Triathlons and Water safety


Most accidents in a long distance triathlon happen in the water or right after the swim part. Be aware of this fact and make sure you take every precaution possible to ensure nothing happens to you.

There are thousands of young runners i see regularly participating in marathons who are nowhere near adequate preparation but have too high an opinion about themselves. And unfortunately i see a similar trend in triathlons…where everyone is eager to do an olympic distance (to being with :-)like its a 5k run…an insignificant distance…:-)) and then quickly move on to 70.3 and then the full ironman…without really putting in the time, effort and discipline in to the training.

Remember that’s its not like getting injured in a marathon for which you practiced less than you should have and simply limping to the finish line….in an open water swim the stakes are much higher…it’s your life that is at risk.

Please take it seriously for the sake of your family and friends and the triathlon community as well! We all care.

1. Dont assume that the organizer has taken all safety measures. Make doubly sure that he has. This is very important for Triathlons being organized in India.

  • Are there enough lifeguards present close to you at every point of the swim. Are they equipped properly to rescue you, are they trained in CPR, is there an ambulance to take you to a hospital if needed?
  •  Are there any Jelly fish in the water? They sting. And the pain can be unbearable.
  • Do the locals swim here often? If yes then it may be a safer place, if no, you gotta be more careful.
  • Hopefully no weeds nearby? Just by looking around a little you should be able to figure out if there are weeds or not.
  • And last but not the least hopefully there no crocs or fishes with FINs especially if its a sea!!!

2. Acclimatizing before the race

  • Get inside the lake or sea before the race. It helps. You get to know the water temperature and you get a feel of the water. Very very important. Not every triathlon allows you to do this. Especially not on race day if its an international triathlon…however in India I have noticed that its ok if you do. so dont miss out on this. Get in the water before the race to test it out.
  • Make sure you have done attleast 2 to 3 hundred metres more than the distance you are about to swim NONSTOP….IN THE POOL before doing the race. E.g. if swimming for 1.5 kms, make sure you can do non stop 1.8 kms. By non stop, i dont mean you can stop at the end of the pool or hang on the lane..once in a while…it really has to be non stop…quick turns..not putting your feet down at all. Then and only then you are ready.
  • If your triathlon has a swim cutoff…and you are really going to be close to the cutoff then you are NOT ready. E.g 70.3 generally has  swim cutoff of 1 hour 10 minutes…In practice if you are doing 1.9 in 1 hr…or 1 hour 5 minutes…or you are doing in less time but you hold the lane..or you stop at the end…THEN YOU ARE NOT READY.
  • If you practice swimming only with a wetsuit and you are unsure if wetsuit is going to be allowed on race day, then you are making a mistake. You have to practice with and without it. Wetsuit gives a huge advantage for a swimmer and suddenly on race day if wetsuits are not allowed ,you can get screwed. For IM triathlons, water temperature of less than 16 degrees, wetsuits are mandatory. 16 to 24 its optional..upto you. 24+ its not allowed.
  • If you normally wear specs, you must buy swim goggles that have powered lenses. This is going to help you sight properly. They are available in some sports stores, call ahead and confirm.
  • Whatever goggles you wear for swimming, you need to make sure they dont fog up after swimming a few meters. You need to put a little “fresh water” in both sides so that you can use it to clean the inside of your goggles by swaying your head from side to side once every few hundred meters. However you need to get used to it so you must practice it while swimming in the pool. Also remember, I said fresh water not salt water from the sea which is going to burn your eyes.

3. Start

  • Wave start vs Time trial start or Rolling start – Wave start means everyone…yes all 300 of you starting at the same time. Its chaotic and if you are not a strong swimmer it can seriously bother you. Time trial start means 3 swimmers will start every 5 seconds. It great for athletes who are not strong swimmers. Even if its a wave start…slow down…let every one else go first..and then start your swim…a few seconds here and there wont matter.
  • International triathlons want you to jump and not dive..meaning legs first…Do that..its safer that way.
  • If there are rocks or pebbles…on the beach or the start area….please be very very careful. A small cut or a nick can cause you to stop or slow down and weeks of future practice will be lost because of one stupidity.

4. Once in the water

  • It gets crowded...there will be pushing and pulling..its not done intentionally so never do that to others. Try to swim away even if its a few more meters for you.
  • Be aware of the fact that water can get in your mouth and can cause serious trouble…even choke you temporarily..especially if its the sea and the water is choppy.
  • Remember home...where you block the water from getting in…you can do the same thing and make sure water never gets wont if you are a little careful about it
  • Do the sighting properly of the turn around point and the finish. Try to be as straight as possible but while turning..if you take a little wider turn...its safer because then you wont bump into people.
  • sighting can also be done by looking at swimmers close to you. If they are going straight and you are referring to are going straight. However be careful doing this. You dont want to refer to someone who is not going straight.
  • Vaseline can be applied to avoid jelly fish stings. On your complete body..So its yuck..but its needed.  More important if the locals tell you that there are jelly fish.
  • International sign of asking for help is waving with both arms. To do that you need to kick and hold your body straight so that both hands are out of the water. Aim at a lifeguard while doing so. shout for help. Practice this in the pool, you will realize its not easy to wave with both arms outside. You have to kick vigorously.
  • Remember there is no shame in asking for help.
  • If you see a fellow triathlete in trouble, PLEASE do not ignore. Help him get to safety and then only go on with your triathlon.
  • Helping a swimmer in distress is not easy. There are courses that are offerred in Pune where you can learn how to rescue someone and not drown yourself. Dont get too close to the swimmer if you are not sure. Instead get help  by waving or shouting and stay a few  metres away. If you must do the saving yourself because there is no one else then, go a little deep in the water, and approach him from behind so that he cant grab you….and either hold his hair from behind and pull or grab his body in such a way that his head is above the water but he cant turn to grab you. if he tries to grab you, you go deep inside so that he leaves you immediately.

5. Coming out of the water

  • In international triathlons, I have seen very carefully done steps, carpeted heavily so that you dont get cut or bruised. In indian triathlons, i have seen pebbles and rocks on which you need to run to get to transition one. My fellow triathletes have gotten bruises, cuts and what not. PLEASE be very careful and dont get in trouble while coming out.
  • There are showers in T1…use them…to cool you down…catch your breath...No are racing yourself..
  • Take time in T1 to get your heart rate down… and fuel properly... you may not have eaten anything since more than an hour…if its a full stock up before you start biking….

6. If you are on your bike…Hurrrrrrraaaaaaaaayyyyyyyy….You are out of the water safe and you have one more success story to share with your friends and your well wishers can heave a sigh of relief……well temporarily…atleast.


Happy Tri…ing!

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