Punching and Kicking

By Kris Swarthout USAT Level II Coach

We last saw our heroes tentatively toeing the shoreline of their first triathlon of the season. Since then, they have spent numerous hours staring at an endless black line on the bottom of their local pool. Occasionally, they brave the weeds of their local swimming hole (with a wetsuit on, of course). The missing item to their training has been the preparation for the inevitable contact that traditionally comes from a triathlon swim.

Often times referred to as “the washing machine”, contact in a triathlon swim is not to be taken lightly. Over the past 5 years more focus has been given towards increasing the safety of the swim. This is due to the rise in popularity of the sport and thus also the rise in fatalities, normally associated with the swim portion of the event. In years past it was seen as a badge of honor for athletes to line up as many as 2500 deep for the cannon blast of a mass start. Today common sense and focused research has race directors looking for a new way to get the party started. With all that said, it is still up to the individual athlete to prepare themselves for the inevitability of swimmer on swimmer contact in the water.

It is my personal belief that if a swimmer/triathlete is better prepared or acclimated to the unknowns of what the water can bring, he/she can better control the anxiety that will inevitably come with contact. There are stories that surface from the pro field that talk about how triathletes will pull, push and climb over each other on purpose in order to gain an advantage or neutralize other athletes in the swim. That is another training lesson for another day. Today we will discuss how Joe/Joanne Triathlete can best prepare for full contact swimming.

There are two places that swim preparation can take place, the pool or the lake. For pool swimming, I suggest putting as many people as you can find in a single lane. Have everyone bunched up against the wall and then say go! For any of these training sessions, I highly suggest a lifeguard, or safety personnel, close by just in case. By putting all these swimmers together you will begin to experience the chaos of the mass start. You are guaranteed to get kicked, slapped, climbed on and splashed at. If you don’t experience any of these things, you either don’t have enough swimmers or you are not trying hard enough. You can also line the pool lane on both sides with people holding kick boards. As the swimmer comes down the lane, the others splash, whack and create waves, which will hopefully disrupt the normal breathing and stroke patterns of the swimmer.

For the lake, there are a few different options to recreate a triathlon swim. First, you can do the same as we did in the first pool drill. In this instance, athletes need to group together as much as possible in the water. In the lake try to stay close to the shore or in a depth that allows people to simply stand up if they need to. The theory is, the more you experience the contact the less it will jar you. The trick is to not think about it, not stress out about it and focus on getting the next stroke correct. If a leg kick messes up your stroke, forget about it and focus on making the next one correct. Controlling your breathing is vital as well. If you are truly in the thick of it, you can increase your sighting strokes and that can help get the air you need inside you. Whatever you do, do not hold your breath, this can be a fatal error on your part, and we don’t particularly like fatal errors in my business.

The other thing to think about is preparing your equipment. I strongly suggest putting on your goggles with the strap under your swim cap. If you have long