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JULY 5, 2011 * Links
Starting an Open Water Swim Race

How you start the open water swim leg of your triathlon often contributes significantly to your race outcome. A relaxed, efficient swim sets you up for a fluid transition, giving you confidence and energy for the remainder of the race. This article will help you achieve a quicker, more successful start with 7 simple reminders, including how to warm up faster, breathe easier, become mentally focused, swim faster.

Many races do not offer an opportunity to warm up in the water prior to the race. The time prior to the race and the first few minutes of the swim are crucial for warming up your muscles and establishing a positive racing attitude. The following are reminders to help you begin an enjoyable and successful race.

1. Arrive at the event mentally tuned. Any race begins weeks and months beforehand with both mental and physical training and preparation. Since triathlons are outdoor events, you need to expect variables for which you may or may not be able to train or prepare. In other words, be prepared for the unexpected. Your strongest muscle on race day is your mind. Only you can convert the most unexpected or difficult circumstances to your advantage. All your training and practice is now “in the bank.” Race day is withdrawal time from that training “bank”.

2. Use the waiting time to go through a dry land warm-up. Stretch prior to the race; do arm circles to warm up shoulders, stretch your neck, back, legs and arms. Do light exercises to increase your heart rate, a quick run in place or jumping jacks.

3. When you enter the water, move your hands and legs to acclimate to the temperature and gain a “feel” for the water. Once the gun has sounded and your swimming wave has begun, excitement and adrenaline are at their highest. Remain calm and focused to stay in your zone. You still will need to warm up your swimming muscles. Begin at a steady pace, remembering that your muscles naturally tighten up during the first 300m of warm-up before they begin to loosen up.

4. Every racer is experiencing a similar process. Stay focused on your own race and your priorities. The chaos of a mass start almost guarantees you that you will be hit, kicked, pushed, or swum over; you may breathe in water, your goggles may get water in them. Practice or simulate these conditions as closely as possible to become familiar with what they feel like and how to remedy any equipment problems.

5. Breathe. Steadily breathe in and breathe out. Generally, we do not think about breathing on land. In the water, it quickly rises to the top of the priority list. Breathing changes from an unconscious function to a conscious necessity. During the warm-up process your lungs adjust to the activity and conditions and often feel tight. Many people think their wetsuit is constricting them, but more than likely, they are still naturally warming up. Remain calm, keep moving, and the tightness will subside.

6. To help solidify your rhythm or pace, begin exhaling as soon as you finish inhaling. Do you hold your breath when you run? Swimming should be no different. Full, even breaths help oxygen transfer to your muscles more efficiently, which in turn speeds your acceleration into race pace. Sometimes you can draft off the person in front of you to ease through warm-up and into your pace. Remember to maintain proper body position, head position, and efficient stroke as you continue into the remainder of the swim.

7. Practice, practice, practice. Stay positive, challenge and invigorate yourself, and most important, have fun!