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Energy Lab Advanced: How to Win the Race on The Swim

Triathletes typically love or hate the swim. Because swimming is so technique driven and an early adoption sport “adult onset swimmers” are disadvantaged from the start. Rarely are late onset swimmers able to rise to level of even an average swim team kid.

 

The good news for the adult onset swimmers is of that the swim comprises such a small percentage of a triathlon, that it’s often not the deciding factor between winning and losing. The intent of this article is not to debate about how much you should swim or whether you should bother to swim in the off-season. Instead, let’s look at how the swimmers can fully maximize their particular brand of superpower to truly WIN the race on the swim.

 

We’ll look at a number of minor variables, which when stacked, can make an appreciable difference. And as you’ll see below, you can boost your advantage on severals ways, but none more so than in a reverse current situation such as the proposed Chattanooga 70.3 Worlds course in September.

 

Race Olympic Distance – In an olympic distance triathlon, the swim comprises a larger percentage of the total race than a standard sprint, half, or full. Think about it. In an olympic, you swim .9, bike 24.x, and run 6.2. In a half, you swim only a teensy bit more, yet bike and run more than twice as much. When you double that distance to an IRONMAN, the effect is even more pronounced. The result? The swimmers are crushing the adult swimmers in the Olympic distance but possibly getting beat themselves at a 70.3 or 140.6 distance.

 

Race Non-Wetsuit Swims – As average swimmers, our safety blanket is that snug neoprene blanket that allows us to mitigate the advantage of the swimmers. While you, as a swimmer may only gain a few seconds of advantage with a wetsuit, we adult swimmers with our inferior body position and biomechanics gain much more. The result? I may end up several minutes behind you on a choppy, non-wetsuit course, while I’m practically on your heels when it’s wetsuit legal.

 

Race Technical Swims -The typical delta between swimmers and adult swimmers increases when you introduce additional technical factors. Take a choppy swim like IRONMAN Florida 70.3 or IRONMAN Texas and the race gets a lot tougher for the non- swimmer dealing with navigation, choppiness, and non-wetsuit.

 

Don’t Race Current Aided Swims– This is easier said than done in the southeast. Our preeminent 70.3 choices Chattanooga and Augusta both feature current aided swims.  Because math, current aided swims can be a massive advantage for the non-swimmer. Consider the example below on our hometown 70.3 courses.

 

Top Swimmer versus MOP Swimmer at Augusta 70.3/ Chattanooga 70.3 Example

Consider a top triathlon swimmer going three miles per hour which is about 1:10/ hundred yards. Their time for a 70.3 swim would be somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 minutes. Now think about that swimmer on a current aided swim. Together that swimmer with a current of 1 mph will be going 4 mph. Racing at that speed on the Augusta or Chattanooga course will net them a time of 18 minutes. Seven minutes seems like a big difference.

 

But now let’s pit them against a more average swimmer going 2 mph or about 1:42/ 100. On a straight 70.3 swim you’re looking at 36 minutes. But looking at them on the current aided swim of 1 mph, their time drops to 24 minutes to complete the course, a fairly typical time/ situation at Augusta 70.3.

 

On the non current aided swim they were 11 minutes behind the super swimmer, now they’re only six minutes behind! A current has the effect of pushing athletes together and heavily mitigates a swimmer ‘s advantage

 

Race Against the Current – Now let’s look at at the opposite situation, the rare and feared against- the- current swim. Personally I have only done one against the current swim, Age Group Nationals in Alabama in 2009. That was quite the struggle and they had to pull many swimmers out of the water. Yes, at Age Group Nationals. In fact, it took me a full 45 minutes to complete the swim!

 

Most triathletes heard that orginally Chattanooga 70.3 was expected to be against the current. Let’s take a look at the math and exactly HOW much this situation will favor the swimmers among us.

 

Top Swimmer versus MOP Swimmer at IRONMAN Chattanooga 70.3 Worlds Example

We can use the same example athletes as last time. The super swimmer swimming a 70.3 at a 1:10 pace (3 mph/ 24 minutes), and a more typical swimmer swimming 1:42 pace (2 mph/36 minutes). The example above uses a typical current speed for previous Chattanooga swims, so let’s stick with that same expected river current speed of 1 mph.

 

Our super swimmer’s pace with the reverse current drops to 2 mph, and he’s at least close to first out of the water in 36 minutes. However, our typical swimmer is now in trouble. He drops from 2 mph net to 1 mph which means it will take him a whopping 1:09, that’s one HOUR nine minutes to complete the swim, one minute from the swim cutoff of 1:10.

 

With a 34′ difference in swim times between top and mop swimmer, it now stands to reason that the proposed swim course Chattanooga 70.3 Worlds was a course to truly win on the swim. In fact, the swim as proposed with a one mph current would have meant that more than half the swimmers would not finish within the cutoff time!

A peek at the courses on the race website, indicates that the course will now be approximately 1/3 upstream. While this doesn’t constitute quite the same swimmer advantage it’s safe to say that Chattanooga will still be more of a swimmers race than any other Chattanooga race!

 




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