When I prepare for a race, I don’t only prepare for the distance I’m gonna race but also for the conditions and the type of course. For instance, I might do heat acclimation if I’m racing somewhere warm and do some hill repeats if I will be racing on a hilly course. Usually, you don’t have to prepare specifically for the swim portion of the triathlon. Except for different types of starts, such as beach start, dive starts or in-water starts, most swim courses are similar. However, the Ironman 70.3 World Championship swim course in Chattanooga offers an additional challenge since we will swim against the current for the first 800 m. We will then make a turn and come back with the help of the current.
To prepare for the first portion of the swim, I’m training with parachute. You can buy one at any swimming store or make one yourself with an old bag, just like I did. Swimming with a parachute simulates swimming against a current since you are working hard to move forward but don’t go really fast. It’s really important to have an efficient traction and to finish the traction at your hip.
In this workout I did 4 x 1 min at race pace with the parachute with 30 sec rest and then did a few longer reps with the parachute and paddles. The paddles and the parachute are great in combination to improve your strength. I then removed the parachute for the last part of the workout to get a feeling of swimming without a parachute. I wanted to get used to the transition between swimming against the current and then swimming with the current. It becomes almost effortless and it’s really important to glide as much in order to get the most out of each stroke.
If you are a strong swimmer you should not relax in this section of the swim course but instead accelerate. Indeed, when you are swimming with the current it’s much harder for someone to draft you. This is similar to cycling, since it’s always better to go on a breakaway when you have a tail wind. For instance, this year at 70.3 Chattanooga I wasn’t able to breakaway from a few swimmers in the section against the current because it’s easier for them to draft you since you are going slower. However, after the turn, swimming with the current, I accelerated and could build a big lead since they couldn’t draft me.
So, if swimming is your weakness you should just enjoy the section with the current and make sure your technique is good and that you are making the most out of every stroke. However, if you are a strong swimmer and want to take off time out of your competitors, the section with the current is the moment to do so, so you should accelerate in this section.
To prepare for the section with the current you can do a few intervals with fins or even fins and paddles.