I can't quite believe that this Sunday (4th December) marks the 8th annual Busselton Ironman. I was present at the 1st event in 2004 as a competitor but unfortunately didn't finish that year due to a big mistake with my nutrition and not trusting what I had done successfully week-in and week-out in the lead-up to the event. I haven't yet ventured back to Ironman but hope that I will one day especially as I feel that I've sorted my nutritional woes with the last three years of marathon swimming. Anyway, enough about me (!) what can you do to ensure a successful swim leg at this weekend's race? Here are my top 10 tips:
- Give yourself plenty of time in the morning. The PRO wave goes off at 5.30am and the Age-Group wave goes off at 5.45am so this is going to mean a pretty early start. I'd normally factor in getting up 3hrs before an event like this just to take your time over a light breakfast and to top-up on your fluids from over-night. Don't go crazy on the food and fluids as hopefully you'll have been steadily topping these up over the week and especially if you've tapered down for the event you'll have automatically started to store some additional carbs and fluid anyway. Listen to some tunes to get you pumped up, but it's a long day out there, so don't get too carried away! My personal favourite: 'I'm Not Afraid' by Eminem. Everyone normally panics that they won't be getting enough sleep when having to get up at ~2.30-3am, but the golden rule is to get a good night's sleep the night before the night before, i.e. Friday night to Saturday morning. Relax and enjoy your early start and think positively about what lies ahead.
- Not having a frantic start from Point # 1 will allow you time to get down to the transition area and spend an extra few minutes putting your wetsuit on properly - this can make a massive difference to how well you swim on the day. Check out my tips and short video here: http://www.swimsmooth.com/triathlon_adv.html (also including some more great open water swimming tips) - all too often we see people rushing to put on their suit on race morning only to then complain about it feeling tight and too restrictive around the shoulders leading to premature shoulder fatigue. As per the video, get a friend to shoe-horn you into the suit, but make sure they watch their nails! I personally now use Bepanthen baby rash cream around the collar of the wetsuit to prevent chaffing - it's less messy than vaseline and smells better than Bodyglide! It'd be well worth your while going for a quick swim in your wetsuit this week (even in the pool) just to test out the fit and feel and to experiment with some of the other ideas below. If you happen to be like last year's Ironman WA champion Kate Bevilaqua and find swimming in a wetsuit less enjoyable that without, you might like to check out this advice here: http://www.feelforthewater.com/2011/07/are-you-slower-in-wetsuit.html
- Head down to the start and check out the race course looking for the wind and current directions. You will swim around the Jetty keeping it to your left. The Jetty points to the NNW and the current forecast for Sunday morning is showing wind coming from the NE at anywhere between 14km/h and 31km/h (as per the forecast at http://www.weatherzone.com.au/wa/southwest/busselton) or 25km/h to 45km/h (as per the forecast at http://www.windguru.cz/int/index.php?sc=208628). This is a reasonably strong wind, but don't panic it could all change yet and even then, you can't do anything to change it! You need to remember that everyone will be in the same 'boat' as you - it's how you deal with it that counts. Because Geographe Bay curves around the Jetty (thus protecting it somewhat) a NE wind is not necessarily bad news, but given the very strong E wind we experienced at the Busselton Jetty swim earlier in the year, this did make for some challenging conditions out there, especially around the tip of the Jetty, forcing over 60% of the field to retire from that particular race. If the wind does kick up, you may find yourself needing to breathe a little more often to your LEFT on the outward leg and then more to the RIGHT on the homeward leg, thus breathing away from the wind and likely surface chop. You should still be able to breathe bilaterally (preferable as it will keep you straighter by being more symmetrical) but we've been practicing quite a bit of this single-sided breathing recently for this very reason. So remember, if you need to breathe to your non-dominant breathing side for extended periods, make sure the timing of your breathing to that side is good, as well as your rotation to that side. For more tips and visuals on this, see: http://www.feelforthewater.com/2011/11/checking-your-breathing-timing.html
- Remember that the Jetty itself is not perfectly straight and has a kink about a third of the way along. Depending on buoy placement and race organiser rules and restrictions, the shortest course on the outward leg is as per #1 on the map above, not hugging the Jetty itself. Equally, on the way back, you need to be very careful to ensure that you veer away from the Jetty at the kink and not hug the Jetty at this point (#2) as you will add extra distance as I mistakenly did at the Jetty Swim in February. Sighting is not as easy as previous years when heading for the Goose and the helter-skelter turrets, especially if it does get a little choppy. On the outward leg, you might find yourself getting pushed into the Jetty itself and on the return leg pushed away - watch out for this as it can be pretty frustrating! Keep your cool and use the marker buoys as per the race briefing to guide you.
- If it does get tough out there, make sure you've read this simple bit of advice for staying positive about things: http://www.feelforthewater.com/2011/11/switching-off-negative-voice-inside.html - you can deal with anything out there if you know what to do and how to handle yourself - if anything a lumpy swim makes for a little more excitement than a perfectly flat day anyway and it'll keep you focused on each and every stroke rather than thinking about how much further you've got to go. Remember, if you're moving you're making progress!
- Choppy and swelly conditions can also require an adjustment to your stroke technique which also benefits your shoulders in a long-sleeved wetsuit. A straighter arm recovery is often adopted by many of the world's best open water swimmers and triathletes in these conditions because it: A) helps to ensure you get clearance of the hand over the surface of the water - a high elbow / low hand recovery might look pretty and 'text book' in the pool, but there will be no style points awarded out there (especially if it's rough) so you need to ensure good momentum and to not be buffeted around too much; B) means you won't be fighting against the restrictive nature of the rubber suit around your shoulders - it's much more fatiguing in a wetsuit to try and maintain that high elbow recovery style which looks so classical in the pool; and C) can help to keep your stroke rate at a slightly higher level than normal to help power through the waves.
- Don't make the mistake of seeking out 'clear water'. So many times I hear people (even good swimmers) saying that they like to find some space once through the melée at the start of the event, but doing so effectively means you're swimming solo, or worse still with a gaggle of blood sucking Swingers on your toes! Drafting effectively can save you up to 38% of the energy expenditure when swimming by yourself and it's imperative that you maximise this advantage when you're out there. This is what we practice every Saturday in our 1pm session at Claremont Pool. We have some more tips on this and how it might affect your breathing patterns at http://www.feelforthewater.com/2011/01/when-not-to-breathe-bilaterally.html - no-one wants to get bashed around of course, but if done effectively, drafting well can either save you a lot of time or a lot of effort or both! You don't want to be the person who everyone else is drafting off - there are no 'hero' awards out there on the day - sit-in if you can, it's allowed!
- Follow the advice based on Dan Tarborsky's GPS data in 2010 to ensure you don't swim more distance than you have to out there: http://www.feelforthewater.com/2010/05/whats-easiest-way-to-take-ten-minutes.html and follow-up with these summary tips: http://www.feelforthewater.com/2010/05/swimming-faster-and-straighter-in-open.html
- Sometimes you just have to let that smooth stroke go!
- Most of all, enjoy yourself - you've put in the hard work, now get out there and have a great swim!
Hope this helps, feel free to share with your friends who might be racing as well!