If you approach the 1.2 mile swim leg of the half Ironman with fear and loathing, you're hardly alone. As Halfironmantraining.org states, "it is a necessary evil before the bike and the run leg." Most half Ironman contestants hope to survive the swim leg without suffering a panic attack in the ocean or going out too fast and burning up energy they'll need later during the last two legs. But there are a number of ways to ease your concerns and help you improve -- perhaps even enjoy -- the half Ironman swim.
Unless the water is quite warm, 84 degrees or higher, you'll be allowed to use a wetsuit. Take advantage of the sleek outfit -- wetsuits increase buoyancy and reduce drag, letting you swim with more comfort and speed. REI advises you to make sure the wetsuit fits correctly. There shouldn't be any water-collecting bulges in the wetsuit when you put it on. However, it shouldn't be so tight it restricts your shoulder mobility or chafes your neck. Goggles also should fit snugly, with no gaps around the edges.
If it was just a swimming race instead of a half Ironman, you'd propel yourself using both your arms and legs in a roughly vigorous manner. But a triathlon requires you to minimize your kick to save energy for the rest of the grueling day. Halfironmantraining.org explains that you should find a "natural balance" for your kick that results in more power with less effort and preserves your energy for the biking and running legs. Although most swimmers rotate their heads, this is actual a power-draining motion. It's better to keep your head facing straight down with the back of your head just slightly out of the water.
Swimming in open water, an ocean or a lake, is a completely different experience from training in a pool, and most people don't have an ocean or lake available for daily training purposes. TriNewbies explains that the swim leg is scary for many triathletes, and rightfully so. You don't have the security of the black lines on the bottom of a pool or the walls or lane markers to cling to when you get tired or accidentally gulp a mouthful of water. The best way to overcome your fears is to practice in an ocean or lake as much as possible. But do so safely. Never swim alone, and avoid rough seas. On race day, get in the water before the start and check the conditions while you warm up. Practice sighting location markers on the shoreline, such as trees or buildings, so you don't drift off course during the race.
If you're a half Ironman neophyte or a weak swimmer, don't line up in the front of the pack or you'll be trampled. Start in the back or at the side of the pack. Expect contact from flailing arms and legs -- it's a predictable part of the swim leg. If visibility is low, look for the bubbles from a swimmer in front of you and draft just behind his feet, which will conserve your energy. You'll be psyched up at the start of a half Ironman, but remember to start off relaxed and easy.
Jim Thomas has been a freelance writer since 1978. He wrote a book about professional golfers and has written magazine articles about sports, politics, legal issues, travel and business for national and Northwest publications. He received a Juris Doctor from Duke Law School and a Bachelor of Science in political science from Whitman College.