Most runners who are considering their first triathlon can cope with the cycling aspect of the event. It's the swimming that scares the life out of them. But it shouldn't, as long as they know the basics.
"Gifted swimmers simply have a better intuitive understanding of the most fluent way to move through the water," says swimming coach Terry Laughlin. "But anyone can learn this fluency with a few simple drills."
Laughlin suggests the four below. With each, swim short intervals (25 metres or so) slowly and easily, and try to feel what's described in each drill. Between intervals, take three to five deep, slow breaths until you feel ready to swim again without fatigue.
Drill 1: Hide Your Head
Why? Good head-spine alignment is essential to smooth swimming.
How? Lead with the top of your head, not your forehead. Feel water flowing over the back of your head. Look at the pool bottom directly under you, not in front of you.
Drill 2: Swim Downhill
Why? Balance – feeling completely supported by the water – is the essential skill of efficient swimming.
How? ‘Lean' on your chest until your hips and legs feel light. Your hips and legs should actually be slightly higher in the water than your head and torso.
Drill 3: Lengthen Your Body
Why? A longer body line reduces drag, allowing you to swim easier.
How? Extend a ‘weightless' arm slowly. Slip your arm into the water as if sliding it into a jacket sleeve. Keep extending until you feel your shoulder touch your jaw.
Drill 4: Flow Like Water
Why? Making waves or creating turbulence takes energy, all of it supplied by you.
How? Pierce the water and slip through the smallest possible hole. Swim as quietly as possible. Try not to make waves or disturb the water.