But it doesn’t have to be! Things can go wrong when you’re racing, so it’s important to practice your emergency procedures. It’s particularly important when you’re swimming for obvious reasons- you’re in water, after all, and can’t just pull over to the side of the road. But it’s also important because how you handle adversity this early can set the tone for your entire race. Here are some disaster drills you can take to the pool and practice so that, if you should have a problem on race day, muscle memory kicks in and you can quickly navigate your race back on track.
I’ve talked a lot about the Turtle in posts past, but for those new to the AT, a “turtle” is when you roll onto your back mid swim to rest and recover. Any stroke is allowed in a triathlon, so flipping over onto your back to backstroke, float, or kick your little flipper feet and make forward progress is totally allowed. Practice turtling often during your pool swims- make it a habit that when you have a problem, your response is to flip over on to your back. Eventually you’ll push through and learn to recover while maintaining your swim stroke, but having the muscle memory to turtle will give you a safe way to recover until you have more experience.
- Cap and goggles
Swimming is a low equipment event, but when something goes wrong with your cap or goggles it can cause major problems. Practice treading water while taking off your goggles and putting them back on. Allow your goggles to flood (fill with water) while you have your face in the pool to simulate what it feels like. Practicing swimming without a cap. These are all super annoying things to do, but try doing your swim without goggles and you’ll quickly realize that being able to recover your lenses is a critical skill.
- Stop and start
Many triathlons have mass swim starts, which means you start in a group. Rarely will your path be clear, and you’ll have to learn how to dodge people who may be in your way. This means starting, stopping, correcting course, and starting again, all without the help of a pool wall to hold on to or push off of. Practice swimming a few strokes and then stopping and treading water for a few seconds, then start again. You’ll get the feel of how much force it takes you to start from a standstill and get more comfortable with interruptions in your swim flow.
- Head out of water
Also called the “Tarzan Drill,” swimming polo-style with your head and shoulders out of the water is a great skill to develop. It helps you build strength in your neck and shoulders, and can be useful on race day when you’re trying to navigate the pack in a mass swim start. Practice 25 yards at a time so as not to strain yourself as you get used to this unnatural position.
Al of these things can happen on race day, so the more familiar you are with handling them in a controlled environment, the calmer you’ll be if a situation should occur. Make it a point to slip one disaster drill into each swim session and see how your confidence improves.