Saturday, February 28, 2015

Diving In

Welcome back, future triathletes/fence sitters/bots/family members. Now that you have your big, hairy, audacious goal in mind, where to start? Since this is a triathlon-focused blog (and alphabetical order is over-rated), let's start with the swim. Not only is it the first leg of the triathlon, it's the one that tends to freak people out the most. But never fear, this blog post will turn you all into Olympic-caliber swimmers give you a solid introduction help you procrastinate for five more minutes.

Location, location, location. If you're in the DC area, you have a lot of pools at your (pruny) fingertips. DC residents can swim at any public pool for free, including the Olympic sized Wilson pool by the Tenleytown metro, complete with a hot tub big enough that you don't have to actually make eye contact with anyone. Each pool has different operating hours and lane configurations ranging from 20 yards-50 meters, so check the Parks & Rec website. My favorite is the newly opened Barry Farm pool, which is 25 meters, located across the street from the Anacostia metro, and features a ridable (fake) alligator. If you're in Arlington, the pools are in good condition but can get crowded, especially Washington & Lee. I've had better luck at Wakefield, especially if you arrive just as a swim team leaves. I haven't personally visited any Maryland pools yet, but hear the Prince Georges Sports & Learning Complex by FedEx Field is quite nice, as is the Kennedy Shriver Center. I mean, if it's called an "aquatic complex" it must have something going for it. A few gyms also have pools. The YMCA has a 25 meter pool in downtown DC or a 25 yard pool on 14th and W, NW. (A word of caution: the pipes in the ceiling above the pool do not exactly align with the lanes, so if you use them for guidance when swimming backstroke, you'll hit the wall after about 20 yards.) Many other gym pools are <25 yards or just two or three lanes, which can be frustrating for training.

What Not to Wear: Now that you know where to go, what should you wear? Definitely a swim suit, to start. I don't know of any clothing-optional pools around here, nor would I like to. For triathlon training, ditch the board shorts and halter top bikinis. Most men wear "jammers" (a speedo that provides more coverage than the name implies) and women wear a one piece or workout bikini. If you aren't particular about designs, Swim Outlet has great deals where you specify the size and brand and they send you a suit.
Though sometimes there is a reason why that style was so cheap...

You'll also want goggles (like these, not these), and probably a cap. Not only will a cap help you swim faster, you're far less likely to rip out your hair when removing your goggles. Silicone caps last far longer than latex, often for years (unless you let them get moldy in the bottom of your swim bag, oops). Also useful: flip flops because the pool deck and showers can be icky, a lock for your locker, a towel, and a spray or shampoo to remove the chlorine afterward. By now, if you've opened the Swim Outlet website, read an issue of Triathlete magazine, or visited a pool deck, you'll know there are a lot of options for pool toys. Fins! Pull buoy! Paddles! Metronome! Snorkel! Tether! Swim watch! The options are limitless. Your bank account is not. (Or if it is, hello there!) Therefore, I recommend sticking to the basics until you...

Talk to a professional. Not necessarily a professional swimmer (though Katie Ledecky does train at Wilson sometimes), but rather a coach. Depending on your needs, schedule, and budget, you can hire a coach for (semi) private lessons, take a clinic, or join a masters team. ("Masters" simply means "not a child," not like Masters for golf or something.) I've been a coach for DC Tri Masters since 2012, so I'm a bit biased, but I strongly recommend working with a coach at least once. They can help you avoid injury, improve your technique, and motivate you to work harder than you probably would on your own. The DC Tri Club program also offers weekend clinics, semi-private lessons, open water-focused sessions, and underwater taping. If you live on the moon and don't have access to a coach (but do have a pool, hmmm), Swim Smooth is a great online resource. (Hundreds of terrible online resources are just a google search away, so tread carefully.) Also, if you experience pain while swimming, talk to someone ASAP. Rose PT offers clinics for swimmers, including using a biofeedback machine to check that people were activating the right muscles during a (simulated) stroke. Spoiler alert: bad form --> wrong muscles --> shoulder pain --> no swimming --> sadness.

Get out of the pool! Yes, you read that right. Pool training is useful for the majority of a triathlete's training volume, but unless all your races are indoors, you'll need to practice in a real body of water. But I'll save that for another chapter. This one is getting long, and don't you have a swim workout to do?

So many swim toys, so little time... 


  1. So true, so true. And oh how I miss Wilson's long lanes and beautifully clean water. Sigh...

  2. Yeah, Wilson is nice. I miss the Hains Point pool. DC should really keep it open longer, especially since the pool is heated.