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Learning to Swim for Triathlon – Breathing Correctly

Learning to Swim for Triathlon – Breathing Correctly
Learning to breathe correctly while swimming is the foundation of a confident swimmer.

Breathing correctly while swimming is a pre-requisite for a relaxed and efficient swim stroke. It is also the foundation of a confident triathlon swimmer.

Learning to Swim for Triathlon

Since I have been swimming from around the time I began grade school, I was initially surprised to hear that there are many over 50 who have never learned to swim. However, it is truly never too late to learn to swim. In fact, you should learn to swim for all its benefits.

Most who struggle with learning to swim, including my mother and my aunt, swear they were simply not ‘made’ to swim. In reality, their difficulty with learning to swim was rooted in their inability to ‘catch’ their breath.

The literature on swim training is full of support for the premise that breathing correctly during the swim is the first and most fundamental skill to master on the road to becoming a confident swimmer.

It is only after we have developed a means of taking in oxygen needed to fuel our muscles during swimming that we can work on other parts of the technique.

The confidence that comes from relaxed breathing during the swim will also help us deal more effectively with the unknowns that can and often do occur during a race.

Why Breathing While Swimming is Challenging?

The swim strokes commonly used in a triathlon require breathing with our face in the water most of the time.

This is certainly true of the fastest and most popular stroke for the triathlon swim, the front crawl, sometimes referred to as freestyle.

For this stroke, our face, nose, and mouth will be in the water during most of the stroke. This is especially true if we maintain a proper body position. With a correct position, our head will be in line with our spine in order to maintain balance in the stroke.

Even the breaststroke, used by some triathletes, involves the face being underwater a good deal of the time.

While it is possible to swim with our head out of the water, at least for shorter swims, this body position leads to extra drag by causing the legs to drop in the water. It can also lead to fatigue of the neck muscles. Greater fatigue during the swim will affect the other legs of the triathlon.

Controlled Breathing Starts With Base Fitness

The more relaxed our breathing is during the swim, the more we can focus on the stroke and on maintaining control of body position in the water.

There are two principal contributors to controlled breathing: (1) fitness and (2) breathing technique in the water.

Let me start with the first one – fitness.

We all know that when starting to exercise after being away from it for a while, our breathing becomes labored and our heart rate becomes elevated more quickly than when our fitness increases. Our bodies are not as efficient in using oxygen as they will be when we become more fit.

It is well documented that the amount of power we generate at a given heart rate increases as we become more fit.

My own experience has been that when I resume swimming after a period of low activity (low aerobic fitness), my heart rate will often spike when I push myself to swim faster.

When that happens, I am forced to slow or even stop momentarily. This doesn’t give me confidence as a swimmer.

For this reason, I suggest that before starting to swim, you develop a base level of fitness through combined walking and running or other aerobic exercise, such as water aerobics, using the approach described in this post on building a base level of fitness.

What Makes for Proper Breathing During the Swim

We rarely pay attention to our breathing when we are on land. We may be more aware of our breathing when running, biking, or performing other strenuous activities. However, even if conscious of our breathing, we notice it is a more or less continuous process. We are continually either inhaling or exhaling.

Why then do people hold their breath while swimming, expecting to almost instantaneously exhale and inhale? It doesn’t work. And breathing incorrectly becomes even more apparent as we swim for a short while and our body’s demand for oxygen ramps up.

When learning to swim, breathing must be conscious. It must involve proper amounts of inhaling and exhaling. The challenge is that the ratio of inhaling and exhaling is not natural. Neither is the environment. That’s why we need to learn to breathe in the water and to do so with ease. That is my goal.

For the rest of this post, I will assume that you will learn to swim using the forward crawl stroke, the one most commonly used for the triathlon swim.

