I love swimming. Again, this is all from either personal experience or from questions that I'm asked from people who are new to multi-sport.
Unlike the bike, this is more of a mix of what you need to buy and things you really need to consider doing.
In my experience, a high percentage of people come to multi-sport with a running background. The running piece they feel comfortable with (until the first time they brick). The bike, they figure they can muscle their way through.
But the swim, it's can be pretty nerve wrecking. My goal today is to make it a little less horrible.
KEY POINT. I cannot stress this enough. YOU MUST WORK ON YOUR SWIM. If you are afraid of the swim and avoid swimming in open water prior to a race, you're fucked. Honestly. Take it from me. You will expend an enormous amount of energy, simply because of stress. You'll be completely worn out and unable to really ride or run.
Let's start with equipment. Like with the bike, I'm assuming a beginner.
1.) To wetsuit or not. Whenever legal, wear a wetsuit. Period. The point of a wetsuit, besides warmth, is buoyancy. When you swim with a wetsuit, it offsets alot of your bad habits. If you have bad balance, this will help you adjust. How this helps you: if you are more buoyant, you will swim faster/more efficiently which means you will have more energy for the rest of the race. SPECIAL NOTE: It's virtually impossible to drown in a wetsuit, so swim with a little more confidence.
Sleeved or sleeveless? I'm going to tell you it's a matter of preference; HOWEVER, swim coaches that I respect have told me always wear sleeves (buoyancy). I will say this. Some people have a claustrophobic experience when wearing a wetsuit. Going sleeveless often helps. But, there are places wear you can try them on. Better yet, you can rent them. Try it out ahead of time and see what works best for you.
2.) Goggles: Buy in sets of 4. 2 for inside or cloudy days. 2 for outside in sunny days. Seems excessive right? It's excessive until you pull out your goggles on race morning, and the strap snaps leaving you without any goggles. You don't have to buy $30 goggles. You can buy whatever feels comfortable. There's no such thing as goggles that won't fog up, so go for it. Buy which ever ones you want. But make sure you have different types for light conditions. I'm telling you when you are in open water and the sun is rising directly in front of you, you can't see anything except the sun reflecting off the water. Having goggles to reduce that glare is a life saver. You don't want to follow the person in front you. Get your goggles, sight well, make your own path.
3.) Swim caps. This one is more for the ladies. Two types Silicone and latex. It's a matter of personal preference but latex can/does tear more easily. Again, buy multiples or save your race caps and swim in those for training.
Some advice to IGNORE and you will hear it. DO NOT PUT CONDITIONER IN YOUR SWIM CAP TO KEEP FROM GETTING FRIZZIES. AND, wash your face AND hair prior to swimming--shampoo only. Get all that lotions and potions crap off your face and out of your hair. TOO MANY times, I've had my swim cap fly off my head taking my goggles with it because I had conditioner/oil in my hair and lotion on my forehead.
I have wavy/curly hair, so I understand the frizzies. I have to put heavy conditioner in my hair, smoothing cream and oil almost daily. But it works. Find products that work for you.
For those of you with long hair: the habit is to tie up your hair in a messy bun on top of your head, then put the swim cap on. Whenever possible, get out of this habit and do a messy bun at the bottom of your skull. The reason for this is that, in a race, you're getting on a bike next.....with a bike helmet. You don't have time to re-do your hair in transition. Band it at the bottom of your skull, bike helmet goes right on.
4. Swimsuits: Sadly, you're going to have to leave the fashion suits and baggy cargo suits at home and get training suits. You can find swimsuits pretty inexpensively on websites like swimoutlet.com. I would strongly urge you to buy at least 2 suits. The first time you forget to wash or rinse your swimsuit, and you go into your swim bag and have to put on a wet swimsuit....you'll thank me. Anything that's baggy is going to create drag. Ladies: the first time that tankini comes up and over your head during a flip turn....well.....yeah......You want a one piece or a two piece, no tankinis, no fashion suits.
Guys: You don't have to wear the itsy bitsy suits (unless you want to, maybe leave that to the ladies?). There are alot of choices out there for suits that have all types of coverage that are also snug.
Oh....and don't forget your flip flops.
