While we spend the majority of the duration of an ironman race biking and riding, the swim can be the most daunting for a lot of competitors. Changeable conditions, the mass start, swimming in a wetsuit, and other challenges may mean getting through the swim is your big goal. Below are some tips from top Ironman swimmer, Becs Clarke to help ease these worries and to help you feel confident going into your Ironman swim.
1. Wetsuit Fit: For an ironman length swim (3.8km) you want to ensure your wetsuit is properly fitted (and in good condition) to get the best out of your performance for the race. You want the wetsuit to be snug but not too tight. Make sure you practice in the open water in your wetsuit so you are used to the buoyancy of the wetsuit as it can alter your kick. Also practice unzipping out of your wetsuit quickly so you have confidence in this on ironman race day. Using anti-chaff on your neck is also beneficial to stop any rubbing.
2. Warm Up: I highly recommend doing at least a few minutes of swimming with some fast strokes to get your heart rate up and your blood flowing prior to the start. It also allows you to get used to the water temperature, and not getting any initial shock which could affect your breathing. Know how long it takes you to walk from transition to race start so you are not rushed on race day and miss an opportunity to warm up. If you prefer, you could do some land-based exercises such as arm swings if time is limited.
3. Start Position: At Taupo Ironman it is a mass start so if you are a nervous swimmer it is best to start at the back. I would recommend being on the left (closer to shore) rather than in the deeper water on the right, to know you can put your feet down at the start if you do have a moment of panic. You can also count to 3 once the start gun goes if you do want to avoid the white wash!
4. Googles: Check the conditions at your race start. Is it sunny and polarized googles are needed? Or overcast and you can go for a clear pair? I always take two pairs of googles in my race bag, one to have a backup and two to decide based on the light and weather conditions. Also ensure they don’t leak and don’t fog up, as there is nothing worse than being unable to see where you are going!
5. Be Able To Bilateral Breathe: You do not need to be locked into a bilateral breathing pattern of 3,5 on race day but it is highly beneficial to be comfortable to breathe to both sides. While the lake could be calm on race day, if there is chop/waves you want to breathe the opposite way from their direction so you don’t swallow any water unexpectedly. It also helps to see what is going on around you on both sides to help sighting and not crashing into any fellow competitors.
6. Go Your Own Pace: It is a long swim so going too hard to follow someone else’s feet might cost you later in the race. Definitely aim to draft off of others (if they are going the same speed as you) as this can help to get a faster race time. Sit on feet rather than hips as this doesn’t slow down the swimmer in front of you.
7. Check Out The Course: If you have time prior to Ironman race day, do a practice swim to familiarise yourself with the temperature, and also the swim start/swim exits locations. You won’t be able to practice the swim exit but check where you will finish so you know what to look for on race day. The swim buoys are also put out prior so you could practice the start of the course and check for any landmarks you could use on race day.
8. Finally, Relax And Enjoy The Swim: This may be hard to do initially in the mass start, but remember that a wetsuit is designed to keep you afloat. Work with the water and take deep controlled breathes. If you do have a moment of panic or breathlessness turn and float on your back for a few seconds. Remember, you worked for this, and you waited for this (patiently), go and enjoy yourself!
Rebecca Clarke is one of the top ironman swimmers out there! She’s also one of the friendly faces that you get to be greeted by as you walk through the Sports Lab doors. We’re stoked that she’s happy to share some of her swim secrets with us, and hope these tips will prove helpful for your upcoming race: good luck and enjoy!!