Starting an Open Water Swim Race
Written by Denis Crean, WaveOne Swimming
How you start the open water swim leg of your triathlon often contributes significantly to your race
outcome. A relaxed, efficient swim sets you up for a fluid transition, giving you confidence and
energy for the remainder of the race. This article will help you achieve a quicker, more successful
start with 7 simple reminders, including how to warm up faster, breathe easier, become mentally
focused, swim faster, turn your swim into a race asset.
Many races do not offer an opportunity to warm up in the water prior to the race. The time prior to
the race and the first few minutes of the swim are crucial for warming up your muscles and
establishing a positive racing attitude. The following are reminders to help you begin an
enjoyable and successful race.
1. Arrive at the event mentally tuned. Any race begins weeks and months beforehand with both
mental and physical training and preparation. Since triathlons are outdoor events, you need to
expect variables for which you may or may not be able to train or prepare. In other words, be
prepared for the unexpected. Your strongest muscle on race day is your mind. Only you can convert
the most unexpected or difficult circumstances to your advantage. All your training and practice is
now “in the bank.” Race day is withdrawal time from that training “bank”.
2. Use the waiting time to go through a dry land warm-up. Stretch prior to the race; do arm
circles to warm up shoulders, stretch your neck, back, legs and arms. Do light exercises to increase
your heart rate, a quick run in place or jumping jacks.
3. When you enter the water, move your hands and legs vigorously to acclimate to the
temperature and gain a “feel” for the water. Once the gun has sounded and your swimming wave
has begun, excitement and adrenaline are at their highest. Remain calm and focused to stay in
your zone. You still will need to warm up your swimming muscles. Begin at a steady pace,
remembering that your muscles naturally tighten up during the first 300m of warm-up before they
begin to loosen up.
4. Every racer is experiencing a similar process. Stay focused on your own race and your
priorities. The chaos of a mass start almost guarantees you that you will be hit, kicked, pushed, or
swum over; you may breathe in water, your goggles may get water in them. Practice or simulate
these conditions as closely as possible to become familiar with what they feel like and how to
remedy any equipment problems. Choose your race start position. Do you want to lead or be in the
middle of the pack? Do you want to take an outside track or do you want to hang back and follow
the pack in calmer waters. Having a strategy ahead of the start provides you added confidence and
an ability to overcome potential obstacles.
5. Breathe. Steadily breathe in and breathe out. Generally, we do not think about breathing on
land. In the water, it quickly rises to the top of the priority list. Breathing changes from an
unconscious function to a conscious necessity. During the warm-up process your lungs adjust to
the activity and conditions and often feel tight. Many people think their wetsuit is constricting
them, but more than likely, they are still naturally warming up. Remain calm, keep moving, and the
tightness will subside.
6. To help solidify your rhythm or pace, begin exhaling as soon as you finish inhaling. Do you
hold your breath when you run? Swimming should be no different. Full, even breaths help oxygen
transfer to your muscles more efficiently, which in turn speeds your acceleration into race pace.
Sometimes you can draft off the person in front of you to ease through warm-up and into your pace.
Remember to maintain proper body position, head position, and efficient stroke as you continue
into the remainder of the swim.
7. Practice, practice, practice. Stay positive, challenge and invigorate yourself, and most
importantly, have fun!