Inhale quickly through the mouth

Inhaling during the swim stroke occupies a small portion of the breath. Tilting our head to one side periodically so that our mouth is out of the water gives us time to take a quick breath of air. Even if a little water gets into our mouth during this process, it is not a problem since our mouths are designed for taking in water as well as air.

inhaling during a front crawl
Inhaling during the front crawl stroke occurs with the head rotated to one side, yet partially underwater. Note the wave in front of the head and the depression near the mouth.

Exhale through the mouth and nose until ready to inhale once again

Exhaling is where most of the difficulty occurs. Unless you have exhaled all or nearly all the contents of your lungs, the amount of oxygen you are able to take in during the inhalation portion will be limited.

Therefore, exhaling through both the mouth and nose should begin immediately upon completing the inhale portion. Continue exhaling until beginning to inhale once again.

Remember to exhale through both the mouth and nose. Most of the exhaled air should, however, pass through the mouth.

Exhaling through the nose alone has two limitations. First, it is nearly impossible to exhale an adequate amount of carbon-dioxide rich air during the short period of a single stroke.

Secondly, forcing as much air out of the nose as possible forces germ-laden water droplets from the throat into the nasal passage and other portions of the sinuses and ears. Water trapped in these parts of the body can be irritating, even unhealthy.

Triathlon Tip: Do you struggle with water in your nose during swimming? According to USAT officials, it is legal to use nose plugs and even a face mask during a triathlon swim. For more information, check out this related post: Product Review: Nose Clip for Triathlon Swim Training.

Never hold your breath

If you are having difficulty breathing while learning to swim, stop and observe. Is there any time in the stroke during which you are holding your breath? Never hold your breath! Always be either inhaling (while your mouth is out of the water) or exhaling.

Learning to Breathe Correctly While Swimming

I hope that I have convinced every new swimmer preparing for a triathlon to begin their swim training by learning to breathe properly.

At this stage, it is critical that you keep yourself safe by avoiding water too deep to stand in. With this ‘safety first’ goal in mind, here are two options for developing your breathing technique.

On Your Own – With a Friend Who Can Swim

While getting lessons from a professional swimming instructor is best, you may not have access to one because of where you live. Or, your fitness or community center may not offer lessons.

You can develop confidence in breathing during the swim on your own. However, at this stage in your swimming development, don’t go into the pool without an observer (lifeguard or friend who remains on the deck watching you).

First, practice breathing while standing in the water. Put on your swimming goggles (and nose and earplugs if needed). Put your face in the water and exhale simultaneously through your mouth and, if not using a nose plug, your nose.

When you have exhaled nearly all the air, roll your head to one side until your mouth is just out of the water. Quickly take a breath, roll your head back into the water, and begin exhaling. Repeat this process several times.

For this exercise, you can rotate to the side most comfortable. However, after a while, you will want to become comfortable breathing on either side. You will understand later, especially during an open water swim on a sunny or windy day, why this additional flexibility in your swim stroke is valuable.

Note that breathing while moving through the water will be easier than when standing still. As the picture above shows, water flows around the body as we move through it, creating a depression around our face. As a result, you can take a breath with one eye (goggle) underwater.

Next, grab a kickboard

Once comfortable with the rhythm while standing, you can grab a kickboard. Hold it with your arms extended in front of you. Extend your body in the water while maintaining a straight spine. Keep your butt, legs, and feet near the top of the water.

Kick along the length of the pool practicing breathing – inhaling and exhaling. Continue to exhale until your mouth is out of the water enough to grab a quick breath.

Try to avoid lifting your head when rotating it to take a breath. Be aware that the kickboard will keep your arms and head higher in the water than when swimming without it.

Once you are comfortable kicking and breathing, you can hold the kickboard with one hand, alternating hands as you use the other to pull through the water.

These techniques are demonstrated in this video.

Join an Adult Swim Class at the YMCA or Your Fitness or Community Center

I learned to swim well when I was young. However, the quality of my swim stroke and my confidence as a swimmer jumped to a new level through the help of one of my kid’s YMCA swim coaches. He had watched me swimming laps and gave me a couple of pointers related to breathing that I have included above. These simple tweaks in breathing changed my swim.

