Beginning tri training, week 15: Things to know about wetsuits

Credit: Adam Pretty/Allsport
Let's talk about the wetsuit. This is an optional item, and is either a garment or a piece of equipment, depending on how you look at it.

Fifteen years ago I was in that middle ground between bad pro and good age-group triathlete. Swimming was my worst event. To make a very long story very short, I developed a sort of wetsuit in which one could swim. I founded a company based on this design, ran it for eight years, sold it, ran it for the new owners for four more years, and left to start an online publication.

The company was, and still is, Quintana Roo. All triathlon wetsuits made today are based on the original Quintana Roo design. All that is just to say I know a bit about this particular topic.

A wetsuit will do four things for you. First, it'll make you warmer. That is axiomatic. Second, it'll make you faster. How much faster? If you swam in the last Olympic Games, it'll make you four seconds faster per 100 meters. If you are the slowest guy on your master's swim team, it'll make you 12 seconds faster per 100 meters. If you're average, split the difference.

Third, a wetsuit will make it less likely you'll drown. Wetsuit companies will NEVER advertise this, because to do so would bring upon them the perceived liability associated with making a safety device, like a life preserver. Wetsuit companies don't want this. But the fact is, you float higher in a wetsuit, and while they are not life preservers, I can't imagine a person sinking in a wetsuit. You certainly can die in a wetsuit, and I know of at least one person who has. But that was as a result of a heart attack.

Finally, you'll feel safer in a wetsuit. Climbing into a wetsuit is like re-entering your mother's womb. It's warm, cozy and safe in there. And, if it's any consolation to you, if you do die in a wetsuit they probably won't have to drag the bottom of the lake for you (feel better?).

Thing is, if the water temperature is over 70 degrees you probably won't need one for thermal protection, and if it's over 75 degrees you might overheat in one. If it's over 78 degrees a wetsuit may very well be illegal, because the water could be considered too hot. If there's any question about whether you ought to have a wetsuit for the race you're considering, ask the race organizers.


From here on in, your mileage is going to be pretty big every other week, which means you'll need a rest from this big mileage, so you'll do an easy week on the odd weeks. This is your easy week. What makes this easy is not just fewer miles, but a lower effort level. A lower heart rate is even more important to me than low mileage. Think about your effort level. I'd like it to be conversational, which is to say, if you can't carry on a conversation quite easily during the run and bike, you're going too hard. Use the same effort-level during the swim.


You'll notice that in the cycling category one of your rides is simply "long easy." Your choice as to what "long" means, but it's my choice as to what "easy" means, as described above. No bricks this week.

We're going to hit it hard next week, so make this rest week a real week of recovery. What would be especially nice is if you used it for recovery and renewal in every category of existence: No stress, no arguing, no strife, just a week of recharging.

  • Swimming: 2 or 3 sessions x 1,200 - 3,000 yards per session
  • Cycling: 1 or 2 sessions of 60 minutes each, 1 session of long easy
  • Running: 2 or 3 sessions 20 - 40 minutes per session
  • Ready to catch the swim-bike-run bug? Check out our Give it a Tri section

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