Tartu Triathlon and how to become a better swimmer

Only 200m to go!

I did a triathlon on Sunday. It was a short Olympic distance (1500m swim, 40k bike, 10k run, no drafting allowed) Tartu Triathlon where I had signed up half a year ago when it was first announced. On Friday I was still pretty sure that I would not participate since I have had an achilles injury and have not trained for the last month (except for yoga). But on Saturday, walking past the triathlon tents, I could not resist but to pick up my number and there I was in the water on Sunday afternoon, waiting for the start pistol to go off.

The triathlon itself was not that easy. My lack of recent training showed, bigtime. On the second lap of the hilly bike ride my legs started to cramp (forgot to take or even bring magnesium!) and the entire run was filled with a routine of run-cramp-stop-stretch-walk-run-cramp..  The splits:

1,5k swim (actually 1,6k, but downstream): 21:05 (very good)

20k bike first lap: 38:00 (good)

20k bike second lap: 43:30 (poor)

10k “run”: 58:49 (comment removed by censorship, but 20 minutes slower than PB..)

Total(with transitions): 2:45:48 (very poor)

Although the final time is pretty weak, I am actually pretty satisfied with the result for two main reasons:

1) I managed to finish the race in spite of having cramps for the whole run. (you have probably experienced a leg cramp wakeup during your sleep at some point in your life. Now imagine having the same sensation in each step you take. For 10 kilometers in a row)

2) My swim time was pretty awesome.

T2 – From Bike to Run

Coming out of the water on 51st place out of 201 is nothing too spectacular, but the amount of swimming (or rather the lack of it) I have done to achieve that, is. My time, 21:05 is pretty good, too. The winner Aleksandr Latin, a world class athlete, came out 15:49, 2nd swimmer (Raimo Raudsepp, a national level athlete) came out 16:56. Thus my loss to second place was approximately 4 minutes or only 24,5%.

Couple of years ago I could barely swim. I did not drown but I was really slow and inefficient and could do perhaps 100m without stopping. And for the whole year before Tartu Triathlon my total swim distance sums up to 27.5km. That is 2km or less than one swim per four weeks.

So how could I, with such a nonexistent volume, beat the guys (including a lot of fellows from my ‘home club’ 21CC) who train 10+ times more?

The answer is pretty straightforward. Technique. The little time I spend at the pool, I only do quality training. When I go to swim, I only concentrate on fine-tuning my technique. Swimming is only about technique and if you are not able to swim sub-15-minute kilometers in the pool (I’m not), then you can forget about doing those 3rd, 4th and 5th level speed bursts in the pool or using paddles-fins-kickboards-pull buyos-godknowswhatelse. You should only concentrate on building up the correct technique and practicing it until it is in your muscle memory. Doing those speed workouts without a proper technique is rather counterproductive – you would only enforce the bad habits to your nervous system and muscle memory.

So, leave the speed workouts to the pros who have mastered the finest details of the technique. You will build your endurance on your bike rides and runs. Use the pool-time for making sure you are efficient when you swim.

As for triathlons, my achilles does not hurt that much any more and I’ll be resuming the proper training regime pretty soon. In Tartu Triathlon I lost at least 5 minutes on the bike, 15 on the run and 1 on the T1 (transition from swim to bike). So the goal for the next year is 2:25.

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