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5 Common Mistakes in the Pool Swim of a Triathlon

5 Common Mistakes in the Pool Swim of a Triathlon
Mizzou Aquatic Center at University of Missouri, Columbia MO, venue for the swim leg of the TriZou Triathlon.

Want to prevent fellow triathletes from becoming annoyed with you during a race? Avoid these mistakes commonly made during a pool swim.

From my experience with sprint triathlon, here are the top five mistakes, in no particular order, that occur doing a pool swim:

  • Reporting too aggressive or conservative pace/time

This mistake most often occurs during registration when you are asked to provide an estimate of the time that it will take to complete the swim.   You definitely do not want to be swimming with triathletes who are significantly faster or slower than you.

If you are worried about the registration filling before you can time your swim, give your best estimate.  Then, after later measuring the time, contact the race organizer to make any correction.

In many cases, you will also have opportunity on race day to make any correction.  You will likely be asked to line up with those of similar pace (if the start is one at a time) or to join a group with those of similar speed (if swimmers start in a group, typically of five or six) .

Just don’t make the mistake on race day.


  • Starting too fast

With adrenaline rushing and the crowd roaring (even a small crowd can be deafening in an indoor pool), it is tempting to start swimming too fast too soon causing your heart rate to spike or breathing to become difficult.  The next thing you know, you are swimming much slower than planned or even stopping to catch your breath.  Better to start out at what you consider to be a bit slower that you think you should until you are in a rhythm.  Once your breathing is at a normal race pace and you are ‘warmed up, give it your all.


  • Not drafting, if it is possible

Drafting is considered by many to be one of the keys to conserving energy during the swim while at the same time turning in a respectable (for you) time.  The problem with drafting is that it can be difficult to practice unless you swim with a group.

To take advantage of drafting, swim with your hands just behind the feet of the person in front of you.  (Avoid touching their feet which sends the message that you want to pass them.)


  • Not staying in your space

This is especially important when swimming in the same lane as one or more athletes and remaining in the same lane during the entire swim.  Stay on your side (usually the right side) of the lane.  You do not want to be the cause of a head-on crash.

Even if the swim involves a single length of each of several lanes in a Z-pattern, stay to the right as a matter of courtesy to faster swimmers.  You will appreciate this if you are the faster swimmer.

pool swim

Staying within your space during a pool swim will allow faster racers to pass.

  • Not allowing faster swimmers to pass when they let you know that they want to

Another courtesy to fellow racers is to allow faster swimmers to pass.  Let them pass as soon as possible once they have signaled that they want to do so.  Typically, faster swimmers will tap one of the feet of the swimmer that they wish to pass.  If you can, move to the right side of the lane to allow them to pass.  In races in which the entire length of swim involves multiple laps within a given lane, it is typical for the racer who is being passed to pause at the end of a length.  Allow the faster swimmer or swimmers to pass you, and then resume your swim.


What is your experience?

Have you identified other mistakes or have experience with those I have listed? Leave your comments below.


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What I Learned About Race Fueling at the Rocky Gap Triathlon

What I Learned About Race Fueling at the Rocky Gap Triathlon

Following the 25th Annual Rocky Gap Triathlon, I received some valuable advice about run training and fueling for triathlon from a fellow senior triathlete.  I included the lesson on run training in the Rocky Gap Triathlon post.

How the Conversation Started

During the run portion of the triathlon, a man with a number in the 70s marked on his right calf passed me.  This meant that he was at least 10 years older than me. Older men and women had passed me before. However, this guy looked strong.

During the cool-down after the race, I struck up a conversation with the guy, Mr. James Chapman, about his training program.

Fueling for Triathlon

Jim provided information about his run training. He also introduced me to his fueling regimen for triathlon training and racing. His advice, based on products from Hammer Nutrition, follows.

One hour before every hard workout or race of over one hour:

1 – Race Cap Supreme

1 – Mito Cap

3 – Anti-Fatigue Caps

2 – Endurance Amino Acid

Early in the bike leg of the triathlon

1 – Anti-Fatigue Caps

1 – Endurance Amino Acid

Post workout/race: (whey protein + carbohydrates)

Sprint triathlon fuel
Pre-race fueling recommended by Hammer Nutrition is aimed at energy production and fatigue prevention.

What is Behind This Approach to Fueling for Triathlon?

To learn about the products and their roles in training and racing, I contacted Hammer Nutrition (support@hammernutrition.com) about the recommendations.

Steve Born, Hammer Nutrition’s Endurance Fueling Expert, replied. He confirmed that Jim’s advice was ‘spot on’.  In addition, he explained why these supplements are helpful.

  • Race Caps Supreme—This supplement contains CoQ10 and idebenone, keys to energy production. It also contains antioxidants. Taking this product before exercise gives your body a head start on free radical neutralization.
  • Mito Caps—These provide the nutrients necessary for optimal mitochondrial function, which is vital for energy production and overall health. They also help your body use the calories from fatty acids as fuel more efficiently. And, they also increase the volume and activity of substances involved in producing energy from food and oxygen. R-alpha lipoic acid (r-ALA) is also a superb antioxidant.
  • Anti-Fatigue Caps—These supply two nutrients, potassium/magnesium aspartate and OKG, that help neutralize the negative effects of excess ammonia, a primary culprit in premature fatigue.
  • Endurance Amino—These contain specific amino acids, headed up by the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). BCAAs apparently help delay fatigue, enhance endurance, minimize muscle tissue breakdown, and provide antioxidant support.

Recovery from Triathlon Training

Steve also recommends consuming a mixture of Recoverite in water and a capsule of Chromemate after workouts. According to the Hammer Nutrition website:

“Recoverite supplies carbohydrates and protein in an ideal 3:1 ratio for superior glycogen synthesis and muscle tissue rebuilding, the two main components of recovery. For carbohydrates Recoverite contains only maltodextrin, a complex carbohydrate with a high glycemic index, to ensure rapid metabolism.”  As for the protein component, the website says “Recoverite contains only whey protein isolate (grass fed, hormone free, and antibiotic free), which is virtually fat—and lactose—free, and yields the highest percentage of protein. For rebuilding lean muscle tissue and immune system support, whey protein isolate has no peer.”

Paraphrasing Dr. Bill Misner, Director of Research & Product Development, Emeritus, Hammer Nutrition, “The anabolic response for converting carbohydrates to muscle glycogen will not completely take place in the absence of GTF chromium (Chromemate). If only a minute amount of GTF chromium is available, only a third of the amount of muscle cell refueling will occur. Consuming a sufficient amount of carbohydrates along with Chromemate will result in a 300% increase in the rate of glycogen synthesis compared to no supplementation.”

Race Duration and Weather Matter

The optimum program for race fueling depends on the weather conditions (temperature, humidity), race type, and distance.  Fueling for a sprint triathlon in hot humid weather differs from that for a half marathon run on a cool fall day. At least that’s my experience.

Read Steve’s recommendations here if you are preparing for a longer distance triathlon, such as a half or full Ironman.

What Is Your Approach to Fueling?

Please leave your questions and comments below.

This post was published on March 26, 2016. It was last updated on August 7, 2020.


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