One of the quiet beauties of swimming is its surreal nature. A great video of this was done by a California club below.
Swimming in a Dream from Jim Sugar on Vimeo.
For various blog entries of mine related to swimming click here
Triathlon swimming is not the same as competitive swimming, sure there are basics that apply to both such as technique and consistent workouts but there are a few important nuances that triathletes need to consider.
You can find a few good tips about triathlon swimming here
First, Technique is king as far as I am concerned. You never want to give up easy time so technique is the absolute critical component for the swim section of the race. Even getting to a moderately solid technique can save minutes off your time and also drain far less energy. Once that technique is in place you can even maintain your swim speed and capability on a single workout in a week if you wanted.
One of the better triathletes in the swim was the legend "The Man" Dave Scott, who has a YouTube series with swim pointers. I know from experience these pointers can go a long ways for those looking to get faster in the water.
Swim Overview by Dave Scott
Second, after you make the commitment to work on your technique you do need to spend some effort on working your swim engine. You should include technical work to some extent in every swim workout and I recommend that it become part of your warm-up and cool-down. You can use the drills identified by Dave, or do a simple rotation of some catch-up, finger-tip drag, neutral head drills, EHF drills and others. Check you tube for Freestyle drills and techniques for a variety on the web, lots of good stuff out there. After you do your warm-up I have three favorite workout cycles I rotate through for variety.
Favorite swim workouts
#1) 500m warm up, 10X100m repeats with about 10-15 sec rest, 200 rest set, 20X50m repeats descending from 60 seconds to 40 seconds, 200 cool-down
#2) 500m warm-up, 5x200m repeats with about 15 seconds rest, 500m-1000m drill work, 500m cool down
#3) 500m warm-up, 5X500m repeats with 2 minutes rest, 200 cool-down
Third, The swim in a triathlon is just the prologue that starts things off. Aside from an Olympic Distance triathlon the swim rarely plays a big part in the overall results. Now if you are behind by a huge margin that may put you at a non-trivial disadvantage but rarely will an amazing swim seal up a race without you having at least the bike or run ability to back it up.
For example: lets stack up a pure world class swimmer against your average solid age grouper. In an Olympic Distance triathlon where the swim is the highest proportion of time compared to the overall time when looking at different tri distances the elite swimmer will gain about 10-14 minutes over the age-grouper. The elite cyclist could rack up 25-30 minutes and the elite runner 15-18 minutes. When you take into account the level of effort in training to cut those deficits down you can make faster gains in the bike and run than the swim once you have the basic techniques in place.
Stick with a conservative front crawl (aka Freestyle) to stay from getting tired but depending on sun position a brief stint of a smooth backstroke works for me, breaststroke is not a good stroke because you lose far more speed than the energy savings in my opinion and with a mass swim it can also be problematic with all the bodies in the water. You would almost be better to do a long slow crawl "catch up" technique than breast stroke.
Having said that I found myself using breaststroke at IM Utah in 2002 because of the heavy swells coming at me at a near head-on approach to then time diving under each swell and riding about every third or fourth swell to the top for sighting. This of course was not an issue because the some 1500 competitors had been blown all over the course and congestion was not an issue. They did end up canceling the swim and sending us all back to shore.
Eye vision in the triathlon
Some of you with the same misfortune as me need corrective lens or contacts.
1) Pool swims - I don't use anything other than standard goggles and just try to follow the blurry black lane line :> It does make turns a little tricky. You can now get interchangeable lens with some corrective capabilities from the Seal brand family of goggles. Then I put on my glasses for the Bike and Run segments.
2) Lake Swims (a) Some races have Glasses Stewards and just try to follow the masses and hope the escort Kayaks tell you if you get off course. One way is to stay to the inside "line" or path and keep the kayaks/canoes in sight.
3) Wear contacts inside the goggles and so far I have heard of one athlete who did lose a lens once. So far I have been fortunate to have no problem with my contacts in the swims. After the swim to combat the sweat in the eyes bit train in contacts for the run and keep a contact solution eyedropper in a pocket to rinse when necessary. Biking with contacts is worse with the wind in the eyes and you may have to use wide - wrap around sunglasses to prevent dryness.