Swim · The Tri Newbie Chronicles · Training · Triathlon

The Tri Newbie Chronicles: How to Feel Comfortable in the Pool

Hi everyone!  I’m in week two of my adult swim lessons in preparation for the Gold Nugget Triathlon, which is my very first tri ever!  When I was looking into creating a training plan for myself as a total newbie, I had to really get creative because I have so much to learn in only two months.  I decided to do the least amount of running prep because I’m still easing back into it post-injury and don’t want to overdo it, and decided to do 2 days of spin class until the streets and trails are ice free and ready for my bike.  But swimming was what I really wanted to focus the most time and energy on because I’m soooooo uncomfortable with it.  It’s why I signed up for lessons, and why I’m going to the pool so often each week in my free time.  I want to become as comfortable as possible in the pool so that I can finish my 10 laps in the race feeling strong, and the only way to do that is by getting in the water!  So for today’s Tri Newbie Chronicles, I thought I’d talk about what it takes to feel comfortable in the pool when you’re a total newbie.  I know this is what is holding a lot of runners back from learning how to swim, but you don’t need to worry about it!

Tri Newbie Chronicles

Look the part.  This is so important with running, and it transfers over to swimming too!  There are certain things that newbie runners do that more experienced runners don’t do (confession: I used to wear cotton when I went running!  Gasp!) and it makes them stick out at races.  Because my newbie status in swimming meant that I’d never gone to the pool as an adult to work out, I was so unsure of what to bring and what to wear.  After asking around, I found that I really only needed three things:  a swim cap, goggles, and a swimming suit.  I bought the swim cap and goggles at Target and it cost about $20 for both items (note: things do cost more here in AK so that price might be cheaper where you live).  It wasn’t hard to pick them out – I just chose a bright pink cap and a pair of plain goggles that looked comfortable.  But the suit was the hardest part for me because hello, it’s Alaska in the winter!  Luckily I got the tip to look at Costco for a cheap Speedo, and I was so excited to find an entire table of Speedo one piece suits for only $19 each!  Most of them were covered in a crazy bright print or had ruffles/scrunching on them which would have officially made me feel like a total newbie, but after digging around in a box under the table I was very pleased to find a plain black one piece that seemed like it would be sleek and sturdy during lap swim.  TJ Maxx and Marshalls would be a great place to look too.  Once I had my official swim outfit picked out I felt so much more confident showing up at the pool!

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  My first time going for an official swim in years happened because I asked my coworker, who is also training for the GNT, to go swimming with me.  She helped me kick back and forth using the kickboard which was a great intro to the pool, but the best thing she did was teach me how to actually use the pool at our local gym.  She helped me learn pool etiquette, which includes rinsing off before entering the pool area, how to share a lane when all the lanes are already occupied, where to get swim equipment like kickboards, and where to get all the post-swim supplies that you need (like a towel and a bag for your wet suit).  It really helped me feel comfortable even though I felt so out of place.  She also helped walk me through putting on a swim cap, which is a lot harder than it looks!  Newbie tip: I currently roll it up halfway, stick it over my giant messy bun, and then roll it down over my head like pantyhose.  Better tips would be appreciated  🙂

Stay organized.  As soon as I get home from the pool I take a moment to rinse off my cap and goggles and hang them up to dry completely.  I also soak my suit in cold water in the sink while I’m showering, and then I’ll hang it up to dry overnight.  Once everything is dry I’ve been sticking it into a ziplock bag and then putting it into my gym bag.  Everything is in one place, and it’s not going to get ruined due to mold.  Plus I never get to the gym and realize I forgot my suit!  It’s just like packing a gym bag for running, except everything needs to dry off and I have less things to pack.

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Make a plan to swim – and stick to it.  I’ve got my gym’s pool schedule up on my computer, and I’m always checking it to see when I can fit in a half hour lap swim into my schedule.  As a newbie, I’m most comfortable going when there are 3 or more lanes open, and when I know there won’t be lots of people trying to swim.  It doesn’t always happen (in fact, I had some kids swim into my lane on Monday night and I almost ran them over/almost drowned when I realized what was happening and tried to move away in time – seriously, where are people’s parents?) but no matter what, I try to stick it out until my workout is over.  I won’t have perfect conditions or my own lane on race day, so I need to be prepared for everything.  But if you want to have your own lane and not be stressed about being in someone’s way during practice, definitely try to go at odd hours – like right before work or right before the pool closes at night.

Realize that swimming is not so different than running.  I will admit that swimming is hard, and that I’m using muscles that I’ve never used before.  And you definitely know I’ll admit that breathing is something that takes a lot of getting used to.  But overall, running and swimming are pretty similar!  You need proper form in order to move efficiently, you need to work on endurance over time, and you need to really use positive thoughts to motivate yourself to keep going.  It is such a mental sport, and I was not expecting that!  I have to constantly push away my thoughts about not being able to breathe or not being able to finish a lap because anxiety does not do well under water.  I’ve had to pull out some of my old running mantras in order to make it to the end of swim practice, and they really do help.  Plus, who doesn’t want to using “Just keep swimming” on an actual swim?  It definitely makes me smile under water!

Missed last week’s Tri Newbie Chronicles?  Check it out here!

What advice would you give a newbie swimmer to help them feel more comfortable in the water?  Do you think swimming is similar to running?

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13 thoughts on “The Tri Newbie Chronicles: How to Feel Comfortable in the Pool

  1. I dig your determination! Swimming would scare me! When I was a kid I did “swim team” in my town for a couple years but I was never that good at it and as an adult the water scares me a bit. I am definitely not a swimmer! I love that you know it is something you need to work on and you are putting your all into it. Great job!

    1. Thanks! I just know I can’t fall apart in the first part of the tri – I’ll never make it across the finish line! Plus if I can’t run very much, at least this is something I can safely do.

  2. Swimming is so much easier than running for me, but I pretty much grew up in the water & learned to swim as a kid.

    I personally think breast stroke is much easier than crawl, so if you know it, you might either alternate or use it if you get tired.

    Good luck!

    1. I wish I had done this more as a kid! I didn’t do anything as a kid and learning things as an adult is definitely tougher. I don’t know any strokes at all (except freestyle I guess because it’s what I’m learning in swim class) but I’m hoping I can build up more endurance in time for the race!

  3. putting on a cap can be tricky! if your way works for you, stick with it. the way i put mine on (it’s a little tricky to explain instead of show haha) is i put both hands in the cap, like i’m praying. then, i pull my hands apart, which also pulls the cap apart. i put my head in the stretched apart cap, starting with my forehead, and then pull the cap back over my bun and down to the nape of my neck. this is the technique that works best for me to not have the cap get pulled off, but it’s different for everyone!

  4. Great tips! When I was getting back in the pool I followed a plan similar to the Couch to 5K – it ended up with swimming a whole mile non stop and worked really well. The other thing I had to do was moisturize so much – that pool water really dries out my skin!

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