I’m interested in doing a triathlon, but I’m a so-so swimmer. How good do you need to be and how can I actually get there?
“Of the three disciplines in a triathlon, swimming presents the biggest challenge for most people. It requires a skill level higher than cycling and running, but it is doable. You just need to swim fast enough to make the cut-off time in order to be allowed to continue with the next legs of the race. There are different types of triathlons based on distance; in the 750m swim in a sprint-distance race, the cut-off time is typically around 30 minutes. (For context, the best swimmers will do it in eight minutes.) So even an average swimmer can usually make it. Now, you have to train. Since 90 percent of triathlons are in open water, it’s best if you can do some swimming in a lake or ocean, but you’ll still be fine if you do most or even all of your training in a pool. Start by swimming your fastest 100 metres once. Rest as much as you need to, then do it again. Repeat until you have accumulated the distance of the swim for your race. From there, start reducing the amount of time needed to rest by a few seconds at a time. Get to the point where you need only 10 seconds of rest. Try to do this workout once a week for three to six months. For the other swim workouts in your two to five weekly training sessions, just swim laps and have fun with it. There may be body contact during the race. I’ve had my goggles knocked off because I was in the crowd of swimmers. That doesn’t have to be you! You can enter the water more slowly and even if it adds extra distance, swim a little bit away from the crowds – and you’ll be fine. Remember, no matter your time, you are taking on an amazing challenge,” says triathlon coach Lee Gardner.