I was so sure that wouldn't cut it I continued to think it through. Eventually I came up with the much more PC title you see above. Sounds very diplomatic, right? Swimming is important for the triathlete. Let me tell you why.
But seriously, it IS important. Swimming is a part of triathlon. If you don't want to swim become a duathlete ... or a runner ... or a cyclist.
Look, I'm a good but not great swimmer. Like many of us I came late to the swimming game. Yes, I learned how to swim when I was a kid, but swimming back then involved jumping in the local lake and having a good time. I only starting to swim laps when I was 33 years old. That puts me a big disadvantage to the person who started to swim at age four.
Now that we have established that I am no Andy Potts, I'm not bad. On a fair course (one that is pretty close to accurate with normal conditions) I can go 22ish for the Olympic distance, 30ish at a 70.3 and have a 1:05 best time at the 2.4 mile Ironman-distance swim. Like I said, good but not great.
I put this out there to you not to boost my ego but to show you what can come from putting in the pool time. When I started out in triathlon I had been in the pool swimming laps for a few years as cross training for my annual marathon prep. I attended a masters class once a week at a local college with friends. I was impressed with myself because I could swim a mile broken up into intervals over the course of 45 minutes ... Seriously.
Once I started to get serious about triathlon I began to get more serious about the swim for one basic reason - swimming is a part of triathlon. Yes it is the "shortest" part of any race, but it is part of triathlon. Maybe its because I started basically training for this sport alone, but I never really thought about blowing off the swim. Now that I have been around the scene for many years I have seen the other side.
Ask yourself this question: How many triathletes do you know who have a "reason" for blowing off their swim training in favor of other training or no training at all? A lot of very good swimmers will tell you they don't have to do it because of their background while the bad swimmers, usually out of fear, will say they are just looking to survive the swim so they don't need to "waste all that time" in the pool. More bang for the buck spinning or running, or so they say.
Whatever the excuse you (or someone you may know) has for not taking swim training serious, I'm here to call bulls$!t. Especially if you race long distance. Here are five reason why every triathlete should take swim training serious:
Swimming develops aerobic fitness without negatively effecting your joints - Triathlon is an aerobic sport at its core. Just to make the distance you need a huge about aerobic capacity. You need sport specific endurance, for sure, but aerobic capacity developed in any of the three disciplines has a direct effect on the size of your overall aerobic engine. This is why single-sport athletes cross train.The beauty of swimming is it is non-impact and can build your capacity without breaking down your legs.
Low swim fitness has a big impact on your bike and run - You know that feeling of not having your legs under you on the run after you have blown yourself up on the bike (I know this way to well)? Now imagine that feeling at mile 35 of 112 on the bike? If you don't have the swim fitness you will not only take more time getting through the first part of your day, but you will have also burned a lot of energy that could have been useful over the next 9 to 15 hours. Does it make sense to log all those hours biking and running to not be able to express your fitness on race day because you slacked off on your swim training?
If you go anaerobic on the swim you have screwed yourself. Your eating plan is useless - This goes hand in hand with my previous point. If your swim-specific fitness is low, if your technique is for crap, you will work harder than the swim-fit athlete who gets out of the water right next to you. If your low level of fitness causes you to go anaerobic in the water I can almost guarantee the rest of your day will not go as you dreamed it would. I don't care how much visualization you have done or what a bad-ass runner you happen to be, once you go anaerobic you are screwed. After spending 60 or 90 or 120 minutes burning through your glycogen your energy systems are too out of wack to recover from. Don't believe me? Try this: Go run a marathon, but instead of even pacing it, go out 30 seconds per mile faster for the first two miles before settling into you race pace. That horrible feeling/slowing down over the final 10k ... That's what happens if you go anaerobic early on.
Long course racing is about fighting through fatigue - We train to keep the body going and going. The swim is only one to two hours of a very long day but the energy you expend here directly effects the energy you have for the bike and run. With just a minimum of 3 hours per week you can keep this from happening. Do you really want to be exhausted by 8am?
Swimming builds upper body and core strength - Swimming is a full body exercise and when done correctly can be physically taxing. Take a look at a swimmer's body and you will notice the muscular size of their backs and shoulders. And those core muscles are insanely strong. All that strength helps maintain form when you are is the saddle for six hours or running for another four or five.
Are you still with me or have you moved on to some other blog? If you are still with me I hope I have convinced you to take the swim a bit more serious than you may have in the past. For some reason it bothers me when I see triathletes not taking the swim seriously. Sometimes it's the excuses. Other times it is watching someone in the next lane just wasting their time while I'm busting my a$$ to get through a set of 200s. I don't know exactly why it bothers me like it does. It just does.
Triathlon consists of three disciplines - swimming, cycling, and running - and one of them is swimming. If you do not like to swim or don't want to train the swim, fine, become a duathlete.
Thanks for reading.
Train hard. Stay focused.
Why Swim Training is Important for Triathletes - What I had to say about this in early 2014
Rule #5 - That's right, I said it. Harden the f@$k up!
Rule #2 - Want to get better in the drink? Can't happen if you aren't consistent.