Where to Train for Triathlon, Part 1: The Swim

Break down the barriers of starting in triathlon with our 3 part series focusing on the basics of training and etiquette.

By AgeGrouper and Kaitlin Krause

Introducing the “Where to Train” Series:

To help navigate your new interest, take some time with this three part series, Where to Train for Triathlon. Each sport is broken down to provide details and tips about where to conduct your training, how to choose the best location, and the proper etiquette once you get there. 

It’s designed to save you time, reduce discomfort, and set you on your way to becoming a confident and successful triathlete.

We teamed up with swimming expert Kaitlin Krause to understand what it takes to become a “swimmer.” 

Let’s dive in. 

Where to Train for Triathlon, Part 1: The Swim

The swim training can be the most complex as it is the most dependent upon getting access to water.

Option 1: Pool

Indoor or heated pool access will be necessary if you intend to train throughout the year. 

  • Health clubs that offer a lap swimming pool for general public use 
  • Local colleges and universities for public access memberships and hours
  • Local community center or parish 
  • Backyard pool (get creative by using a product that tethers you to the side of the pool so you swim without advancing in the water – think stationary bike trainer)

Pools typically fall into one of three sizes: 25 meters, 25 yards, and 50 meters. Confirm the size before starting your workouts and set your watch appropriately. Your watch counts distance by counting the lengths you’ve completed based upon the pool’s size. 

Olympic swimmers compete and train in 50 meter pools. While 25 yards and 25 meters are common, the international standard is 50 meters. 

Proper pool etiquette, things to keep in mind

  • Choose the right lane. Typically the outside lanes are meant for slower swimmers while the middle lanes are for faster swimmers. 
    • Often, there is a sign at the top of the lane that will provide some indication of the speed of the lane’s swimmers. If not, make sure to assess the swimmers in the pool and place yourself appropriately. 
  • Rinse off before you jump in and after you get out. There will be a shower there. Use it. This is best practices according to the Department of Health and respectful of other swimmers.
  • If entering a lane with another swimmer, wait until he/she stops at the wall to enter.
  • Acknowledge you are joining them and briefly discuss whether or not you will be circle swimming.  
  • If there are two swimmers, it is appropriate to split the lane; then stay to the right.
  • If you are taking a break at the wall, move to the corner of the lane to leave room for other swimmers to complete their turns. While it is okay to take a break, it is not okay to block the way of others. 
  • Make sure to leave at least five full seconds between you and the other swimmer before leaving the wall. If you must pass, do so only on the left.

Option 2: Open Water

Open water swimming is a unique skill. Transitioning from the pool to open water will take time and practice, so it is important to build this into your training plan. 

“If doing a triathlon in open water, don’t let race day be your first open water swim,” warned AgeGrouper Sabrina Somarribas (F30-34, NM). 

Open water swim training is essential in order to replicate race conditions, but finding a suitable place is not always easy. There is much to consider before jumping into a body of water. 

  • Ocean Swimming: 
    • You are no match for rough seas. If the weather is iffy or there is heavy chop, opt to swim another day. No matter how seasoned or strong a swimmer you are, the ocean is stronger. 
    • Rip currents can be tricky to spot so always read the daily surf report to confirm conditions. According to the National Ocean Service, if you find yourself caught in a rip current, swim parallel to the shore. 
  • Lake and Pond Swimming
    • Confirm the area is open and available for public swimming. Many lakes and ponds are private property or state land. Check with the municipality, as they will have designated areas for swimmers. 
    • Always enter a lake or pond from the shore, do not dive in. The bottom is oftentimes uneven and can have rocks or other objects in the way. 
  • River Swimming
    • Swimming in a river can be very dangerous. Only swim in rivers where the current is very weak. 

Open water safety tips 

Safety in the open water starts with preparation. The more you plan ahead, the safer you’ll be and the better experience you will have. 

  • Ensure someone knows when and where you are swimming. The buddy system is best. Opt not to swim alone. 
  • Wear a brightly colored swim cap and bathing suit so you are easily spotted from shore. 
  • Confirm the area is safe for swimmers. Stay away from all active waterways.
  • Familiarize yourself with the wildlife you may encounter (e.g., snakes, sharks, jellyfish, turtles, horseshoe crabs).
  • Be aware of underwater obstructions and jetties.
  • Don’t drink the water and shower as soon as you are done training.
  • Be sure to practice sighting (looking up out of the water at land based markers).  
  • Use a swim buoy, This cheap, lightweight inflatable, clips around your waist and drags behind you as you swim. It doubles as a visible marker for others as well as an emergency flotation device. 
  • Wear your wetsuit even if it feels warm. Along with keeping your core temperature up, it provides buoyancy which is helpful when there are waves. 
  • Apply anti fog spray to your goggles before every swim. 
  • Keep a safe distance from other swimmers. 
  • Take off your rings! Fingers shrink in the cold water. 

How to find the best locations to swim in open water

Finding safe open water can be a challenge in itself, here are a few tips to help you plan your next swim location. 

  • Follow local triathletes on platforms like Strava to see where they train
  • Join local triathlete Facebook groups and ask members for guidance
  • Join a local triathlon or swim club
  • Check your local bike shop as they may have recommendations

Kaitlin Krause is the founder, executive director, and head teacher at Rising Tide Effect, a 501c3 that seeks to bring positive change to underserved communities through the aquatic experience. She was the former COO of the largest swimming school in NYC and has over 15 years of teaching experience. Additionally, she was a Division 1 former competitive swimmer and team captain and has more than 30 years of swimming experience.