Safety First – Save the Open Water for Later

There are several advantages of starting to swim in a pool.

First, and probably most important, is that you can control the depth of water you are in. Many pools have a depth in which you can safely stand. If there are deeper sections, it is easy to see where the depth increases to avoid these.

Many pools also have lane dividers, ropes with or without discs, running between individual lanes. You can hold on to these if it becomes necessary to stop in an area too deep for standing on the bottom.

These are typically not available in open water. Also, in most cases, it is difficult to see the bottom and gauge the depth of the open water.

Related post: Triathlon Swim – How Does a Pool Swim Differ from Open Water?

Where Do You Go From Here in Learning to Swim for Triathlon?

As with learning most new skills, patience is a virtue. Keep working to become comfortable breathing with your face in the water.

Once you have achieved this, you are ready to move on. In the next phase, you will develop your form in each of the parts of the stroke. This will set the stage for more effective training and further confidence-building increases in speed and distance.

I will address these in a future post.

Leave Your Questions and Comments Below

What questions do you have about breathing while swimming? For the experienced swimmers and swim coaches, what would you add to my comments?

References

  1. Bragg, Patricia & Johnson, Bob, (1985), “Chapter 6: Swim Training for the Triathlon”, Complete Triathlon Endurance Training Manual, pp 275-336. Santa Barbara, CA: Health Science.

Favorite Swim Training Tools & Gear

Favorite Swim Training Tools & Gear
FINIS Tempo Trainer Pro

What if you are not from a swimming background though want to be more competitive in the triathlon swim? One answer is to add more structure to your swim training.

I Want To Be A More Competitive Swimmer

There are many triathletes whose goal for the swim is to “just get through it so that I can get on the bike”.

I am not one of these.

Swimming is enjoyable to me. I have spent many hours reading books and blog posts and watching videos about swimming in order to be a faster swimmer. I have also gotten advice from my son, a former college swimmer, on how to improve my swim.

As with most sports, improvement comes by developing better technique, a more efficient form, greater full body strength, and aerobic fitness.

Increasing Stroke Rate Using the FINIS Tempo Trainer Pro

According to Swim Smooth, there is an ideal relationship between swim speed (time per 100 m) and swim stroke rate (strokes per minute). A swimming stroke that is too high (RED zone) hints at too short a stroke. On the other hand, a slow stroke rate typically indicates too much glide with each stroke and a tendency to create a hand position in the latter part of the stroke that causes one to slow.

My swim currently falls in the upper left portion of the BLUE region. Using my FINIS Tempo Trainer Pro, I am training to increase my stroke rate while paying close attention to the catch phase.

Graph showing the ideal stroke rate for various times for swimming 100 meters.
The ideal range for swim speed vs. stroke rate chart is in white between the blue (too low stroke rate) and red (too high stroke rate). Source: Swim Smooth

About the FINIS Tempo Trainer Pro

The FINIS Tempo Trainer Pro is a waterproof metronome. The choice of one of its three modes depends on the training plan. For example, one mode allow you to set a time per lap for use with interval training.

I set the device to transmit an audible tone for each of the strokes in the targeted pace. For example, I set the Trainer to beep every 1.0 second for a stroke rate of 60 strokes per minute.

The pace is adjustable in 1/100th of a second increments giving plenty of resolution for every situation.

The small, waterproof device easily secures beneath a swim cap and transmits a clearly heard, audible beep. It floats in water to help avoid it being lost in the pool or open water.

The Tempo Trainer Pro also comes with a clip for ‘dryland’ training. For example, it is used in bike (cadence) and run (foot turnover rate) training.

The FINIS Tempo Trainer Pro includes a replaceable battery. I have had the device for more than five years and replaced the battery one time by taking it to a local BatteriesPlus store.

My journey toward becoming a better swimmer continues by working to increase my stroke rate. With strength training and more structured time in the water, I am confident that I will be more competitive in the triathlon swim.

