Login | April 21, 2019

Masters swimming

Pete’s World

Published: December 3, 2018

Most triathletes up here on the Northcoast have probably completed the race season and are now beginning to mull over their multi-sport activities for 2019 by considering the areas which need more focus.

And I’d be willing to bet a full 75 percent of these athletes are looking at the swim as the number one area needing the most focus. Yes, learning to swim properly is without a doubt a very challenging endeavor, but learning to swim fast properly…well, that’s truly where the rubber meets the road.

Which brings me to an ‘80s era triathlon mantra that I’ve been parroting for as long as I’ve been coaching: “To be a solid triathlete you have to look at each of the three disciplines - swim, bike and run - separately, and train each one just as if you were a single-sport athlete.”

Yet despite this sage advice, the swim is seldom treated in that manner by non-swim specialists. Maybe this has a lot to do with the fact that it takes a ton of time learning to swim well enough to race the swim rather than survive it - what’s come to be know in triathlon as “the surviving the swim strategy.”

Now in past columns I’ve discussed solo, no-cost, swim improvement strategies, but in this column I’d like to discuss a more ambitious strategy, one that involves some cost - albeit minimal - and incorporates outside help. I’m talking about masters swim groups and masters swim competitions.

And the discussion here is based on my own personal experience.

Now to be honest, when I first got involved in triathlon I can only compare my freestyle swimming technique to a wildebeest crossing a river. Yes, I was that pathetic. For a solid year I did what I could on my own, and though I did manage to improve my technique and speed I was still miles behind the eight ball compared to my fellow age-group triathletes.

I needed a major kick in the butt - which is exactly what I got when a masters swimmer strongly suggested I join a masters group to hone my “lack of swim training and racing skills.”

Well, I joined a group at Firestone High School and trained diligently three times a week for two years under the tutelage of a deck coach. What’s more, I developed enough confidence to participate in masters swim competitions during the winter months - this because the coach said I needed to learn to swim outside of my comfort zone.

Long story short, those two years of concentrated effort in the swim - even during the triathlon season - pushed me to a level I’d never thought possible to attain.

And mine is only one of many masters swimming success stories as told by non-swim specialists.

So let’s take a closer look at what masters swimming entails. First and foremost, when I say masters swimmers, I’m talking about people who are not necessarily “swim masters” per se, they’re just swimmers 18 years old and over.

Second, masters swimming groups include all levels of swimmers, not just bygone era high school and college swim jocks. What’s more, masters swimmers are typically grouped together in lanes based on ability level. As such, the seeding approach helps to keep all athletes motivated and competitive during those hour-plus workouts.

Third, masters programs usually have a deck coach who can point out technique flaws and put together well constructed, multi-skill-level workouts. These workouts help swimmers to get faster, swim further, and learn to swim at levels that are usually beyond what could be accomplished when training alone - a key component necessary to becoming a race-caliber swimmer.

Finally there’s masters swim meets, where events are seeded just like the workouts. I strongly recommend non-swim specialists participate in these meets because swim competitions teach them early in the season how to work towards goals, which translates well to their multi-sport events later in the year.

Competing in meets can also help to keep the triathlete motivated and excited about swim training. And finally, experiencing the meet-day preparation, the nerves, the adrenaline rush, and the competitive atmosphere, that’s something you just don’t get in swim practices.

So if your resolution for the 2019 triathlon season is to become a better swimmer, become a masters swimmer and really focus on that swim.

To learn more about Ohio masters swimming, go to: