Triathlon swimming tips
Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images for IRONMAN
Training > Swim

14 triathlon swimming tips for race-day

Some of the best swimmers in triathlon pass on their top tips for a successful race-day swim, including Lucy Charles, Flora Duffy and Richard Varga


Race-day fears come in all shapes and sizes. So the first thing to do is use positive visualisation; a powerful tool that all athletes, no matter what their ability, can use to overcome negative thoughts.

For the swim, you need to think about what’s scaring you, so you can use the right approach to feel comfortable and improve your performance. Many people struggle with murky water – totally alien when you’re used to training in a pool – but this fear generally stems from unfamiliarity. You can get over this by practising in open water as much as possible before race day – and keep facing it until you’re desensitised. That way, what normally triggers your anxiety loses its power.

Irrational fears (seriously, there are no sharks in that lake!) need to be dealt with. Practice can help here, but distraction tactics may actually work better for you. Focus on the moment – on the physical act of swimming and perhaps repeating a technique phrase over to yourself – and you should feel the anxiety fade. Taking your mind off your fears and engaging with the physical actions of swimming will help you to relax. Practise this in open water prior to the race so that it comes naturally on race day when your anxiety levels will be much higher. That way, you’ve the greatest chance of getting the best out of yourself on race day, and hopefully nailing that PB.



It’s not a secret; the start of a triathlon can be daunting at all levels. To avoid the mêlée, follow these suggestions:

Start at the back. For those of you that are novice open-water swimmers, allow everyone to start and then start your swim. This should allow you to have clear water and navigate the swim course in peace.

Try to minimise the amount of people immediately around you, so begin at the far sides of the start line. I always try to start at the far right or left (even if it’s a longer line to the first buoy) of the start line to reduce the washing machine effect. 

Breathe! If you start to get panicky during the swim then focus on your breathing. Try deep breaths in and out, emptying your lungs each time. If you do swallow water, or get knocked by another swimmer, use breaststroke to catch your breath, regain composure and then carry on with front crawl. 


>>> How to improve your deep-water swim starts

>>>Open water swim: Crowd control tips


The first thing to remember is to never allow yourself to get cold before you enter the water. Do a warm-up jog with plenty of clothing on to raise your body temperature. Then put your well-fitted wetsuit on while also keeping warm socks and gloves on. If there’s a delay until you can enter the water then put a jacket on over the wetsuit and do a land-based warm-up like press ups, etc. Enter the water at a gradual pace – don’t just cannon ball in – but remember there’s also such a thing as going too slow. Finally, remember to always keep your body moving.



As triathletes, we spend countless hours swimming up and down the black line in a pool. Come race day there’s no black line, only a couple of buoys in the distance. Once in the water, it’s difficult to see the buoys because of athletes in front or next to you splashing. So sight big and use a landmark behind the buoy, as in a building, a dock, mountain peak… that lines up with a buoy on the course. Sighting big will allow you to sight less, and stay on course much easier.

To sight, lift your head as high as needed: In calm, flat conditions only lift your eyes out of the water; while in wavy conditions, you’ll need to lift your head out of the water – and remember to do so at the top of the wave. Sighting at the top of the wave will allow the best visual of the buoy.

In choppy and unpredictable conditions, sight two or three times in a row (every other stroke) as it’ll be hard to see the buoy. The first is to sight the buoy, the second to adjust direction and third time to ensure you’re going in the correct direction. Repeat every 20secs or so. 

Practice makes perfect. The next time you’re at the pool, incorporate sighting practice into your workout. For example, every fourth length sight every 5-6 strokes. Simple but effective.


Continue reading our 14 triathlon swimming tips for race-day (2/3, tips 5-9)


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