Q+A: Why am I struggling in sea-based races?



triathlon questions

Q. I’m a strong swimmer but I struggle with sea events. Any ideas why?

A. Alongside my academic work, I’ve been a beach lifeguard since the mid-90s and one major change I’ve seen is an increasing number of triathletes moving their regular swim training from the pool to the open water.

The chop, waves and general instability of coastal waters can pose quite a challenge for those new to the environment. The key areas for you to think about are the entry, navigation and exit techniques with sea-based events.

If it’s a beach start, dodge oncoming waves when you head out to sea by diving under them as they are about to break; then push off from the seabed using your legs. This is known as ‘dolphin diving’ or ‘porpoising’. By using this technique you’ll cover ground faster than you would by either wading or swimming. It will also minimise the stonewalling effect of being hit head-on by any surf or large chop and will help maintain your speed.

The absence of lanes and fixed landmarks in the open water can often cause inexperienced swimmers to unknowingly zigzag on the course, adding to their distance, which is the last thing a newcomer needs. Make sure you sight the swim course buoys every 6-10 arm strokes to remain on track and to cope with any tides or currents.

Swimmers sometimes feel disorientated because of the constant rolling of surf coming from their side. Get in the water before the start to become used to this motion and also to allow some water into your wetsuit to reduce cold shock.

As you head back to shore, use the waves. As a wave builds behind you, put your head down (to keep your body flat) and increase your arm turnover to accelerate and pick up the extra push forming behind you. Time – more than you think – can be saved by standing up and getting out at the right point. Once you can see the water is roughly at mid-thigh level, stand up and begin running.

Run with a high knee lift and an outward flick of your heels to help clear the water’s surface. If you’re on holiday by the beach, you can try all of these techniques. Finally, never swim alone.

Bryce Dyer

Bryce Dyer is Senior Lecturer in Product Design at Bournemouth University’s School of Design, Engineering and Computing, and is a member of the Design Management Institute. He is conducting research into sports technology used by elite athletes. He is a passionate cyclist and triathlete and has competed internationally in his age group in four sports, in events ranging from a 1K track pursuit to Ironman.


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