It has often been said that the best way for triathletes to improve their swimming is to join a Masters swimming team, yet I have often been surprised at the reluctance of triathletes, particularly those for whom swimming is a weakness, to try Masters swimming.
Masters swimming is basically swim team for adults. You have a coach who gives you a workout and stroke instruction and you have people to swim with who can help keep you motivated. Admittedly, not all Masters programs are created equally. There are goods ones and not so good ones, but if you have access to a good Masters program and you are not taking advantage of it, you are really missing out on an excellent opportunity to improve your performance. Swimming is much more technical than cycling and running. Technique makes a big difference in both speed and required effort. In other words, better technique means you go faster with less effort.
While the swim portion of a triathlon is short compared to the amount of swimming and running, is importance should not be discounted. Every second counts and at some point improvements in running and cycling become extremely difficult. Mentally, there is also a difference between “surviving” and “racing.” If the swim is something you just get through you are surviving; not racing. Swimming is also low impact and puts nowhere near the kind of stresses on your body that running does.
I encouraged Gloria to try Masters swimming since we met, but this year she finally decided to start coming with me to morning workouts (6 am) with the Davis Aquatic Masters (aka “DAM”). DAM was once coached by Dave Scott and it remains one of the best programs anywhere. It was the USMS Team of the Year in 2011. This year, head coach Stu Kahn was the Pacific Masters Swimming Coach of the Year. Gloria loves swimming in the morning and her swimming has improved substantially. Gloria is now finishing the swim portion of her races with more energy. At Wildflower Long Course, after only four months of swimming, she improved her 1.2 miles swim split by 5 minutes.
Gloria’s example shows that substantial time improvements can be made quickly. Unfortunately, many other triathletes never make this leap. If they did, they could start “racing” from moment the gun goes off, as opposed to merely trying to survive.