Trislide: I love this stuff more than any bodyglide. It's a spray and goes on very easy. Spray it around your neck, armpits....EVERYWHERE, you don't want to start the day with a wicked case of neck chafing that looks oddly like a hickey.
That's pretty much it for equipment.
How do you go about this thing called open water swimming?
I strongly recommend that you:
a.) Join a masters swim: YES. you will be the slowest swimmer there. YES, you will be lapped. Yes, you will hate swimming. Now, that we have that out of the way, check your ego at the door and get in the pool. It is hands down the best way to get faster. I swam for years on my own. I was terrified the first week I showed up to masters. I can't even begin to tell you how much faster I have become. The coaches work with you. Do it!
b.) Take lessons. In the absence of or in addition to master's take lessons. Swimming is different than when you learned when you were 8 years old. Take one lesson or two or ten. It will really help.
That's getting in a pool. If you have never swam in open water, you're in for a treat. Prior to getting into open water, do a little test.
Go to the pool, close your eyes and go under water.....
How'd it go? Did you freak out? If yes, keep doing that for a few seconds every time you swim laps.
If you didn't freak out, you can move to the next step. (Make sure you are in a lane to yourself). Swim a few strokes with your eyes closed, open them, close them.
Do that until you feel perfectly comfortable. Now, you're ready for open water.
When you get to open water, you will see people dive right in. Please don't do this. The cold of the water and darkness of the water will send your body into shock and cause your heart rate to go through the roof.
Instead, go into the water, step by step, and allow your wetsuit to fill up with water. The gradual filling of the wetsuit, gives your body time to warm up the water. Oh....yes...your wetsuit fills up with water, this is how you stay warm. Once you are in deep enough that the water is up and over your wetsuit collar, you can start swimming.
If you've been practicing swimming with your eyes closed, the darkness of the water won't affect you or won't affect you as much.
The one thing you notice right away is how big the water seems, how bright the sun is and how far away the buoys look.
Take your time. If you panic, do a few strokes and get back to shore. Relax and head back out.
SIGHTING: You've probably figured it out, but with no black line along the bottom of the pool, you are going to have to look up to see where you are going. At first, don't worry about being smooth. It might take you several looks before you can see the next buoy. Don't worry about it. Over time, sighting becomes a more natural part of your stroke.
What is sighting? Sighting is take a quick look up to see where you are going. Ideally, your head only comes out of the water to the bottom of your goggles. People have different ways of sighting. Some look up then turn to take a breath. Some take a breath and look forward.
Bi-lateral breathing. You're gonna want to learn to do this. We are all dominate on one side, but you need to be able to breath on both sides. When the water is really rough, and you are unable to breath on your dominant side, you'll have to breath on your weak side.
Once you get comfortable swimming in open water, you will want to practice your starts and/or swimming in a group. You will be shocked at how often you will get wrapped up in someone else and unable to get away from them. In fact, an open water swim start can be one of the most violent things you'll see with people running full speed, water splashing around, etc.
Vertigo: Many people get vertigo when swimming open water. I know that ear plugs often help. However, if you have this problem, you might want to google some ideas. There are a lot of crazy things that people do to help them deal with this issue.
Quick notes for entry and exit and buoys:
1.) If it's a beach start, run until the water is up to your mid thigh, then dive in. If you are new to this open water swimming thing, don't swim crazy fast. Just get your groove going. Don't worry about how far ahead everyone else is. Don't worry about the next waves catching you. Just do your thing.
2.) Rounding the buoy: This is where it gets fun. It's CRAZY. everyone want to make the tightest turn they can. You'll get hit. You'll have some big dude feel like he's mounting you. You also have choices: don't fight it, make a wider turn. (Whatever you do, do NOT cut the buoy, do not turn inside, you will get disqualified). Your other choice is to swim aggressively. Hold your ground, in training practice breathing going around a buoy. There are different strategies for turning. Usually, after you hit the first buoy, the crowd starts to disperse. The fast people are way ahead. the slower people are just coming around the buoy, and you're snugly in the middle group with just a few other people.
3.) On the exit, do not stop swimming until your hand touches the ground. Even the slowest swimmer, swims faster than they can walk when the water is over their knees.
Stand up! BOOM! You're done. You just finished your first triathlon swim.