Swim like a River: Preparing for the Austin Tri & Lady Bird Lake
by: Pro Triathlete Kelly Williamson
Whether you are an Austin Triathlon veteran from 2007 or a triathlon rookie, Lady Bird Lake is a very nice swimming hole for a race. It is situated around the 'hub' of exercise in Austin, with the running trail lining its shores. Scouting this course is not too difficult, as it is essentially one large rectangle, most of which you should be able to view from shore before plunging in.
After setting up your transition area, head towards the swim start with plenty of time to spare (20-30 minutes before your wave takes off). Find out the wetsuit call. This is sometimes not made until race morning, so be sure you know if wetsuits are legal or not. In making your decision, remember a few things. While they are faster (up to 2-3 minutes over the course of a mile), they are very warm; so if you tend to get hot easily, consider how warm the day is and if you may overheat. Acknowledge what is most important to you, speed or comfort?
Scope the course. Look at the path you'll be swimming and try to see all the buoys you will pass. Note their color, location and also if there are any 'large, immobile' objects beyond these buoys. These large objects can be used to 'sight off' in case your view of the buoy is blocked from fellow swimmers, waves or sun. If you can, count the number of buoys you will 'pass' before making a turn. Try to locate the turn buoys, sometimes these are a different color or shape. Decide based on weather if you need dark or light goggles. An overcast day may call for lighter lenses, while a sunrise on the horizon may require dark lenses to eliminate glare.
This race will be a deep water start, so you'll be treading water. With about a minute to go, try to start to move to a 'horizontal' position. When many people standing in a small space go from vertical to horizontal, crowding entails. Try to 'mark your space' before the gun goes off, so you are ready to move forward. Start to the 'outside' of the crowd, so you can make a diagonal line to the first buoy or turn buoy. If you are directly in front of the buoy, you may have to fight your way 'around' it because people will converge there. Starting to the outside or to the back of the crowd may eliminate some fighting when swimming.
When the gun goes off, go hard at the start but be careful of maxing yourself out. Many people will sprint and fade quickly. If you monitor your intensity to a strong but sustainable pace, you will likely catch people as you swim and gain confidence in the process. These first few strokes focus on getting into a rhythm, and do not worry about sighting too much until you settle in and the congestion calms down. Once you feel comfortable, begin to sight often (every 6-8 strokes or as needed) and each time you look up try to get a glimpse of your guide buoys. Do not blindly trust the feet in front of you!
As you near the finish, start to think about what you will be doing next. Once you feel the ground (the swim ramp or the bottom of the lake), start to stand and get vertical. Catch your breath, and immediately begin to unzip the wetsuit (if you have one), remove the cap and goggles and get running to transition. As you run, think about the steps you'll do in preparation for the bike leg...congratulations, you are already 1/3 finished!
Kelly Handel Williamson is an accomplished triathlete and has been racing triathlons professionally for 9 years.