You can find the FINIS Tempo Trainer Pro at SwimOutlet.com

Or at Amazon.com

Check Back Next Month for Reviews of Other Swim Tools

Meanwhile, You May Also Be Interested in These Posts

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.

 

You may also be interested in these posts

‘Live Like Josh’ – Terry Seidel’s Story

‘Live Like Josh’ – Terry Seidel’s Story
An emotional Terri Seidel transitions from the 400 m swim at TriZou 2016 in honor of her son, Josh

Terri Seidel’s triathlon story is about training for her first triathlon and, in doing so, pushing herself beyond her ‘comfort zone’. Her story is also about honoring a son by doing something he had thoroughly enjoyed.

It was during the TriZou Triathlon that I learned about the Josh Seidel Memorial Foundation. Following the triathlon, Terri and I made contact through friends of her son, Josh. We had both competed in the TriZou Sprint Triathlon, Terri as part of a relay and I as an individual.

Terri’s story was originally published on July 2, 2016. More than five years later, I still think of her courage in participating in the same triathlon her son had done years earlier.

As you read her story, I hope you will find encouragement to take part in triathlon even if you are not sure you can.

Terri’s story below is based on what I heard about her experience leading up to and participating in her first triathlon.

Deciding to Tri

“If I am going to do this triathlon, I need to commit to training”. Those were my words as I sat and discussed with my husband the thought of me participating in the 2016 TriZou Triathlon, my first triathlon.

My husband had participated in TriZou the year before. For me, participating in a triathlon was something I wanted to accomplish.

But, Why TriZou Triathlon?

The TriZou Triathlon and DuZou Duathlon are held every May at the University of Missouri in Columbia, also known as Mizzou. In recent years, it had attracted about 600 participants. It’s one of the largest triathlons in the Midwest. My husband, all three of our children, as well as countless brothers, brother-in-laws, nieces, and nephews, have all graduated from Mizzou.

My son Josh participated annually at the TriZou. It was one of his favorite events.

In 2013, Josh’s life was tragically taken in an industrial accident at the business he owned. After his death, a group of his high school and college friends established the Josh Seidel Memorial (JSM) Foundation, a foundation created to carry on Josh’s legacy by awarding scholarships and helping schools and other organizations.

The foundation created a tagline that summarizes what it’s all about.

LIVE LIKE JOSH: Work Hard – Play Hard – Help Others.

www.joshseidel.org.

That is how Josh lived. He worked very hard. As an entrepreneur, he co-founded a successful manufacturing business in St. Louis. In spite of the long, 60-hour weeks that all new businesses need to thrive, Josh would also play hard. And, TriZou was an example of that. He would train for this event and participate with a goal of improving his time each year.

TriZou becomes ‘SlyZou’

In 2014, a group of Josh’s friends from Mizzou decided they were going to carry on his tradition by participating in the TriZou in honor of him. Those participating unofficially renamed the TriZou to SlyZou recognizing Josh’s nickname, Sly. From here forward, we referred to this event as the SlyZou.

That year, we had seven participate in the event. There were also 21 spectators. It was really heartwarming to see his friends continue his legacy and participate in an event that meant so very much to Josh.

In 2015, participants connected with the JSM Foundation soared to 15 with 18 supporters cheering them on. Josh’s dad, Mike, participated in the DuZou, which consisted of a one-mile run, seven-mile bike, and one-mile run.

At age 59, Mike finished and actually won a medal in the Clydesdale class (above 220 pounds) for his age group. However, in his words, the race almost killed him.

The missing ingredient was he hadn’t committed to training to the level I knew I needed for me to take part in this race. He had trained briefly, running to attempt to pick up his endurance. However, he had only registered about 20 miles total on the bike before the event. My thought was that if you are riding 7 miles the day of the race, a collective 20 miles is hardly considered “training”.

Choosing the Relay for TriZou 2016

So as my husband and I discussed participating in the 2016 Triathlon, I told him I would do it. I wanted to do it, but knew training was the key to success.

