When most friends decide to enter a triathlon, there is always someone to fill the run and cycle legs. But as for swimming, no-one exactly jumps at the chance.

What are we afraid of? Is it the thought of swimming amongst a lot of people with no sides to hold onto or the lack of visibility and not being able to follow the straight black line that puts us off? Most of us ever only swim in a pool and compared to open water swimming, it’s a completely different ball game.  

Carey Mol, MD of CommanderHQ, an e-commerce sporting apparel and gear store, is a regular pool swimmer. She can only dream of competing in a triathlon. But thanks to Bev Baker’s (five times 2 Oceans Marathon finisher, three times Comrades finisher, podium finisher at Ironman, a qualified group trainer and previous SA Triathlon team member) tips she’s may consider swimming more in open water than in the pool. Bev shares her advice to help you to survive the swimming leg of your first triathlon.

  1. Pool swimming while training is not sufficient; target to swim at least one open water swim per week in the 4-6 weeks leading up to the race. This will prevent a panic during your first swim when you can’t see a black line to guide you and you can’t see your hand in front of your face.
  1. Practice sighting when training in open water; to do this look for a landmark (bigger than the buoy) in the direction you want to swim and regularly lift your head and look up while swimming to make sure you are heading for the landmark. This prevents you from adding unnecessary metres to your swim.
  1. Do your open water training in a group; it’s safer and you can help each other by staging a rehearsal for certain eventualities I.e. Grab each other’s feet, swim alongside too close, and swim breaststroke alongside, all of which tends to freak you out during a race. Inexperienced swimmers who haven’t practiced in open water tend to panic so practice staying calm even if someone around you is panicking; at least one of you is calm and can prevent unpleasantness.
  1. Don’t kick anyone who is panicking and grabbing your feet, this only makes matters worse. Rather practice swimming away from them or stop and float until they have moved on. If you are grabbed by anyone, stop swimming and float or tread water while you wait for them to move away. If you’re worried about drowning, remember that there are loads of rescue teams out there and they are trained to find people in trouble quickly. If it’s a wetsuit swim, remember it has buoyancy so don’t worry!
  1. If you’re nervous of overcrowding, start either at the back, you will only lose a few seconds of time, or at the edge to the right of everybody. Make sure your markers are clearly visible to prevent going the wrong way. Don’t stop swimming when you think the end is close, generally it isn’t so keep swimming until you fingers scrape the bottom and then stand up, punch the air, get used being upright again and then run to transition.
  1. Most importantly, don’t allow other athletes who haven’t done enough preparation get in your way; stay on the edge, find your rhythm and try and enjoy the swim. You have done the training and it’s a great warm up to the bike. (I never start a triathlon without 20 drops of Rescue Remedy; it really helps to relax you).

Now that you have these easy steps to follow, make sure you have the gear, CommanderHQ sells some of the latest Speedo swimming costumes, caps, and goggles, as well as men’s swim and tri-suit gear. Get enough sleep, eat properly before day and set your alarm clock. There is nothing worse than training and entering an event and oversleeping.


To contact Bev Baker please call her on 082 456 7340 or 021 180 4420. You can also email her on