Triathlon Magazine Canada - - FEATURES - BY CLINT LIEN

DOES A TRIATHLON start for you once you reach dry land? If the an­swer to that ques­tion is yes, then you need to ad­just your at­ti­tude. One such choice is to be­gin in­clud­ing Masters swim meets in your sched­ule. I can con­fi­dently pre­dict that if you’ve never taken part in a meet you’ll get a fit­ness re­turn from it, you’ll likely swim faster than you have in the past and, best of all, you will en­joy it.

When it comes to the bike and run, most triath­letes can reel off data­bases of their best times, course records, high­est watts, mul­ti­ple thresh­old num­bers and av­er­age paces. They’ll show you bell curves, bar graphs and multi-coloured pie charts. Now ask those same triath­letes what their best time for 400m in the pool is, and as many times as not, you’ll get a blank stare in re­turn.

Ob­served be­hav­iour has the ten­dency im­prove. That’s why we set our best times at the lo­cal 10K – ev­ery­one’s watch­ing and the times are recorded for all to see. Ap­ply the same to your swim­ming.

En­ter­ing a Masters swim meet has much in com­mon with sign­ing up for a 10K. The prices are rea­son­able (usu­ally be­tween $10 and $30), you’re sur­rounded by peo­ple who share a pas­sion for the sport and there’s lit­tle in the way of judg­ment. You’ll find most folks are fo­cused on their own per­for­mance rather than beat­ing oth­ers. But, like the start­ing line of the 10K, when you’re stand­ing on those blocks and the buzzer sounds, your de­sire to do your best comes to full bloom and you find your­self tak­ing things to a new level and test­ing your lim­its.

Even if you’re not a mem­ber of a Masters swim group, en­ter­ing a swim meet isn’t a prob­lem. You can join the Masters or­ga­ni­za­tion as an un­at­tached swim­mer. For the pur­pose of the meet, you might be placed in a catch-all group.

Once you’ve lined up your meet and cho­sen your events – you can choose as many as you want (most triath­letes go for the dis­tance freestyle events, for ob­vi­ous rea­sons) – then you will want to con­sider a lit­tle prepa­ra­tion in the same way you might pre­pare for a 10K.

You’ll want to ta­per – bring down your swim vol­ume, but main­tain some in­ten­sity in the week lead­ing up to the meet. One or two weeks be­fore the meet do sev­eral test races, with dive starts from the blocks, dur­ing prac­tice.

Div­ing from the blocks for the first time can be in­tim­i­dat­ing, so make sure you prac­tice that be­fore race day. De­scrib­ing how to prop­erly do a dive start is next to fu­tile. You need to see oth­ers do it and then do it your­self – of­ten. There are sev­eral good Youtube videos that break down the dif­fer­ent types of dive starts clearly and ef­fec­tively. You can opt for a wall start at most meets, but few do. Do your best to learn to come off the blocks. Keep­ing your gog­gles from rolling down to your chin, or fill­ing up with wa­ter, isn’t hard but does re­quire strat­egy and prac­tice. (Re­mem­ber to tuck your chin as you hit the wa­ter.) I rec­om­mend putting your gog­gles on be­fore putting on a cap, then pulling the cap down over the top lip of your gog­gles, which you should cinch a lit­tle tighter than usual.

One of the rea­sons you want to en­gage in prac­tice races is to get a sense of pac­ing. If you’re ex­hausted 100 m into a 400 m race, the next 300 m will feel like pur­ga­tory. Try to neg­a­tive split your races (make the se­cond half faster than the first). You prob­a­bly won’t, but you’ll be glad you tried.

Fi­nally, let go of any no­tion of be­ing em­bar­rassed about your “slow” swim­ming. You’ll be placed in heats with swim­mers who have listed times com­pa­ra­ble to your own. Even if you’re the slow­est there, you’ll be cheered on in the same way the walk­ers at a 5K are. Your fel­low swim­mers want you to suc­ceed.

Clint Lien is the “Coach Dude” for Mer­cury Ris­ing Triathlon, mer­curyris­ing­

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