Nearly every triathlete new to the sport who doesn't have a swimming background has or will (mark my words) receive this advice: To truly improve your swimming, find a good Masters program.
If you're a newbie, you've probably been going at it alone, putting in your lap-swim hours at the local pool or YMCA.
And while being in charge of your own workouts may seem empowering, without technical advice, advanced coaching and the camaraderie of a group of athletes working toward the same goal, it's likely that your training will reach a plateau and you'll end up more frustrated than well-trained.
It's at this point that the advice to join a Masters program begins to resonate.
It's possible you're currently at this point, but you've been putting off joining the local Masters team even though the one thing you've gained from lap swims is the troubling knowledge that your 40-minute 10K PR has yielded almost no tangible crossover when in the pool.
Looking at the rhythmic orchestration of 25 swimmers in a Masters workout, flashing myriad strokes and drills within a greater pattern all to the tune of a pace clock can be intimidating and make you wonder if you shouldn't just stick to dry land.
Should you feel intimidated? Absolutely not.
The primary message of this article is that Masters swimming is waiting for you, to help you get your triathlon career rolling, despite lack of ability and a background limited to what you learned in a high school PE class.
Here's an example:
A close friend of mine was a soccer, basketball and volleyball player in both high school and college. She often swam, cycled and ran as a form of cross-training.
However, she had never been a part of an organized swim team, and didn't know what interval training was, how to do a flip-turn, and she had never used a kickboard.
As soon as her collegiate athletic career was finished, she started competing in triathlons and joined a Masters swim team.
It was with her Masters involvement that she dramatically improved her stroke technique and quickly added swimming to her already-impressive list of multisport talents.
There are United States Masters Swimming (USMS) teams throughout the country, most of which provide organized workouts with a coach for technical assistance.
USMS teams cater to all levels of swimming and are open to all swimmers 19 years and older. Training with a USMS team will offer a variety of workout options, technical advice, motivation and, quite possibly, a lifetime of friendships.
The Masters team that I work with in Carlsbad, California, is made up of a large number of triathletes—pro and amateur alike.
Most have no competitive swimming background and have improved their athletic careers by taking part in the organized workouts.
Part Two: Frequently asked questions to help prepare you for the optimal masters experience