How to botch the swim on race day

Want to suck at open-water swimming? Here are five tips.

Défi de Monte Cristo - Bouée

What if I told you, you could dramatically increase your heart rate, stress levels, muscle strain and overall race time?

Unbelievable, right? Wait, there’s more! At the same time, you also can decrease the amount of enjoyment you derive from swimming, competition and the sport of triathlon.

I know. Your mind = blown.

Well, everyone knows the swim is the easiest leg of the triathlon. But what this article presupposes is, maybe it isn’t.

Keep reading to learn five ways to help screw up the open-water swim at your next triathlon.

1. Wait until the last minute to get in the water.


While everyone else chooses to spend the ten minutes leading up to the race going through drills, warming up and floating on their backs to get comfortable, you should be on dry land talking with friends or posting selfies on Instagram.

You may even want to think about showing up to the race late. It’ll make you rush and work your mind into a hurried, frantic state, which is exactly the right frame of mind for a poor swim. This will lead to awesome mistakes like putting your wetsuit on backwards (which I actually did at my last open water swim – the Ironcare Splash & Dash at Tempe Town Lake – I rule!), forget to apply body glide around your neck, wrists and ankles, and run out of time to stretch like you need to (like Gumby).

2. Gun it from the get-go.

Swim race start (ITU ) World short course Triathlon Championships 1991 Disney Word

If you’ve followed step number one, you’ll be so jacked up by race time it’ll be easy to rage when that starting whistle blows. Chop your arms and kick your legs as violently as possible. Everyone else will be doing the same thing, so follow their lead. At this point, if your heart feels like it’s about to beat out of your chest, and all you hear in your head is, “Aaaaagggghhhhh!” then you know you’re messing it up nice and good.

Make sure you forget the following: swimming silently, reducing stroke frequency, increasing stroke length and generating power by rotating your hips and core. Those techniques are great for training, but if you really want to struggle in the open water, throw ‘em out the window on race day.

3. Get angry, and get even.

Swim start

With all the adrenaline and flailing limbs, you’re going to get punched, kicked and mauled by other swimmers. And make no mistake – they’re all intentional. Take every hit as a personal attack and fight back by going out of your way to obstruct their stroke, pull their feet and yell obscenities at them under water. You’ll totally get in their heads and avoid the relaxed, efficient swimming form you’ve been practicing for the past six months.

As you plow through the water, the more negative thoughts that fill your head, the better. Yes, a sunny attitude may boost your performance on the bike and run. And yes, staying positive will help if you hit a wall. However, to have a miserable open-water swim on race day, you should fixate on vengeful and/or self-deprecating negativity. Trust me, jerk. Or don’t. I’m probably wrong, like I am about everything. (See, it’s that easy!)

4. Keep your head up, but only literally.

Triathlon de Toulon 2010 (58)

In the pool, the clear water and line markings make it easy to swim in the right direction. But often in open water, you’re swimming through dark, murky “water” that obscures your vision, and a current that can lead you astray. That’s why sighting is important for all swimmers. But what you’re going to do is lift your head high out of the water, as often as possible, to get a clear view of the buoys ahead. Doing this will take you out of a balanced horizontal position in order to ensure – constantly – that you’re swimming in a straight, inefficient and slow line.

Others who go the efficient route, on the other hand, will try to keep their heads down in the water as much as possible. They’ll only raise their goggles just above the surface to get a quick glimpse of the buoys (or guiding landmarks) ahead, and use nearby swimmers to gauge trajectory. Lame.

5. Kill, kill, kill!

Canoe Lake Swim

Pass as many other swimmers as possible. When you see feet or bubbles ahead of you, that should be a sign to kick into high gear and blow by that chump. This will help you dominate, maintain the high level of anger from step three, and all but guarantee your name will be one slot higher on the race results list.

Never mind the valuable energy you’re wasting. And who cares what his pace, swim strategy or ability is. All that matters is that YOU beat HIM, and not let him catch up. After all, the race is really won (or lost) in the open-water.

Now that you’re armed with five easy tips to suck at open-water swimming, let’s talk about other swim DON’Ts. Post your own swim nightmares in the comments!

And if you liked this post, you’ll also want to read How to be that guy at the gym, to make sure your “fails” aren’t contained to just the swim.

– Live every day –


Photo credits: kahala, Alex Sanz Photo, gmayster01 on & off, psi_mon, akunamatata.