With less than six months to train while balancing other commitments, I could not see training for the complete triathlon.

Given the timing, that I look like a baby calf taking his first steps when I run, and that my biking skills are not great, we decided to make this a family event. I along with my two daughters would participate as a relay team this year. (See Reason #11 of 15 Reasons for Those 50 and Older to Do Triathlons.)

My daughters agreed that I would swim the 400 meters, my youngest daughter Lindsay (33) would bike the 14 miles, and my oldest daughter Katie (36) would run the 5k leg of the race. At 60 years old and generally in good shape but certainly not being a fitness buff, I did not see tackling a triathlon by myself as a smart move. At least given the time I had before the event.

Training for the Three Legs of a Triathlon Takes Time

Triathlons are something you prepare for over time. You enter a series of 5k runs to prepare and get comfortable with the run distance. On top of this, you train by biking longer distances on weekend mornings so a 14-mile race is achievable. Finally, you swim a lot at the local pool.

That is one of the beautiful things about TriZou. You can participate at many levels, so the barrier of entry for those who have not participated in this type of event goes away.

In addition to the Sprint TriZou race (400 m swim, 14 mile bike, 5 km run), they offer relay teams (same distances as sprint), super sprints (100m swim, 7 mile bike, 1 mile run), and a duathlon called DuZou (no swimming; 1 mile run, 7 mile bike, followed by a second 1 mile run). There are also divisions for those with extra pounds like my husband, called Clydesdale for men and Athena for the women.

Training for My First Triathlon

I joined our local YMCA about 4 months before the SlyZou. It was winter in St. Louis and I was going to have to get into a pool and log some serious miles if I wanted to complete this event.

Nervously, I entered the 25 meter pool at the Y for the first time, and barely made it from one end to the other. I’ve been swimming my entire life. We have spent countless weekends at the lake. However, I learned that the type of swimming I had done with these was not like that of a triathlon.

I quickly realized that floating on a noodle and swimming back to the boat for another cocktail is NOT swimming training.

Terri Seidel

Nevertheless, twenty five meters later I was at the other end of the pool, out of breath and overwhelmed. That I had to swim the equivalent of 16 laps of this pool, without stopping, to complete my leg of the race was more than intimidating.

Applying job skills to training

I’m a regional Vice President for a large company that owns and operates Ambulatory Surgery Centers across the country. In our daily business operations, we tackle new goals and accomplish new tasks every day.

I assist my employees and help them accomplish these goals, but it always boils back down to the same basic strategy I was going to need to accomplish this SlyZou event:

  1. Prepare.
  2. Get the tools and processes in place that you need to succeed.
  3. Address the issue with confidence that you can achieve it.
  4. Then execute the work.

I knew I needed to prepare myself physically for this event in the same way.

Getting a Swim Coach

The first step was to inquire about a swimming instructor at the Y. I felt I could improve a lot, but if I didn’t know where to focus, chances were slim that I actually would improve.

Stacy, my personal trainer for the next 4 months, was a gift from heaven. First, she analyzed my stroke.

I have often wondered what she really thought when she saw me swim a lap on the first day. Anyway, she quickly identified my strong and weak points and what I needed to work on to finish this race.

We started off slow. I committed to 3 days per week of training, We met at the pool where we worked on a particular area that would improve my swimming skills.

Sometimes, we worked on my stroke. Other times it was my breathing or my kick. Whatever it happened to be that day or week or month, Stacy would work with me, improving my skills. I also made sure I had the right swimsuit for training.

Building Endurance

My endurance started to improve. I still could not swim the entire 400 m without stopping, but I was getting stronger, and she would time me on my laps. She would discover that I hit a threshold, early in my swimming. I could be a couple of laps into my training, and I would slow down.

Stacy used her knowledge to help me learn things I would have never discovered on my own. Her suggestions helped tremendously.

