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SWIMMER Editorials

Triathletes and Swimmers (July-August 2012)

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When I started Masters swimming, I was training for a triathlon. My nonremarkable age-group swimming career ended somewhere around age 12 or 13, and I didn’t really see myself as a swimmer anymore, since I had pursued other sports after my early days at the pool.

So back to the pool I went. I found that I didn’t need to spend a lot of time learning an efficient freestyle—30 years had not erased the basics; swimming felt good and natural. I did a few triathlons, became a semidecent cyclist, but never amounted to much on the run. However, one thing became very clear: Training to be competent in three sports, done in rapid succession at varying distances, is exhausting.

What about the person who takes on this challenge with little or no swimming background? Many triathletes start from scratch in all three disciplines, but most agree that swimming is the toughest of the three. Swimmers who can’t remember not knowing how to swim efficiently don’t understand how this feels unless, perhaps, they’ve taken up French or the violin as a midlife crisis hobby.

Why is swimming so difficult? My guess is because it’s one of the few sports in which your brain has to first accept that you’re in a hostile environment—one in which failure to get to the surface to breathe means death—then you need to learn the rest of the sport: stroke technique, lane etiquette, how to use all those groovy plastic toys.

Of course, most of us don’t think we are going to die while we’re swimming laps, but a part of our brains undoubtedly remains on alert as a survival technique. This nifty capacity to automate the mechanics so we can enjoy ourselves and focus on efficiency and power is a noticeable difference between swimmers who started early and swimmers who are new to the sport.

In this issue, Jim Harper, who trained for and recently competed in his first triathlon, takes a lighthearted look at some of the differences between swimmers and our multisport brethren. He talks with some USMS coaches who have found innovative ways to ensure that triathletes in their programs are getting what they need to improve the swim leg of the tri.

We’ve heard the jokes and stereotypes, watched the xtranormal.com videos of “Swimmer Guy and Triathlon Girl,” we’ve reviewed Jef Mallet’s excellent treatise, “Trizophrenia” in SWIMMER. As long as we can all laugh at ourselves, our differences shouldn’t preclude a shared enjoyment of the water and mutual respect for our different abilities and goals. Let’s continue to welcome triathletes to our ranks in USMS.

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Updated July 1st, 2014 at 10:48 AM by Editor

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