Not Practicing With a Wetsuit Before Race Day1 of 11
A wetsuit should fit like a layer of skin, and until you spend enough time in the suit and break it in, you're guaranteed to feel a bit claustrophobic. Get comfortable with how the suit fits you while swimming, how it keeps you warm and how it provides compression to support your stroke. You want to spend time swimming in your suit before your race to instill the confidence that the suit will be an aid to you, not a hindrance.
Choosing the Wrong Shade or Style of Goggles for the Conditions2 of 11
Not all goggles are created equally, and it's important to understand what makes goggles right for you. Proper fit to your face should be the first thing you consider. Test out several different pairs on your face by pressing the lenses onto your eyes. If there is some natural suction, this is indicative of a good fit. Next, the style and shape of the lenses should be specific to the venue; for open water, pick from goggles with larger lenses and visibility to maximize navigation. Then, choose two or three different tints to be sure you have the right pair for the conditions at hand on race day: a heavily mirrored pair, a transparent but darker color (blue is good) and a light or clear pair for cloudy days.
Spending Too Much Time Training Yardage3 of 11
Perfect practice makes perfect! It's easy to get fixated on volume and the idea that more is better. This isn't always the case with swimming. Get with a coach to help break down your mechanics and correct any inefficiencies. Dialing in your mechanics in tandem with the fitness base you've built in your weekly workouts will be precisely what you need to find new speed in the water.
Not Spending Enough Time Developing Comfort in Open Water4 of 11
Open water is dynamic, dishing out countless variables that only firsthand experience can teach. If you don't have access to train in the open ocean, consider registering first for a fresh water race. Specificity—training in your race conditions—is the only way to truly find comfort and confidence out there. Find a local open water swim group, a couple swim buddies or join a tri team—the more exposure you have to swimming with others in open water, the better.
Not Warming Up Before Race or Not Knowing the Race Course5 of 11
You're either prepared or unprepared. Warming up before a race almost goes without saying, yet so many triathletes skip their swim warmup. But it does so much to get you ready for the race ahead. It helps your body acclimate to the water temperature, plus you can do a bottom check to know what to expect upon running into the water. It allows time to experience the visual perspective you'll have during the race—finding landmarks or visual cues that will help you navigate buoy to buoy. Finally, you can dial in your mechanical focuses, getting a better feel for the water and current conditions.
Starting a Race Too Fast6 of 11
Race day nerves are screaming, the crowd of athletes is much bigger than anticipated, the conditions are more technical than you hoped for—it's easy to get ahead of yourself and go out too fast. There's nothing worse than spending the remainder of the swim struggling to recover or just survive. A simple fix to ensure greater race potential is to start easier than you think you need to. Focus exclusively on your breath and the relaxed tempo of your inhale and exhale. After you make it to the first buoy, you'll be able to gauge how you're feeling and adjust your effort if you're comfortable pushing harder.
Improper Sighting7 of 11
Don't waste your precious time or energy swimming in the wrong direction or zig zagging off course. Too often triathletes try sighting with their head lifted high out of the water and inhaling as they look straight ahead. But that causes their legs to drop and heart rate to spike. To help simplify the action, only sight during the exhale. Inhale right and briefly return your face to the water and as you extend and drive your right arm forward. This will allow your head to extend forward like a turtle so your goggles clear the water. By creating a lower profile, you minimize drag and can maintain your breathing pattern of inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale.
Not Kicking Much in Attempt to "Save Your Legs" for the Bike and Run8 of 11
To kick or not to kick? It's really not a question. You must kick in practice, in a race—really any time you swim. Maintaining a steady kick helps match the cadence to your pull while increasing lift in your legs and balance as you rotate side to side. Keep your kick relaxed, being cautious not to put too much effort into it, as it will only provide about 10 percent of your propulsion. An ineffective kick with sinking legs creates more drag than any other aspect of your stroke. But don't fall into the belief that kicking will tire your legs for the bike.
Relying on Drafting Opposed to Sighting Properly9 of 11
A bird's eye view of a triathlon swim can be quite comical, seeing people zig-zagging all over, drafting off those around them. But the best advice is to dictate your own course. As I mentioned before, sight every swim. Before you get in the water, pick out some distinct and visible landmarks to keep you on course. You never know if the person you are following might lead you off course.
Standing Up Too Early and Wading Through Hip-High Water10 of 11
Perhaps the most common mistake made when swimming back to shore is standing up too early. The waves are pulling you out to shore, and you're tired from the race. Instead, swimming all the way to shore will always be faster and more efficient than aqua jogging through no man's land. An easy rule of thumb is to swim until your hands are hitting the bottom several strokes in a row. Pop up and run with high knees until you're out of the chaos.