Thoughts on Swim Deaths in Triathlon and Mitigation EffortsThis won’t be a long article, but I hope it gets the attention of anyone who does not warm up well for a triathlon.
The title of this article was a statement made by one of the bad guys from a Bond movie, he did not last long. It is sentiment on in the minds of triathletes too often. Sadly we are not any more invincible than many other groups of people, but our A type personalities sure makes us think that.
My inspiration to write about this topic, is my nephew. He is forty something, and was a top ranked athlete in secondary school and college in Ireland. He is not quite at his former level of fitness, but to look at him you would think he is doing well. Daniel took off on a recent weekend to do an open water swim race. He is amazingly lucky that the lifeguards spotted him when he got into trouble and were able to get to him quickly. My very unscientific guess is that his problem, Atria Fibrillation, was what did kill some of the 30 who died in the swim portion of a triathlon between 2003 and 2011 (from a 2012 USAT study).
The chart showing the distribution of the age of the athletes in the USAT study has the largest group in their 40’s. The trend is up along with the growth of the sport.
The study was not able to draw any conclusions as to why all these people died in the swim, but there has been a big effort by race directors to eliminate the suspects. WTC tried out a new type of start last year at two of its Boulder races. They were not well received nor seemed to be a great improvement over the old wave starts by AG (they were trying to make it easier for the less confident swimmers to find a safe path through the madness). They did, however, initiate an effort to insure that there was a place to warm up in the water (or cool down if the water is cold). Other race directors are doing the same. Which gets me to the message.
WARM UPS BEFORE A RACE ARE VERY IMPORTANT, for your health and for a successful race. And the shorter the race the more important it gets (you want to go faster in a short race).
My recommended warm up for a race is as follows:
• Early start: Get to the race venue shortly after transition opens, get your bike and run gear set up (bring a second pair of shoes to warm up with), walk the route you will take through transition from the swim and bike, don’t hang around for long chatting with friends (do that later), head off to a quiet spot with your swim gear and run shoes.
• Warm Up Plan: come to the race having already figured out when and where to start your warm up. You can do this the day before when you check in (most races require that these days). Plan for at least 10 minutes of swimming and 15 minutes of land exercises. Add in time to get into your swim gear (more needed with a wet suit) and if you need time to get from the swim warm up area to the start line.
• Land Warm Up: Some or all of this should be part of your warm up before any workout and the full race warm up should be practiced many times before race day. The exercises in this set were originally taught to me by Bobby McGee, you can find them on his web site and on the D3 web site.
o Muscle Activation: five exercises that contract the key running and core muscles. These wake up the muscles getting all the fibers firing when you start moving.
o Dynamic warm up drills: A series of exercises that get the blood flowing through the entire body. They include arm swings that while taught to me as a running warm up are just what you saw Michael Phelps doing at the Olympics. All are intended to get the muscles and tendons race ready.
o Run warm up: 5-8 minute easy jog, finishing with 5-6 30 second strides (with 30 second walk in-between).
TIP: You may be a bit sweaty after this and getting into a wet suit can be a problem. I use talcum powder; sprinkle it inside the suit, legs and arms most important.
• Swim Warm Up: If it is cold don’t dive in and start swimming. Take a few seconds for your exposed skin to adjust, but don’t start getting cold, dunk your head in a few times. Start out very easy for 5 minutes, then do some 30 second accelerations, similar to the strides. If backstroke works for you and helps stretch out the arms (and gets the suit sitting on you better), by all means do some.
OTHER SWIM THOUGHTS:
o If the swim warm up area allows it, take a look down the line of buoys from the start and look for landmarks to guide you. Do the same down the buoy line to the finish, then turn around 180 degrees and look for landmarks. (You might also be able to do this on the run course if you are swimming in a lake and the run, or a road goes along the lakeshore).
o You should have been practicing sighting in the pool during training, do some when you warm up, you probably have to to avoid others.
Last thoughts, if for some reason you can’t do a swim warm up, get into the water before your wave starts ASAP, and get that head in if it is cold. Always try to keep the effort level below goal race pace for the first couple of hundred yards. This is critical if you did not get a swim warm up in cold water. I am always aggressive when positioning myself for the swim start, but not if it is cold and/or I did not warm up in the water.
Be safe have fun!