool. That transition can be a big one and the feel of open water swimming is very different than following the blue line at the bottom of a pool. I will also argue that the feeling of open water swimming far exceeds that of swimming in a pool (but that is probably an acquired taste).
So how do we get better? Overcome the swim hurdle? Improve even though we grew up swimming?
The answer to all of those is the same. Practice, practice, practice.
Practice in a pool.
Practice in open water.
Practice in race day conditions.
Practice with a coach.
Believe it or not, swimming might be the easiest place to find a place to practice with a coach. US Masters Swimming has over 1500 swim clubs across the country and several chapters right here in Philadelphia. I offer swim training for adults through local high schools other coaches, like local pro John Kenny offer open water opportunities during the summer. Additionally, community programs often times offer beginner swimming for those who need to start with basics before jumping into a workout.
I know that just because these opportunities are available, doesn’t mean that it’s ‘easy’ to take advantage of them. In no other sport do you strip down to a bathing suit, put on a cap and goggles and ask if you can ‘join in’. Conversely, if you grew up swimming and feel pretty good about it, you too can still learn and benefit from practicing technique and even from being coached.
As with anything, it can be hard starting something new, particularly if it’s something you’ve never done before or don’t have a lot of confidence in doing.
But I promise you this:
- You can find swim training partners just as you would a running or cycling partner. Even if it’s just showing up at the pool at the same time, having a partner makes a big difference.
- Swimming does get easier with better technique.
- I have never felt worse for having gone for a swim.