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5 Tips for Open Water Triathlon Swim Training

Posted by David Hardy
David Hardy
VTR Expert
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on Thursday, June 14, 2012
in Training

Rescue Tube / Swim BuoyI wrote a blog post last month about overcoming swim anxiety in triathlons and my experience earlier this year at the Bassman Half Ironman where I had an anxiety attack in the water during the race. I mentioned in the post that the only way to get comfortable in open water is to get out of the pool and start training in a lake/river. There are many, many benefits to training in open water.  Reducing swim anxiety is just one of them. Of course, you want to be sure you take all the necessary safety precautions if you hope to truly stay safe and relaxed in the water.

  1. Never swim alone - There are plenty of triathlon clubs and swim groups that have organized or semi-organized swims in open water. Also, if you get involved in your local club there will always be people that are looking for training partners. We are all in the same boat (no pun intended)....No one wants to train alone in open water, and everyone knows the value of doing it on a regular basis.
  2. Be aware of your surroundings - Swimmers often share the open water with boats, jet skis, canoes, etc. Wear a bright colored swim cap and continuously sight for potential hazards or obstacles in the water. I often practice in a river and occasionally there are large tree branches or debris that has floated down stream into the area I swim. I try to sight in the water every 4th or 5th stroke to make sure I am not going to bump into something and to ensure I am staying on line with my target. This is excellent practice as in a race you also always need to be aware of other swimmers and ensure you are taking the shortest line to the finish in the water.
  3. Be aware of weather conditions - Weather can be a factor when training in open water. I train in open water 2-3 times a week and it is amazing how weather affects the conditions in the water. Again this is excellent practice. You definitely have to swim differently if there is a lot of chop to the water versus a completely calm day.Training in all kinds of weather eliminates stress on race day. You will know how to swim in all conditions!
  4. Practice with the equipment you use in a race - If you plan on using a wetsuit in your race then wear one in training. If you know you definitely can't use a wetsuit in your upcoming event then train without one in practice. A few years ago I hardly ever wore my wetsuit and was extremely uncomfortable wearing one. I finally started training with a wetsuit and now I am very comfortable. Practice..Practice..Practice...You will never be comfortable and confident with equipment if you only use it in a race.

  5. Use a swim buoy - I mentioned using a swim buoy in an earlier post and I have received a lot of questions and inquiries about how to use a swim buoy during training. I created a video to explain the use of a swim buoy during training in open water. Check out the video below. 


Swimming in open water can be a very rewarding experience and is a lot more enjoyable than swimming in a pool. If you enjoy running you wouldn't do all of your running on a track, right? Not to mention, you are training to compete in triathlons and most of them are in open water. Doing all of your training in a pool is not going to eliminate any of your open water anxiety. Get into the open water and start swimming for REAL. You will be glad you did.

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My Journey from the Atkins Diet to Plant Based Living

Posted by Mike Tang
Mike Tang
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on Monday, June 11, 2012
in Training

Mike and MegOver the next few weeks we will take you through the incredible transformation of Mike Tang. At the end of 2011 Mike weighed 240 lbs (5'8) and was in terrible physical condition. In just a few short months he has lost over 50 pounds and has just recently finished the Bassman Triathlon. The first entry in this series starts with why Mike decided to change his life and the first steps he took on his journey.

Mike is not a medical professional or nutritionist. Consult your doctor before starting a nutrition or exercise program. VTR does not promote this or any other diet/exercise plan. This story just describes one man and the steps on his journey that led to his incredible transformation since December 2011.


My Journey from the Atkins Diet to Plant Based Living (Part 1)

by Mike Tang

Last December my work put together a biggest loser competition for 2012. The contest was to begin on January 1, 2012 and run for 3 months. There would be a monthly weigh-in, and the winner would be the person who has lost the highest percentage of weight at the end of the three months. I decided after years of inactivity and abusing my body (with food) this was my time to change my life. There was no life changing medical condition, I didn't see a picture of Jesus in my French toast, I just decided enough was enough. My short term plan was to win the biggest loser competition at work and my long term plan was to live a healthier lifestyle and keep the weight off that I anticipated losing in the competition. As I started my journey I wanted to remind myself I am human. If at any point I felt I was not making the progress I wanted to, I had to remember my long term plan.

