I forgot to mention one more athlete in the prior post…

This athlete came to TOEST with prior triathlon experience, but admitted that the swim portion of a triathlon creates significant anxiety. In one or perhaps on more than one occasion, as a result of the stress at the start of a triathlon they overextended themselves to the point that they were so out of breathe in the water that it resulted in a moderate anxiety attack. They were able to settle down by floating on their back, floating long enough that their breathing rate came down, long enough that they were able to eventually roll back onto their breast and continue the event, perhaps slowly but continue nonetheless.

I believe it is these athletes – triathletes for whom the swim is a high anxiety situation – who would benefit significantly by participating in swim meets.

What swim meets offer these triathletes is repeated exposure to the exact situation that brings high anxiety at the start of a triathlon: the period of anticipation of the start of the event, the waiting period, the period when its easy to lose control of thoughts, of feelings, where anxiety can sink its tentacles into an athlete no different than the way sailors would fear the Kraken wrapping itself around their ship sinking it, all of them along with any hope of survival. All of which leads to the athlete starting the swim like a bullet, unaware due to their anxiety level that they are literally sprinting at the outset of the swim.

Imagine being able to practice just the start of a triathlon… the swim portion, over and over.

That is the exact opportunity that a swim meet offers.

Imagine being able to practice just the swim portion of a triathlon, but not in open water, not with hundreds of other athletes, not with athletes who are willing to swim over top of you, but in a pool, in a lane, your own lane, where the distance of the event is clear, where going off course is an impossibility, where no one else is permitted to interfere.

Imagine being able to practice just the swim portion of a triathlon, with a coach able to walk you through the process over and over, offering instruction, encouragement, feedback so that with every swim event at the meet you experience progress, improvement, and most importantly a reduction in the stress of swimming another event.

Imagine after having such training – i.e. using swim meets to practice the swim portion of a triathlon – what a triathlon could be like. It could be an event where you feel prepared, and it could be performed with a level of confidence that you have never before experienced. It could be an event where you know that you can manage how you start the swim as a result of having swam at several meets, having swam several events at each of the meets.

Triathletes will balk at the notion of swimming a 50m or 100m event stating that no triathlon offers a swim that short… they are missing the point.

The point is not the distance, the first point of this post is to identify that its all the stuff that happens before you even start to swim in a triathlon that screws up most athlete’s triathlon… its the thinking, the worry that builds into anxiety which builds into fear and sometimes panic.  Practicing, rehearsing how to be in those moments which lead up to an event is part one of the value of swim meets. Part two, is learning how to pace.

Triathletes screw up their entire race because all the anxiety at the outset translates into them starting their swim as if it was a 50m sprint event! They get 100m or 200m into the swim, hit the first buoy and all of a sudden the adrenaline from all the starting anxiety wears off a bit but then the breathlessness catches up to them and wham, they are slammed by another spike in anxiety and adrenaline as the stress of being breathless a hundred meters off shore sets in.

Imagine practicing short distance events at a swim meet for the purpose of practicing proper pacing in the first 50-100m of a triathlon so that you don’t exhaust yourself, burning all your matches before you even hit dry land!

Imagine progressing to competing in longer events at a swim meet to gain even further experience in pacing, in race tactics and strategy which can be directly applied to any triathlon.

Imagine how much faster your T1 transition time will be. For some triathletes, their T1 times seems as if they had a nap or went out for wings and a beer mid-race. Why? Because they need that time to recover from the stress of the swim start, the stress from all the thinking about the swim, and from the swim itself.

Instead of training properly for the swim there seems to be a belief amongst triathletes that if they can do the distance in a pool then they are good to race. Consider that competitive swimmers train multiplies of the distances they compete (in each and every workout), triathletes infamously “train” for their swim by hitting the pool to swim the distance they will compete at, just that distance and not a meter, more just “checking” that they can last. And this is what many triathletes and triathlon coaches think is swim training. Plus, triathletes will do this ‘training’ using paddles and pull buoys or worse with neoprene shorts, pull buoys, and paddles placing as little load as possible on the effort. Convinced that they are simulating their upcoming triathlon because they will rely 100% on their wetsuit to preventing them from drowning, triathletes are confused why race after race they fail to improve in the swim, fail to improve in the overall event.

