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How to Get a Fast Triathlon Swim Start

Assessing the Triathlon Swim Course
If you know the course well, you'll be ready.
If you know the course well, you'll be ready.

One important aspect of a successful triathlon swim start is knowing the course as well as possible. Most triathlon organizers design a swim course in one of the following patterns:

  • parallel to shore
  • out and back
  • triangle
  • rectangle

Parallel to shore means that majority of the swim course takes place parallel to the shoreline. The out and back course has swimmers swimming half the length of the distance out into the body of water, swimming around a buoy, and heading back to shore. Triangle and rectangle courses map out these general shapes in the water with buoys, and swimmers travel around the outside of the buoys.

Secondly, factor in the water type. Both salt water and fresh water have elements that can affect your race. Salt water can keep you afloat a little bit better; however, you'll definitely want to invest in some good goggles to keep it out of your eyes. Ocean swimming means you also may have to contend with little critters that could really put a damper on your swim. Jellyfish stings and sea urchins can cause some serious injuries.

With fresh water you don't have the salt to prop you up and make swimming a little easier. While you probably won't have to deal with fish and other creatures, you'll have to watch for vegetation growing from the bottom of a lake. Algae won't hurt you, but getting tangled up in it could be frustrating.

It's extremely important to know the type of start the race will have. If possible, practice it well before race day, whether or not you can access the actual course. Typical start types are:

  • Land. You begin on the beach or in ankle-deep water and run to the point in the water where you can dive in and begin swimming.
  • Deep-water. In this variation, you begin in the water. When the starting gun goes off, you'll propel yourself forward from this stationary position
  • Pontoon. Here you start on a pontoon in the middle of the water. When the gun goes off, all of the swimmers in the wave will dive into the water.

Even if you're prepared and know the course, race day jitters can hurt your star. How should you prepare on race day? Read on to learn more.