Fraser Cartmell: Starting your Tri season in open water

Now that the winter is well and truly behind us the triathlon season is once again upon us and is bedding in for the long haul all the way through to September and the falling leaves of early Autumn – if we allow ourselves to think that far ahead? – so let’s talk about getting back to it!

Through the winter

As I talked about roughly this time last year, perhaps you will have already toed the line in some events, just to clear away the rust and blow the cobwebs out of the cardiovascular pipes – I am referring to local x/c running and road races, and possibly some duathlon events too. I firmly believe it’s a good idea to keep ticking over through the winter months with these types of events as it acts as an incentive to work hard in training and should mean that when you eventually arrive back at a triathlon, around this time of year, that it shouldn’t feel like a complete shock to the system.

I myself did some County League cross country races in and out of the Christmas period and actually ‘raced’ the Scottish National Champs at the end of February, which was a world of muddy and lactate burning pain that I’m not so sure I would repeat in a hurry! That being said, events like that remind you of the routines you should incorporate leading into more important races such as good meal choices and sleep quality the days before, plus of course ensuring you have good nutrition and warm up preparation on race day itself.

Into spring and triathlon season

Fast forward to now – the start of your triathlon season, and most likely the biggest shock and change will be the return of open water swimming to your training and racing routine. Coming from Scotland, I personally feel that May is still a little early to be entering into the open water for training purposes, but nonetheless I am sure that scores of clubs around the country are beginning to incorporate weekly club swim sessions in safe, open water environments which are of course a good idea as there is always a sense of safety in numbers.

On a practical level it ensures you dust off your trusty wetsuit (or indeed try out a new one) and remember what it feels like to be using one, as it is fundamentally different to regular swimming in the pool – most obviously because of the shift in body position that the wetsuit creates in the water by lifting your legs and hips up, due to the buoyancy effect of the neoprene material.

Fraser’s top tips for open water swimming and using your wetsuit:

Useful tips to remember include:

  1. If, like me, you find the water is just too cold to venture into right now, then absolutely start using your wetsuit at least once per week in the swimming pool, either as part of your club or on your own, as it really is a different sensation.
  2. Use Vaseline / Bodyglide lubricants around areas where chafing are likely – especially your neck and the side which you tend to breathe most often. For me it is my right hand side. Believe me – I have learnt the hard way when having forgotten to apply some Vaseline in the past (ouch)!
  3. Use a couple of swim caps for added insulation, and I would also recommend putting your goggles on between the caps, to hopefully avoid them being knocked off by a fellow competitor…

All that remains to be said is good luck with your season openers, whether they are this month or the next!

Words by Fraser Cartmell, image by by Brendon O’Hagan.

Sarah Lawson

Sarah had wanted to be a physiotherapist from the age of 15, and she realised her dream after qualifying in 1992. She went on to gain a postgraduate qualification in Sport Medicine in 1997, and later became the Outpatient and Sports Injury Manager at the Wellington Hospital. 

When she found herself spending more time on paperwork than patients (her clinic at the Wellington was owned by an American corporation), she went into private practice – first helping a small physio clinic get back on its feet, and then setting up Physio Remedies in 2005. 

Physio Remedies has come on a long way since its inception (which consisted of just Sarah on her own, in a converted broom cupboard at the Lansdowne Club): with top physios from around the country, state-of-the-art facilities, and relationships with renowned surgeons and sports organisations, it’s one of the most highly regarded physio practices in the country.