Tri Tip Tuesday – The Swim

Howdy friends, and welcome back again for another round of Tri Tip Tuesday. As usual, I’m linking up with Lisa from The Skinny on Health, so head on over there and check out all the awesome blogs doling out health and fitness tips today!


Today, once again, we will be discussing something that stirs up a lot of questions and emotions for some people- the swim. 

Open water swimming comes with it own set of anxieties for a lot of people, but then throw in hundreds, possibly thousands, of other people thrashing about in that water around you and it’s enough to put many over the edge. 


For first timers, or even just slower swimmers, starting towards the back is always a safe bet. Also, starting on the outside edge of the pack helps too. The stronger, faster swimmers who are racing will be hugging the inside of the sight line, to hang to far side of the pack and don’t be afraid to start further back. 

That insane splash created by dozens of people flailing and kicking about in the water at once is called The Washing Machine. I’m sure you can figure out why. 

However, no matter where you start, you should be prepared to be touched, hit, and most likely kicked. The ability to see will be limited, Many people will be legitimately racing, and with so many people starting together, it is unavoidable to some extent. People may swim over you, under you, or accidentally kick or hit you. It happens, just keep moving. If your goggles come dislodged just stop and tread or stand if you can and fix them before starting again. 

You’ll start the swim in waves as well, which will cut down on the number of people all kicking up water at the same time. Waves are generally gender and age specific and swim caps provided at races are color coded to denote which wave you belong in. Some races may offer a novice or beginner swim wave. This will usually be the final wave out so that there’s no fellow racers coming up behind you. Hubby and I race in the novice wave at Musselman and it’s so calm and nice. I really love it and non-novice racers can opt to still be in that wave. But in all reality, the swim will calm down after about the first 100 meters once faster swimmers pull away and slower swimmers fall back. You should be able to find a nice rhythm and have a wonderful swim once you get through the start.

Love my $60 Bass Pro wetsuit? Me neither. That sucker has some serious drag to it but the water was cold all summer and the warmth was much appreciated. Cannot wait to get my new wetsuit this season. Be on the lookout for that!


There will also be in water support. There will be volunteers in kayaks that will help to guide you and keep you on course. You can also, in most triathlons, grab a kayak if you need a breather. Be forewarned though, not all triathlons allow this and grabbing can lead to a DQ. In races where grabbing is allowed the swimmer may not push off the kayak when they begin swimming again.  The pre-race meeting should inform you have rules regarding grabbing kayaks. Other in water support often times available is called a Swim Angel. Not all races offer this, but this is a volunteer who is swimming along side racers to offer support for those who need it. 

As for swim stroke? Doesn’t matter! Most people go with freestyle, otherwise known as front crawl, as it is the most efficient stroke. And efficiency means speed and not exhausting your legs or body. But really you can do any stroke you’re comfortable with. You’ll see people doing breast stroke, side stroke, doggy paddle on occasion, and of course, the backstroke is the standard go to stroke if you need a few minutes to collect your thoughts and breath. 

The swim is the one event in a triathlon that makes the most people the most nervous. The best advice ever given to me in regards to the swim to remember that it’s the shortest leg and the first leg. You may end up racing for two or more hours and in a sprint the swim will only take you maybe twenty minutes. Then you’re done and can move on. Twenty minutes for a 2 hours race is nothing! Get in, get swimming, and tri your heart out!

Are you a natural swimmer or is it something you have to work for?
Tips from all you seasoned veteran swimmers?
Email me or comment any question you might have or anything you might want me to go over in Tri Tip Tuesday! 

9 Thoughts on “Tri Tip Tuesday – The Swim

  1. Thank you thank you thank you for this post. The swim has always been the most fearful leg of the race and the reason I have stayed away from triathlon for so many years. My biggest fear is panicking in the water or feeling stuck/stranded if something went wrong. Perhaps I just over think everything because of all of the uncertainties. Once I complete my first triathlon, hopefully a lot of these feelings will go away.

  2. I remember how happy I was when I finished the swim leg of my first open water swim triathlon. (My first tri had a pool swim.) I was smiling from ear to ear for the rest of the race!

  3. First let me say how much I love your race pics! Whoever was taking them sure got some great shots! As for ows, thankfully I am comfortable in this area. Having a competitive swimming background certainly helps. Before my first tri however, I took an ows clinic that really helped me get used to swimming in a pack. It went over everything from how to put on a wetsuit, how to site and most importantly how to remain calm when being kicked/punched in the face. I would highly suggest this option for any newcomer – even being a seasoned swimmer, this was a major help!
    As far as tips go – make sure you can get in the water at least 5/10 minutes before your start to get wet and comfortable with the water temp. You don’t want to wait until the the gun goes off to experience the cold – most of the time it will take your breath away and cause you to panic!

  4. New reader here! I’m also thinking about training for a sprint triathlon for October of this year! I want to know all I can before taking the plunge but I can’t shake the excitement just thinking about it! Your tips helped a lot! I’m a bit nervous about getting hit or swam over during the swim but I figured as a first timer I’d stay towards the back. I want to do it and finish. I’m not going to worry about time or placing. Anyway I look forward to reading more tips from you!

    • Hi Fawn! Welcome to my little corner of the internet! Definitely just focus on a strong finish for your first triathlon. Start in the back and off the edge of the pack and you’ll likely get hit a lot less. You can even start off doing a different stroke like breast stroke until you get a bit out into the water and get comfortable. You’ll also find at tri’s geared towards first timers or beginners that the swims are done in shallow lakes and when this happens a lot of people don’t start swimming until they can no longer touch, which provides some piece of mind knowing you can always put your feet down.

      Definitely stick around and hopefully you’ll have an amazing first triathlon! Kristen and Rebecca who commented above me also have awesome triathlon blogs you might get some inspiration from too if you’re looking for more reading.

  5. I’ve been doing triathlon for 10 years now and the swim STILL freaks me out. And I’m a much stronger / faster swimmer than I was when I started. I like to start off to the side – sure I’m taking a wider / longer line to the buoy but at least I’m not dealing with too many people and calmer waters. I’m still amazed that I managed to get through TWO Ironman swims. Washing machine doesn’t even begin to describe it. And, if it’s a two loop course, you can expect to be in said washing machine for at least the first loop.

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