Training for Actual Race Conditions for My First Triathlon

We also worked on the actual race day condition. Stacy knew this was going to be a very emotional event for me since, unlike many of the other participants, I was swimming for a cause.

Besides, she also recognized I had never participated in a race of any kind before so helped me plan the day of the race. For example, we discussed when to stretch, when to warm up outside the pool, and what to expect during the swim. These extras were a great help, especially since I had never been in a race in my 60 years of life.

Stacy also recruited other swimmer friends at the Y who were there for a normal workout. She would have them swim in front of me so that I got used to people swimming by me. Through this, I learned how to adjust my breathing for a very disturbed pool condition such as when you have 100 people in the water stirring it up lap by lap.

Before I knew it, we reached the last day of my training. ‘Ready or not, here I come.’

I felt ready. I was confident that I could swim my portion of the race.

Race Day

Since the race started very early in the morning, we traveled to Columbia the night before and got a hotel room. The rest of my relay team, our girls, and their families were also there.

There were 25 racers on “Team SlyZou” and equally as many supporters cheering them on. There were many husbands and wives who participated, a few other relay teams in our group, and a few DuZou participants.

Me? Nervous!

I was nervous, as expected, mainly because I really didn’t know what to expect. Even though my husband and I lived in Columbia for two years when he finished school, I had never been in the pool complex at Mizzou. It had only been built a few years earlier so was not part of Mizzou when we were there.

To say I was overwhelmed when I walked into the pool area was an understatement. First, the complex is amazing. On top of this, over 500 swimmers had packed into it. There I was, staring at a beautiful eight-lane, 50 meter pool, one of the finest pools in the Midwest.

There was also a lot going on. The race organizer was making announcements on the Public Address system. Big screen TV’s on the wall were displaying times. People all around me were talking and laughing while going through their pre-race routines. Meanwhile, there I was, standing mesmerized and scared to death of what I had signed up for.

Mizzou-Aquatic-Center
Mizzou Aquatic Center at the University of Missouri at Columbia, venue for the swim leg of the TriZou Triathlon.

The relay teams swam after all full TriZou participants, so I was very near the end of the line of people to jump in the pool. About two hours after the “Elite” participants had started, I jumped into the pool. About that time, the thought occurred to me that the “Elite “racers were finished with the entire event, the entire TriZou, and I was just getting started.

It’s Time to Swim

We lined up in order of the time which we expected to complete the swim. This was done to prevent faster swimmers from running into a slower swimmer in front of them. As we crept forward toward the time when I would cross the timing mat and jump into the pool, I had to keep telling myself ‘Stay calm. You can do this. It’s no different than the YMCA.’

It was no different except for the fact that I had about 50 supporters, including grandkids, my husband, friends who had driven 100 miles to see this happen, in the stands. Even my mom was there. She had driven up to watch – and support – me. Sure, it was no different than the YMCA. Right!

As I jumped into the pool, all I could hear were grandkids yelling “Go Mimi. We love you.” That difference from the YMCA training was one I thoroughly enjoyed.

Terri-Seidel-grandchildren
Some of Terri Seidel’s supporters – her grandkids Brooks, Tommy, Grace, Samantha, Graham – ready to cheer on ‘Mimi’.

I finished my first 50 meters and actually felt pretty good. The pool was not cold. I never experienced another swimmer tapping my feet to pass. My breathing was just like in training with the chop of the pool. I was sure I could do this.

After about 200 meters, I started to get tired. Since we had trained for this, I worked the plan and switched to the back stroke for a lap to recover somewhat. I could see that I was keeping pace. While I didn’t know my time, I was not passing anyone and they weren’t passing me. I assumed I was keeping my pace.

While I was counting laps – 8, now only 7, now 6, – somehow, when I got to my last 50 meter lap. I thought I still had three laps to go. We were swimming a zig-zag pattern, down the pool under the ropes, and back up the next lane, so when I saw the pool edge, I said: “I’m on my last lap. I thought I had 150 m to go”.

