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The laws of the lane – what triathletes need to know about group swimming

Some of the lane etiquette do's and don'ts to keep in mind when you start training with a swim group

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On July 5th the first Mercury Rising swim session with a coach on deck and four lanes all doing the same workout took place. We hadn’t seen anything like that in one year, three months and 22 days – but who’s counting?

It was a great feeling to see the white board out and hear the laughter and chatter that is the universal soundtrack of a team on a field of play. Folks were emotional as they saw friends and acquaintances they had only spied fleetingly through the lenses of Instagram and Facebook since cleaning out their lockers in March of last year. For the first time since the start of the pandemic there was a sense of real normalcy returning.

Swim Training post-COVID: Getting back to the pool

Most of the swimmers were chomping at the bit to get back to the group swims, but for some this was an anxiety provoking day. For some just socializing again was a skill that would need to be relearned. Add to that the fact that swimming in a group comes with an entire set of both written and unwritten rules. I’ve written more than a few times about lane etiquette and how best to create a “happy and safe” training environment, but many who’ve worked with me know that in person I can be slightly more “blunt.” Now may be the time for some needed bluntness – before bad habits are formed (again). Like the living document for bike riders that is “the rules of the cog,” swimmers also have a list: “The laws of the lane.”

1. Show up on time. If you don’t (because life gets in the way of our training some time), then join the lane where they are in the workout.

2. Unless you’re going to the Olympics and/or have a six pack like Melissa Bishop – no speedos.

3. Leave your excuses and other issues at home. When you lay out your excuses before you even get a toe in the water, you disrespect everyone you will out-swim and even those who will out-swim you.

4. Be neither too vain, or too humble, in your lane placement. Ask your coach if you don’t know which lane you should be in (and where in that lane you should be).

Photo: Getty Images

5. Learn to suffer.

6. Don’t try and win the warm up. No one does. You look like a fool.

7. Don’t head out for another lap of warm up when everyone else is standing at the wall. Your mother told you, you were special, but you’re not.

8. Do the main set that’s on the board. You’re not the coach.

9. Leave your watch in your bag.

10. Learn to use the pace clock. It’s math. It’s not hard.

11. Never start a set on the yellow top.

12. Leave 10 seconds apart unless there’s more than six in the lane (four for short course).

13. Tap the calf of the swimmer you’re passing to let them know what side you’re coming up on, but be sure you’re passing. Otherwise never touch anyone’s feet.

14. Don’t accelerate if someone’s going by you. Let them go. Next time swim faster before they overtake.

Photo: Getty Images

15. If you need to bust out the toys in order to make the interval times, consider swimming faster, otherwise you’re in the wrong lane.

16. Worry about your own swim. You may think you’re a fancy coach. You’re not. Leave the coaching to the coach.

17. Don’t stop before the wall. (Why do people do this?)

18. Learn to do Flip Turns. We know there are no flip turns in the open water, but there are no walls to grab and push off of, either.

19. Don’t stand in the middle of the lane chatting, or daydreaming, when others are still swimming. If someone does a flip turn off your back, it’s your fault.

Standing on that deck, watching the group pound out the meters, my heart was gladdened and filled with hope. Maybe we can have nice things again.

Then I heard: “Hey, if you need to put your damn fins on to keep up, think about going down to lane 3!”

Yup – we’re getting back to normal. Ain’t it grand?

Clint Lien is the had coach of the Mercury Rising Triathlon Club www.mercuryrisingtriathlon.com

This story originally appeared in the September, 2021 issue of Triathlon Magazine Canada.

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