December 2011

I was eating and gaining weight, not sleeping well and stressed out.  It was easier to eat than to do anything and it made me feel better.  Ah, the irony of life.  Those things which comfort you the most are the most harmful, but more on that later.  Anyway, Thanksgiving through Christmas are always food bonanzas, tables full of food, gravy and desserts. I had gained a bunch of weight at the end of 2011, and I needed to take it off. The timing was great for the "biggest loser" competition at work. The last week before the weigh-in at work for the competition, I ate like crazy. Gotta gain to take it off, I thought.   239.5 lbs.

January 2012

Month 1 - Plan

Well, I weighed in and walked to lunch.  No better time to start than NOW.  This month my plan was simple.  I will start the Atkins Diet.  It worked in the past, and has been my weight loss plan of choice in the past.  Right around the time I turned 30, I lost about 60 pounds in 9 months, with a combination of the Atkins Diet and exercise.  This month I thought I would go “hardcore”.  For the month my plan was as follows:


  • Atkins Bar for Breakfast (start the day off right)
  • Chicken and fish only for meat (no beef, pork or sausage)
  • A salad every day for lunch with grilled chicken and NO dressing (why add all those calories?)
  • Cheese, eggs and mayo are OK
  • Dinner was Atkins friendly
  • Popcorn/nuts before I went to bed so I wouldn’t be hungry


  • Walk to lunch every day (40 minutes)
  • Pushups every hour, starting with 5 and hour and climbing to 15 an hour
  • Run on treadmill at night (at least 30 minutes)

Month 1 - Results

Everyone was constantly reinforcing that I was in first place, I had dropped some waist sizes and I was sure I had dropped a lot in the competition.  All this work was going to pay off, plus I was never hungry, I was eating a lot of nuts and Atkins friendly food, as much as I wanted really.  Then came the weigh-in.  233.5. Six pounds.  One month of all this and I was in like 10th place.  I told myself not to worry, winning was not why you were getting healthy.  Boy did it bother me though.  I think I need to schedule that double amputation.

Month 1 – Lessons learned

Ok, I was working out a lot, and I thought the limited weight loss may have to do with gaining muscle mass.  Also, Atkins is really not a good way to lose weight and eat, or maybe it is, just not quickly.I had no idea the path I was about to start down and how it would entirely change my life. I needed something even more drastic, something that would propel me back into contention. I googled "Extreme weight loss" and "Lose weight quickly", what came back were crazy starvation diets, nothing that seemed sustainable and/or healthy.  Then I saw something that caught my eye, a 10 day juice fast to reset your eating habits.  Sounds like a challenge, I will start there. I decided that for month two I would change things up and start juicing.I had no idea the path I was about to start down and how it would entirely change my life.

My next post will describe my 10 day juice fast and the results in month two of my journey. UPDATE: Read part 2 "The Juice Fast, Into the Belly of the Beast...

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Overcoming Open Water Swim Anxiety

Posted by David Hardy
David Hardy
VTR Expert
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on Tuesday, May 29, 2012
in Training

All triathletes at one time or another have experienced open water swim anxiety. It is impossible to predict when it will happen. Sometimes it is the smallest thing that can trigger a panic attack. Earlier this month I had a "mini" panic attack in the water during the Bassman Triathlon. I started out swimming fine for the first few minutes but then my goggles completely filled with water, and I couldn't see a thing. My speed dropped and I started getting bumped in the water. I couldn't see, people were banging into me, and I started to gasp for breath. Just like that, a 20 year triathlon veteran was having a silly panic attack in the water. I was able to fight through the panic, calm down, and successfully complete the swim, but for several minutes I was in difficulty. (see Bassman blog post)

Why do we all panic at times in the water? Well...I think it is obvious. On the bike you can stop if you are tired, on the run you can walk or stop. In the water if you can't make it, you need to be rescued or you will drown. It's that simple. All triathletes know this and most take the necessary precautions to stay safe while training in open water. How do you stay safe and minimize the chance of having a panic attack in a race? Practice..Practice..Practice...Just like everything else. If you only swim in open water during a race and you only race 5 or 6 times a year do you really expect to be comfortable in the water? Once the water warms up in April/May as a triathlete it is time to start training in open water. A few years ago I started swimming 1-2 times a week in open water. In a short amount of time I started to feel more and more comfortable in the water. You learn how to navigate, deal with choppy conditions, pacing, etc. All of those things cannot be learned in the pool. Not to mention you get more comfortable swimming in your wetsuit.

