Nation's Tri blog

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I’m not entirely sure why, but I signed up for my first triathlon without really knowing how to swim. Sure, I could play Marco Polo with the kids, but swimming 200 meters seemed about as exhausting as a full out 10K run. I think the challenge of the swim drew me to triathlons and I was determined to figure out how. Like most new triathletes, I spent hours in my local mini-Olympic going back and fourth, resting when I needed, coach by my side. Eventually, I figured it out and was able to complete regular 2000m sessions. While this became manageable, nothing can really truly prepare you for your first mass-start, open-water triathlon. While I suffered through my first few races, flat on my back at the start, fighting for air, I eventually figured out a few things that help me get started and going in my race.

Visualize the start – After watching YouTube videos of previous Ironman Arizona races, I was terrified of the 2000 person mass start. To prepare, I did my best to mentally picture would it would look like in my mind’s eye to be in that water with the other competitors. How would I get in the water? Where would I line up? How would I deal with contact? In fact, each night, for a month prior to the race, I spent 5 minutes or so visualizing the start and enjoying my own mental success. I also visualized my race starts when starting my open water training swims. I believe that this practice alone is tremendously powerful and I had my best swim start ever in Ironman Arizona.

Warm up in the water – On race day, I like to get in the water as soon as the race officials will let me. Even swimming 50 meters, head under with a full freestyle, can calm me down and prepare me for the gun when it goes off. If it is a deep water start, I will bob up and down blowing bubbles to help jumpstart my swim breathing right up until the gun. If I am unable to get in the water to warm up, I will spend 5 minutes with my eyes closed, mentally warming up on the shore.

Everyone is your friend – As a newbie swimmer, I had trouble with the regular, and sometimes intense, contact that comes along with open water racing. While I didn’t care for being hit, it was sometimes worse when I hit someone unintentionally. To help deal with this challenge, a good friend once told me a silly, but great mental thought to help me deal with the contact: Remember that the other competitors are your friends. Pretend that those kicks, bumps, and pushes are gestures of good wishes and pats to send you on your way. A little cheesy? Yes, but a great technique that will put you in a positive frame of mind during a challenging and important section of the race.

While swimming will likely never my strongest discipline, I have found that the simple tips above really help my swim on race day. I hope they help you too!

Ryan Bohlander

Ryan started out as a middle distance runner (800m and 1500m) for the University of Arizona, but traded in his track spikes and shin splints for a swim cap and neck rash. He could hardly swim the length of a pool and didn't own a bike when he started training for triathlons, but now looks forward to mountain lake swims and turbo sessions. Ryan loves to show his kids that training and dedication leads to race day fun and accomplishment.