Earlier this morning I had the real pleasure of leading a team of great coaches as we provided a special open water swim tuition session as a This Girl Can event, sponsored by SE England Triathlon.  Although the numbers of novice swimmers was small, this proved to be ideal as we were able to provide one to one, individual attention.  And the four women were extraordinary – overcoming their nervousness and doubts about braving the sea and going away excited about what they can do.

Some of the women have entered to do the new Brighton & Hove Triathlon in September.  All had never done a triathlon before, nor open water swimming in a wet suit.  So there was a lot to cover and a certain amount of anxiety about a whole range of things.

We started off talking through step by step what happens on the day – with all the coaches helping answer the question “so what do you do when you get there?”  We then went through the fine art of squeezing into a wet suit.  Gradually getting into the water, we went through some tricks to become used to the temperature, swell and other conditions.  In the one to one pairing and swimming at each person's own pace, the coaches were able to pass on lots of tips and see our novices growing in confidence.  We finished with some close up swimming in a group to simulate how it is likely to be in the race.

I was so pleased to see our novice swimmers surprise themselves with what they can do – some in particular going from being very hesitant about coming along, let alone getting in the water, to swimming with real confidence and joy.  All said how much they felt their confidence had grown and fears put behind.

I’ve written in recent posts about race preparations, so the following might have a bit of repetition, but I thought it would be worthwhile briefly summarising some of the key points we went through this morning as a recap and a step by step ZigZag Alive/This Girl Can/England Triathlon novices’ guide to your first race:

  • getting everything organised and packed ready the night before is a must!  One of the coaches said she likes to pack in the order that she’ll be using everything, so clothes for getting to the event, then swim kit (goggles, wet suit, lubrication) and so on
  • on the day, plan to arrive at least an hour before your race time to be able to rack up your bike and set out your kit in transition in good time.  Almost certainly there’ll be a numbered space in the transition area corresponding with your race number
  • tell yourself you are not going to get caught up in other people’s nervousness
  • set out your kit in transition in the order you’ll come to it: helmet at the ready, maybe on the handle bars, race belt and number inside, shoes laid out ready, and so on
  • take a few moments to fix in your mind where your bike is and where you come out from the swim, out on the bike, back in on the bike and out on the run.  I sometimes walk these through just to help me feel on top of where everything is
  • there’ll be announcements for when your race starts and when you need to be out of the transition area.  Nice and calm, move toward the start area with your goggles and swim cap
  • depending on weather conditions, resist the urge to zip up the wet suit long before the start.  I normally get myself all zipped up just about ten minutes before the start, with some Body Glide or baby oil on my neck, wrists and ankles to help stop chaffing and get out of the wet suit quickly
  • then its worth getting in the water, bit by bit, splashing water on your face and allowing a little bit of water down the front of the suit and then doing a few strokes to help loosen up
  • the marshals will then get everyone out and lined up and ready for the start
  • and then you’re off!  As I’ve written about in some of the other recent posts, the key is to focus on your breathing, getting into a steady, controlled breathing, maybe using a mantra like "bubble-bubble-breathe" or one of the coach's own "nice and easy, nice and smooth" 

There was more we packed in to the short session.  And my club, Brighton Triathlon Club, will be running another one of these open water sessions on 21st August, opening one of our run sessions the next evening where we can focus on stretching, mobility and some tips for the run section and finally on 27 August running a special transition focused bike session.  There’s still time for novices, men and women, to sign up with SE England Triathlon by emailing Kelly Wickens: kellywickens@britishtriathlon.org

For now though, an enormous “well done” to Sheila, Tania, Imogen and Gill and a very big “thank you” to coaches Martine, Chris, Kath, Tina and Barry and to Life Guards Dave and Charlotte – great job!

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