It can be a challenge to sprint the first two minutes of a race that will take multiple hours to complete, but getting to the front early can result in a huge payoff! Not only will you be clear of the chaos and in a position to draft off stronger swimmers, you’ll also start your bike ahead of the masses and set yourself up for a solid race. Focus on the following four areas.
Swim well with (lots of) others
When thousands of athletes start together in Ironman events, there is little chance to be in the front group. However, you shouldn’t be complacent in one place; challenge yourself to move ahead of one person in front of you. Then pick off another person, then another. Swim “skinny” as you squeeze through small gaps between swimmers. Don’t create turmoil and revenge by being hostile as you move forward.
The challenge of moving forward one by one will keep you occupied and focused on the event at hand and will prevent daydreaming or negative thoughts from forming.
Recover quickly from a sprint
Sprinting to the first buoy can have painful consequences like lactic acid buildup, lungs straining for oxygen and numb legs. Maintaining mental composure is the key to transitioning to a more sustainable pace. Tuck behind another swimmer and catch a draft. Use this time to keep positive thoughts flowing while you focus on your breathing and get it under control. Let your body react naturally to a lower intensity of breathing and adjust your stroke tempo accordingly.
Prepare in the pool
The decision to get to the buoy first should not be made on the starting line! Add sprint sets like these to your regular training at least two months before the race.
200 fast! (from a dive), 10 sec rest, 800 smooth (use first 200 as “active recovery”)
3×100 fast! with 5 sec rest, 1×500 (mid-race pace) with 60 sec rest, repeat entire set
15×50 (3 fast)! with 5 sec rest, 2 smooth with 15 sec rest, repeat three times)
10×25 fast! with 15 sec rest (start two yards from the wall to simulate “deep-water start”)
Master every type of start
Beach: The rule of thumb is to run to the water’s edge; high-step over the surface until water is above your knees; dolphin dive until the water is above your belly button and then start swimming. In the case of additional breaking waves, continue to dolphin dive under them.
Dive: Just a moment’s hesitation can be the difference between clean water and 1500m of chaos! The initial sprint will also last a lot longer when the entire field is similar in ability. Expect to exert 110 percent for upward of five minutes before anything settles down.
Deep-water: Place yourself on the front of the line, close to the outside edge. When the one-minute warning is sounded, maneuver your body into a horizontal position with head raised. Use a sculling motion with your hands and a small kick to keep your body afloat and stationary. When the gun fires, drop your head and start sprinting!