In order to be safe I use a swim buoy . I have it attached to my ankle, and it floats behind me while I swim. It pulls on your leg a little bit but before long you don't even notice it. Any issues in the water and I have a safety buoy of my own to lean on. That is the only way to go. Anything can happen in the water, and you want to stay safe while training. I highly encourage anyone who struggles with anxiety in the water to join a group (never swim alone), get a swim buoy, and start training in open water. Before long you will notice a big difference in how you feel in the water, and your swim confidence will increase dramatically.

Start practicing in open water and maybe next time this won't be that intimidating....


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Bombed at Bassman Half Triathlon!

Posted by David Hardy
David Hardy
VTR Expert
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, May 08, 2012
in Triathlons

Last weekend I drove down to Atlantic City, New Jersey and competed in the Bassman Half Distance Triathlon. It was a well organized event in a great venue.  However, I wasn't thrilled with my performance. It was one of those days when I kept thinking, "Why am I so uncomfortable"? Racing is often "uncomfortable", but usually in a long event you hope to settle into a steady pace as the hours tick by.  That was not the case on Sunday for me. Unfortunately my "veteran status" did not make me immune from having a bad day.

Bassman Bike Transition

The Bassman Half distance triathlon is a 1.2 mile swim, 58 mile bike, and a 13.2 mile run. The race is located in the Bass River State Forest in Tuckerton New Jersey. Tuckerton is about 30 minutes north of Atlantic City. The course is just slightly longer than the typical half distances. As I setup the transition area prior to the event I felt calm and prepared. I really had no prior warning that this was not going to be my day.

The swim was an "in water" start and I felt fine in the calm clear 65 degree waters of Lake Absegami. As the swim started I felt great for about 5 minutes. Then the problems began. My goggles started leaking and completely filled with water. Now being a veteran triathlete I calmly sat up in the water and re-adjusted them. This continued for several minutes. I just could not get my goggles set. Then maybe due to the stress of the situation I started to get some "in water" anxiety and completely lost my stroke. My eyes were stinging, I was blind in the water, and I started to slightly panic. I finally relaxed and tried to salvage some kind of stroke. I then noticed that the person swimming next to me was standing. I put my feet down and then realized I was swimming in about 3 feet of water! I immediately stood up and spent about a minute trying to fix my goggles. I was finally able to get them fixed and then continued on with the swim. As I progressed there were about 3 short sections of the swim where it became very shallow and many people stood up and ran 5-10 steps before the water got deeper. The second half of my swim was much better but I was still about 5 minutes off my usual time for this distance. The whole second half of the swim I just couldn't believe what had happened.

Crossing the finish lineThe bike course was flat and fast. I was flat and not fast. Basically I had a very uninspiring performance on the bike. To make matters worst I had two mechanical issues that set me back about 6 minutes. I just could not get comfortable during this entire event. The bike course was two 29 mile loops. I started out feeling decent but that feeling quickly faded. I just had a flat performance. I finally got off the bike hoping that I could turn my day around with a great run. The run is my best event and I was hoping that due to my great conditioning I could at least end my race on a positive note. I started off great, keeping the first 6 miles under 8 minute pace. Somewhere around mile 8 I suddenly started to lose my form and started feeling bad. By mile 10 the wheels had come off and my pace had dropped by 2 minutes a mile. I did not allow myself to walk, but for the last 5k I would not describe what I was doing as "running". I finally finished and left the race wondering "What just happened" ?

The bottom line is that I am competing in an Ironman on July 28th and I just bombed a Half Ironman on May 6th. Not the best scenario. Over the next few days I will be analyzing what happened and make adjustments as needed. I am not going to let one poor performance take away all of the good training I have done over the past few months. This poor result does bring up one question. Should I compete in the Mooseman Half Ironman on June 3rd to attempt to get a better performance or should I just continue training and focus on the Ironman? Would it mean anything if I did well in a race that is only half the distance?  Now that you've heard my experience which option below do you think I should choose? (comment below to help me decide!)

(***Note*** I ended up training as scheduled and forgot about this performance***)

1) Continue training as scheduled and don't worry about bombing the Bassman!

2) Sign up for Mooseman Half Triathlon today and kick butt on June 3rd!

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