Do you also complain that "it is almost impossible to get better at swimming" and that "swimming is too technical of a sport?" Well, complaints won't help you. Coach Tom Marmarelli explains why it's important to improve your swimming ahead of Triathlon and Ironman races.
Is Swimming Really The Least Important From The Three?
The vast majority of endurance athletes before Ironman races believe that their swimming performance level is the least important of the three sports, even when they aim for great results or even a personal record. This of course, is also evident in not investing time in a way that can help advance their swimming level the most —swimming technique. At best, the athlete will swim about three kilometers three times a week and come back having convinced himself that this is enough, because "it is almost impossible to get better at swimming" or that "swimming is too technical of a sport to be able to improve at an old age". These expressions are extremely common among many triathletes and Ironman athletes, with the central reinforcement of these expressions being the first argument that swimming is "the least important" of the three disciplines.
True, in terms of net race time, the swimming portion of the race is the shortest, and usually lasts between one hour and an hour and a half, which is about 10% of the total race time, compared to cycling which is the lion's share, taking up just over 50% of the total competition time, and running taking up another 30-40% of the total competition time. So many athletes assume that if swimming is only 10% of the total competition it would be less beneficial to spend more time swimming in terms of time management in comparison to one of the other disciplines. I argue that especially for athletes who aspire for great results and come to race in the Ironman and not just participate, swimming is the first sport that needs to be improved, and may even improve the result of the competition much more than the net time saved from better swimming.
Here Are Three Reasons Why Swimming Is Important In Ironman
1) When an Ironman competitor swims better, he will come out fresher from the water to continue the race, and as a result, his cycling and running times will also improve. Swimming better is not just swimming stronger, but better navigating as well. Thus, swimming a shorter distance, knowing how to swim very close to other swimmers, and actually using their lane can save up to 10% more energy and thus, enable the swimmer to swim faster while exerting less energy.
2) A better swimmer will exit the water with better athletes, thereby improving his chances of riding better and with less energy. It is true that you shouldn't draft in an Ironman competition, but even when swimming 10 meters behind another athlete gets a drafting effect and saves 5-10% of the power, when swimming at greater speeds may save even more than that. When your environment is stronger, you stay focused for longer and your chances of riding closer to your plan increases. Additionally, when overtaking, entering the athlete in front of your surroundings for about 15 seconds until the overtaking is completed is allowed, and the drafting is more significant at this point. If you ride in a faster environment, there will always be reciprocal bypasses that will allow for a significant amount of energy saved. A good athlete who swims poorly will ride significantly worse than a good rider who swims well.
3) Mentally, when the athlete is at the front of the race, his motivation is higher than if he is at the back of the pack. When an athlete is in a poor position because he swims poorly, his motivation is lower than a rider who is at the forefront with good riders like him, who spur him to ride harder. I believe that when you are first (or even ahead of most of the pack) you have something to lose and that fear of loss is more motivation than wanting to win or improve.
Start By Improving Your Swimming Technique
Improving your swimming time by a minute in the Ironman will manifest itself in improving the overall result of at least another minute to three minutes due to the reasons I listed earlier. The right place to invest your time is in your swimming technique, as it is where you will get the most gains. Most athletes who swim even three times a week spend at best two minutes of training to improve their technique.
To improve your swimming technique, you must first know what you are doing wrong, then how to fix it, and only then practice tens of thousands of strokes to implement the technical change. It is absurd to me that many spend 99% of their swimming time on improving fitness, when very quickly, they no longer see progress.