Triathlon Training - The Swim
Swimming is America's number one choice when it comes to exercise, so there should be a public pool near your home or work. Your triathlon training can encompass any combination of strokes that will get you through, nothing says you need to swim freestyle like everyone else. Most choose free-style since it's the fastest. I've seen people use a number of strokes and some even struggle with the swim and rightly so, it takes practice. If you can't make it across the pool, don't worry, you will with practice. Make it a point to get in the water at least 3 times a week and swim a lap at a time until you get stronger, then work on technique. I really recommend visiting Terry Laughlin's Total Immersion Swim Lessons to improve your stroke. I can't explain swimming slippery like a fish better than Terry so check it out.
Swimming fast requires the very wise choosing of parents and years of dedicated practice. Most of us will never swim a mile in under 17 minutes, but it can be fun and rewarding with some time and effort invested. Swimming fast is more a matter of technique than strength. It takes the longest of the three triathlon events to master since it is the most technical. My expectations were that I might not get a lot faster, but that I wouldn't be quite so tired when I finished. I was right. Learn to swim efficiently instead of faster and you will have plenty of energy left over for the bike and run.
There are master's teams (anyone older than high school age) located in every community. Joining a masters team is what helped me get faster.
For triathlon training you get faster by swimming 5 days a week to get the feel of the water and doing lots of short distance drills. You can start out easy by swimming 3 days a week and get into the habit of making the swim a priority. Remember that if you swim long slow distance then you'll be good at long slow distance. To get fast, you need to swim fast! It makes it a lot easier to push yourself to swim fast when you are in the company of others. It's impossible to see yourself swim so that is where the coach is helpful. As much as you might think your technique is good, a coach can improve your stroke. Overcoming the resistance of water is your main goal. Some practical lessons I learned were to: watch my hands entering the water at 10 and 2 o'clock, keeping them at my sides and not crossing over, bending my elbows to save my shoulders, and saving my legs with a mild kick.
Open water swimming, whether in the lake or especially in the ocean, can be intimidating. I recommend reading John Walker's excellent Open Water Swimming Tips to help you be prepared for the event. Wetsuits are used in the triathlon when open water temperatures make it difficult to stay warm. They usually are not allowed when the water is above 75 degrees. Wetsuits can make a slow swimmer faster by keeping the legs higher in the water. They generally don't help an already fast swimmer. When you swim in cold water keeping your goggles from fogging up is a real trick and here are a number of solutions.
Most triathletes come from a running background therefore swimming is their weakest event. Less than 20% get any form of swim coaching. You can increase your chances of being better by joining a team. On the other hand, only about 15% of the total energy expended during a triathlon is in the swim portion so regardless of how fast you get, the real gains will be in the bike and run portions.
That is little consolation if you're afraid and worried about surviving the swim in the first place. Experience counts for a lot and practice will not only gets you to Carnegie Hall, it'll get you in and out of the water and onto the bike. Swimming in a large crowd is no easy feat. You'll not only have to build your confidence level by putting in time in the pool or lake, you'll need to place yourself in the right spot on race day.
If you're not sure where you belong when entering the water on race day, then you belong in the back of the pack. Having faster swimmers crawl over you is no way to start your first triathlon.
If you're not sure whether to join a team, can't join a team or don't want to join a team, but would like some new workouts every week, you can find some on-line at SWIM 2000. Personally, I built up my confidence by teaching myself with small tips from lifeguards until I had the courage to join a master's group. I wish I had joined sooner.
"I am only happy when I am swimming like a fish" Duke Kahanamoku