The Final Length

As I made my final turn, I could hear those who had come to see us cheering me on. It was at that point that I knew I would make it.

In no time, I found myself at the ladder at the end of my 400 meters; I was an emotional mess. After all, I was swimming this for my son Josh. I am certain he helped me finish.

I climbed out of the pool, and now had about a 150 yard run to the transition point. Here, I would pass my ankle bracelet for timing (the timing chip) to my daughter. As I came out of the Natatorium, all I could see and hear were cheers from the supporters standing outside the doorway.

Reflecting After the Swim in My First Triathlon

I had accomplished the goal I had set six months earlier. The swim portion of the race my son loved so much was over. After passing off the timing chip to my daughter, I sat at the steps around the transition area and cried.

Reflecting on the result of training for my first triathlon
Terri Seidel reflecting on the swimming accomplishment after completing the 400 meter swim in TriZou 2016.

While I completed only one leg of a triathlon, it was a major accomplishment for me.

I had been challenged physically before with work-related “team building” events. I ran a half marathon as a work event; remember earlier I told you I can’t run well. I hiked the Grand Canyon Rim To Rim in one day, starting at 3am and climbing out the top at 5pm, as a team building exercise. The National Parks Department won’t even let you do that if you tell them your intentions.

Set your goals, it’s a challenge. I’m normally one of the oldest if not the oldest in our group when doing these events – so to me they are a big accomplishment. Finishing this 400m in honor of our son tops all of those challenges – by far.

My daughters finished their individual legs of the relay as expected with decent times, and we were all happy to finish the event.

Training for my first triathlon made me part of this relay team
Team Boy (the nickname they gave to Josh) – Terri Seidel, Lindsay Bosworth, Katie Eisel

What I Learned From Training and Competing in My First Triathlon

Through this experience, Terri said that she had learned some lessons for other first-timers:

– Establish challenging yet obtainable goals, especially if over age 50.

If you want to finish a triathlon, maybe start out with a sprint, or a relay, or a DuZou, and work your way up to the main event. If you jump immediately into a triathlon, you may during training find it unobtainable and quit. You are better off accomplishing a smaller task toward the ultimate goal, than quitting and never getting to the ultimate goal.

– Train, Train, Train.

Eat right, train as many days per week as needed, and get your body ready for the physical challenge you are about to put it through. This type of event challenges your body – so get it as prepared as possible to minimize the risks of a heart attack or stroke, or some other physical event like torn muscles or joint injury.

– Have a reason or goal for the event.

In this case, I signed up and did this event in honor of my son Josh. Have a reason – a personal accomplishment, to show your spouse you care about your health (and theirs), to push your body and mind to be in better condition. Whatever it is, have a reason for participating.

On The Way Home After My First Triathlon

I will be 61 when the next SlyZou comes around. I turned to my husband on the drive back to St. Louis after this event, and with tears in my eyes, said “After I finished, I said to our son, OK Josh, mission accomplished – I did your race”.

Will I race again next year? Only time will tell.

Good luck to all those who read this and decide that they want to train for and participate in their first triathlon. My advice – if you do commit to the race, start your training now.

About JoshSeidel.org

Team-SlyZou-2016
Team SlyZou 2016

Our Motto: LIVE LIKE JOSH – Work Hard / Play Hard / Help Others

The Josh Seidel Memorial Foundation is an organization created to continue the Legacy of Josh Seidel, whose life was tragically cut short in an industrial accident. The goal of this foundation is to honor the memory of Josh Seidel by assisting and inspiring young people to participate in programs or attend schools that build science, engineering and technical skills, encourage entrepreneurism and foster the connection of people for the greater good of our community. Through fundraising efforts, scholarships and financial assistance are given to students and schools. We rely heavily on fundraisiers to allow us to support students and schools. The foundation is a tax exempt 501 c 3 organization. For additional information, visit www.joshseidel.org.

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What has been the most memorable triathlon in which you have participated? Is there someone special in whose honor you have raced?

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