WinforKCWed: I'm Not a Swimmer

You're a slow swimmer? So am I. I started triathlon training as a non-swimmer. I didn't know how to swim until I was 38 years old. It took me 38 years to swim 50 yards. That's slow.

The swim is the big freakout for almost every new triathlete. But as they told us at my WinforKC triathlon orientation, you will survive the swim. If you consistently spend some time in the pool between now and then, you'll do much better than survive.

In the race, the swim will be over before you know it. By the time you are on the bike it will be a distant memory. No lie. It's about 20% of your time in the race. Over before you know it.

The key to preparing as a non-swimmer is not to become fast, but to become comfortable swimming for at least 20 minutes at a steady pace. And the key word in all of that is COMFORTABLE.

At this point in race prep, you can set yourself up for a better race experience by letting yourself relax as you swim. Let yourself enjoy being in the water. Can you swim relaxed, with your thoughts quiet, just gliding, kicking, breathing with your strokes? Learn what "relaxed" feels like for you. As you add laps to your swim or as you decrease the amount of time you rest between laps, you will feel the difference between pushing yourself (which is good) and fighting the water (which is not helpful).

If you stay with it, one to three swims a week between now and the end of July, you will get faster than you are now, and far more critically, you will increase your swim endurance.

Over the weeks you will add distance, decrease rest, and add some harder, faster intervals to your swim. As you do, return to that relaxed feeling in the water. This can help you build race day confidence. No matter what, you'll know the water and the distance of the swim don't have to freak you out. You can even learn to relax yourself while you are moving fast, breathing hard, working hard.

You may be surprised how quickly your swim progresses. You may be surprised how you are able to add a minute or a lap to your swim time from session to session, even if you got out of the pool feeling drained, with no more in you, at your last session.

Twenty minutes swimming comfortably at a steady pace. That's what you're after. You can do that by triathlon day. One to three swims a week.

And P.S. don't worry about open water swims until you are actually standing in the lake water. We'll talk about that when it gets warm enough to consider.

More Swim Tips

  • If you stay with it, one to three swims a week between now and the end of July, you will get faster than you are now, and far more critically for racing, you will increase your endurance.
  • Easy ways to get structured workouts for fast progress: swim with a master's group; look for stroke clinics or adult beginner swim classes at your pool or gym; take a single individual class to get a stroke assessment, and ask the instructor to sketch out a structured workout you can do once a week based on your current time/yardage and your goals.
  • Breathe out a lot more than you think you need to. Really open your mouth underwater.
  • A lap is up and back, 50 yards. A length is 25 yards. A swimmer's mile is 33 laps. The WinforKC triathlon distance is 11 laps.
  • If you lose track of your lap count, try using something else. I used the colors of the rainbow: finish of lap 1 was "red," lap two was "orange," etc. The books of the Bible might make a good counting device if you know them. In a 25-yard pool, the triathlon distance is "First Kings." If you're using US Presidents, it's Polk.