Triathlon swim gear: How hard could it be?
Just grab your swim-suit and go!
But like all things triathlon- as race day approaches, there is so much to think about, prepare and plan.
The sure fire way to have a bad race is to trash the swim, then find it difficult to recover for the rest of the race.
Let me share with you some things that have happened to me over the years in the swim:
• Drank too much sports drink prior to the race and got stomach cramps- that lasted the whole race!
• Did not stretch or warm up prior to the swim so found it difficult to breathe or catch my breath
• Got acute calf cramps in the water- I had to stop mid race and stretch out –losing valuable time
• I borrowed a wet suit once(bad triathlon swim gear) and had not tested it out- it was a major squeeze getting into it- then almost impossible to get out of it. I nearly popped a rib trying to get it off
• Placed myself in the middle of the pack for the open water swim. I got thumped in the head by someone’s foot as they kicked to sprint away. The blow knocked my goggles off and dazed me a bit until I got my bearings Ha ha!
There are plenty more stories I could tell you- but I think that is more than enough humiliation for now.
By the way these events did not all happen in the one race – thankfully- or it is highly likely that race would have been my last!
But these things do happen along the way. So in your preparation, try to learn from these experiences so you can ensure they do not happen to you.
So let’s go through the elements of a good swim race and the triathlon swim gear you will need to consider:
A good triathlon wetsuit will make you more buoyant in the water and will generally save you time overall. This needs to be balanced by the length of the swim leg though. If it is a very small distance- it might make sense to not wear one to save the time it takes to get the wetsuit off.
For most events though- a well fitting wetsuit will make swimming easier and is worth the hassle. If you practice the “getting it off quickly part- you should get this down to just a few seconds-seriously!
Th most important part is choosing a wetsuit is “fit”. Make sure they are snug especially around the groin and the shoulders.
Always check the race rules. Wetsuits are allowed and optional in water temperatures of 84°F or colder, but in higher water temperatures the USA Triathlon’s (USAT) governing board prohibits them.
If you are a minimalist or if the water temperature is above 84°F, the only necessity is a swimsuit. In Ironman races and USAT sanctioned races, you’ll need a USAT-approved wetsuit. Check and double check the race rules- to make sure you will not be disqualified before you even start!
Keep in mind triathlon wetsuits are designed differently to surfing wetsuits- so if you are doing a lot of swimming and racing in wetsuits-make sure you have the right one. This is the most important tool you can have in your triathlon swim gear arsenal.
If you are a lady, probably (though not always) start with women specific triathlon wetsuits. This one has been reviewed as being snug and super comfy- but you will need to try for yourself.
Before putting on a wetsuit:
• Allow plenty of time to get into the wetsuit and zip it up.
• To make it easier to get off, lube your wrists and ankles generously. Also put some on the back of your neck to avoid rubbing/chaffing burns.
• Use lubes designed for triathletes. Regular petroleum jelly can degrade wetsuit material.
Putting it on:
• Unzip the wetsuit
• Fold it down at the waist
• Slide a foot through one leg of the wetsuit, and then your other foot through the other leg
• Pull as much excess up as possible in the legs, pulling from the inside out
• Next, pull the wetsuit up around your waist, make sure it is snug round the groin and not still hanging down by your knees
• Bring it up toward your neck and put a hand through each sleeve and then the other hand through the other sleeve, pulling up to the shoulders
• Reach behind, hold the zipper base with one hand and pull the zipper leash up with the other hand
• Tuck the ankle strap and timing chip under your wetsuit leg cuff
• Position the leash so it stays out of your way during the swim.
Tip: When putting on your wetsuit, put a plastic bag on each foot to make the wetsuit slide on easier. It looks funky but saves time. You can do the same with your hands.
Getting it off: Unzip it as you leave the water- the pros manage to unzip it and pull it down to their waist as they are running to the bike.
Then grab it at the waist and pull it down to your ankles in one go. Stand on it and pull one foot out, then stand on the other side and pull the other leg out.
Practice this a few times.
It does not matter how long it takes to get it on and be comfortable before the race. But you must make sure you can get it off quickly with no hassle or delay when you hit transition.
It is extremely stressful being unable to get out of your wetsuit in transition as all the other competitors are leaving with their bikes to start the cycle leg!
How do you think I know this???
Most pros take less than 5 seconds to take off the wetsuit.
They have already unzipped it and down to waist before they get to the bike: 1 second Waist to ankle: 1 second Kick one leg out 1 second Kick other leg out: 1 second 3 second total!
(In my first race, it must have taken me approximately 15 minutes- as I could not get it off!) Trust me, this NEVER happened again! I then bought a decent wetsuit and practiced!
It’s also important to have a second pair on hand just in case a strap breaks.
• Make sure they are sized correctly. The straps and lenses should be comfortable yet snug enough to keep water out.
• To avoid getting goggles knocked off your head, put your cap on over the goggles.
• Make sure you buy anti fog goggles and can see out of them- I have seen some triathletes wearing goggles that fog up within 3 minutes. They cannot see anything and have to stop mid race to lift their goggles up and sight the buoys and turning points.Swim Caps
• Sometimes the cap is supplied by the race, try it on beforehand with the rest of your triathlon swim gear
• Have an extra cap. They rip easily.
• If it is very cold, wear a warm swim cap under your race cap. Just make sure the official race cap is on the outside.
If you’re bald or shave your head, a cap will go on easily.
Otherwise: 1) Flatten short hair down. Put long hair into a ponytail.
2) Put your hands in the cap and spread it open as far as you can.
3) Pull the back of the cap over the back of your head and pull the front to your forehead while pulling down at the same time.
4) Pull it down overall and tuck into the cap any short ends of hair that are sticking out.
5) If it is very difficult to put on- talcum powder in the cap makes it much easier to get on
Optional extras: I don’t personally use these but some people feel more comfortable with them
So make sure all that swim training does not go to waste by being silly about transition and fiddling about with the wetsuit.
Make sure you are not let down by your gear.
Once your triathlon swim gear is sorted, all you have to do then is focus on your swim stroke, focus on your breathing and being nice and relaxed in the water.
A lot of people do panic- so if you can stay relaxed, you will often come out in the first half of the pack and be away on your bike quickly.
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