With so little physiological training for the swim, and so little psychological preparation, its no surprise that triathletes abhor swimming… they never train properly for it, yet are convinced they do.

Want to be different than all other triathletes? Want to be a triathlete who enjoys the swim? Thrives in the swim? Want to explore triathlons in an entirely new way, then I would recommend taking the next triathlon off-season (which is conveniently the on-season for masters competitive swimming) to train with a masters swim team and compete at masters swim meets.

Your swimming and your triathlons will never be the same.

One more stab at talking triathletes into swim meets…

Encouraging aspiring triathletes who start with us as novice swimmers to participate in a swim meet often ends with the response… “oh, gee, I’m not ready”.

Not wanting to push the point, I let it go and leave the athlete be.

But it occurred to me after writing this post that that statement (as in “I’m not ready” …even though as coach I wouldn’t recommend to any novice to compete at a meet if I didn’t feel they were ready) makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

You aren’t ready to swim 50m in a pool, starting in-water and simply pushing off the wall, and without any obligation to do a flip turn at the opposite end, with no one else crowding you, no one else permitted in your lane, with no time limit for you to complete the 50m… you are not ready despite the fact that in practice you have swam hundreds of meters continuously, sometimes swimming as much as 1,000 to 2,000m in a single practice?


You are ready, or you will be ready in a month or two to swim 400m, 750m or 800m in the triathlon you have registered, a swim that will take place in open water, where the environmental conditions could cause waves, a current, a swim where there will be hundreds of other athletes all simultaneously swimming towards the exact same buoy, a swim where the water temperature will not be controlled like that in a pool, a swim that precedes a bike and a run.

50m in a pool… NO!

400m+ in open water… YES!

That just doesn’t add up. So let’s be honest. If you truly are not ready for a 50m event at a swim meet, no problem, but then let’s equally agree that there is no way that you are ready to swim any distance in open water (at least not this season). What it means is that you need another full season of swim training to develop the comfort and then the confidence to be able to progress from a swim meet to open water swim events.  That is a reasonable and logical progression.

But… I’m already registered for a triathlon this season, I signed up and paid months ago. So what? You need another year to train, so what?  It doesn’t matter if you have already signed up and paid, what matters more:

  • participating even though you aren’t ready, risking being unable to start, unable to finish and even if you do finish having your triathlon ‘experience’ be little more than an hour of nerve wrecking, anxiety provoking, and panic filled memories, or
  • participating when you are ready, respecting your physical, mental and emotional health, being able to participate knowing that you have the training in place to be able to start, race, and finish with confidence?

One sounds like a good idea, a great idea in fact, and the other sounds like a bad idea, like a really really bad idea that we would never wish upon anyone.

Why do triathlons have a 25% no show rate, and then a no finish rate as high as 25% especially in the longer distance events? Because athletes register first, and train second. Its called backwards racing and it doesn’t work. For those who do show and do manage to finish, triathlons end up unpleasant experiences with the athlete questioning what they were thinking.

Racing backwards is a mindset that has been marketed heavily by event organizers in an attempt to maximize participation at events. Triathlon coaches are in on the marketing scheme as well encouraging athletes to sign up for something that “scares” them (coaches manipulate athletes by sugar coating the fear tactic suggesting that they “do something epic”… point being if its not epic… well what’s the point). This is done in hopes that fear will force the athlete to train, to commit and stick to their training (and to them as coach).

Where is the fun and enjoyment in putting a gun to your head? How can threatening yourself to train ever end up a good idea? It isn’t. It will backfire and it will leave you regretful, resentful, possibly hating the entire experience. Why do this to yourself? As a coach of junior athletes, I see parents doing this all the time to their kids: they place so much importance on competition, and then place so much expectation on their kids, that their kids come to hate sport, end up quitting, all because competition is made the priority, because competition becomes overwhelming. Meanwhile, parents are shocked that this is the end result.

Set yourself up to win, not to lose.

Registering first, training second is setting yourself up to lose, and maybe even losing big.  Training first, seeing how far you progress, then deciding on an event based on how much you have progressed is the way to set yourself up to win… its the way to keep the fun in sport for yourself and for your kids.