Triathletes and Open Water Swimmer - Endurance Cousins

Triathletes and Open Water Swimmer – Endurance Cousins

It is our core belief that every triathlete is an open water swimmer with additional interests and capabilities.

While open water swimmers focus their efforts in the 70% of the Earth covered by water, triathletes focus their efforts in both terrestrial and aquatic venues. While swimmers arm themselves with lanolin and ear plugs, triathletes go to battle with wetsuits, Garmin units, aerodynamic wheels and running flats. While swimmers fight through cold, rough water against strong currents, triathletes go headlong through hot lava fields against scorching winds.

Their DNA, their outlook and their goals are strikingly similar.

They both train feverishly. They both strive to reach their potential. They both compete to their utmost. They all profoundly respect the efforts of their fellow competitor and enjoy the camaraderie of like-minded competitors. In the world of sports, there could not be any closer relatives.

At the Multisport World Conference and Expo in Bethesda, Maryland this weekend, we observed first-hand how triathletes of all ages, abilities and backgrounds are extraordinarily focused individuals. In many ways, they do exactly what open water swimmers do when they get together: talk about training regimens, share racing experiences and discuss their next races.

We had the opportunity to meet with Bob Wendling, a Board Director and Treasurer of USA Triathlon. We learned one of the core values of USA Triathlon is to value fitness and health through exercise, the spirit of competitiveness and the pursuit of excellence. This core value is, without question, the same held by the global community of open water swimmers.

We also learned that the USA Triathlon staff, headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado at the US Olympic Training Center, is committed to the following philosophies:

• Think Creatively
• Operate in a Race Mode
• Engage Globally
• Inspire Excellence
• Act with Integrity

These five cornerstones of USA Triathlon are also similar to what happens in the global open water community.

Think Creatively

Open water swimming race directors around the world are increasingly creative. From Rio de Janeiro’s 10K race that involves five 2K ocean loops interspersed with a 150-meter run in the soft sand of Copacabana Beach to the Great Swims in Great Britain, open water race directors are raising to the increasing demand to make creative, fun, enjoyable races.

Operate in a Race Mode

The sport of triathlon is moving at the speed of light – and open water swimming is trying to catch up. USA Triathlon offers an amazing range of services, from specialty children’s races to a collegiate recruitment program. The sport’s introduction at the 2000 Sydney Olympics has really spurred it to strive for lofty goals. Similarly , open water swimming is attempting to match the pace of the triathlon world. New races are being introduced all the time in all kinds of lakes, oceans, bays, seas, fjords, rivers, reservoirs, canals and rowing basins. At the USA Swimming National Open Water Swimming Championships in Long Beach, California, new races will be introduced for the athletes (Open Water Pursuit and Sea Sprints. Additionally, Spectator Boats will be introduced at the Championships where coaches, parents, reporters and fans can board Italian-style gondolas and watch up close the athletes go shoulder-to-shoulder over the race course.

Engage Globally

Just as triathlons are exploding worldwide, so is open water swimming with over 3,000 sanctioned races being offered in 2010. Back in 1999 before triathlon was an Olympic sport, there were few race directors who wanted to limit participation. Now, triathlons worldwide regularly sell out and the sport is offering an increasing number of race formats.

Inspire Excellence

This is where both triathlon and open water swimming truly shine. Whether athletes are multi-sport focused or singlemindedly focused on swimming, these endurance athletes truly push the limits of what humans can do – especially as the athletes get older. The number of 50+ year olds swimming the English Channel or doing the Hawaiian Ironman is bewildering. The fastest growing demographic in open water swimming is women over the age of 40 and the female gender’s percentage of triathlons is similarly growing.

Act with Integrity

Travel from point A to point B, either as a triathlete or as a swimmer – there is nothing more purely sporting than that. Athletes know in their hearts when they performed well. This is why there are so many smiles at the end of a triathlon or open water swims. The purity of effort is embodied by those big, huge smiles, heartwarming hugs and handshakes of congratulations. While triathletes are happy to hear “You are an Ironman,” open water swimmers love the sound of “You made it!”

At the Multisport World Conference, we were very happy to hear that USA Triathlon is reaching out to masters swimmers. This is a great first step in bridging the gap between the two sports – a beginning to build an ideal synergistic relationship.

It has always been our position – since the 1980’s – that the sports of triathlons and open water swimming can do so much good together. As a start, we believe these cooperative initiatives can include the following:

1. Share Coaching Expertise
Open water swimming coaches live, breathe and dream about the open water. This is what they do, day in and day out. Experienced open water swimming coaches have been doing or watching races in open bodies of waters for decades. They have seen nearly every kind of racing condition in all kinds of climatic conditions. They have saved people, they have coached people in rough conditions and in cold-water conditions. Triathlon coaches know much about nutrition, the capabilities, the concerns and the physiology of an adult population. These experiences, know-how and expertise should be shared for the benefit of both constituencies.

2. Hold Joint Training Sessions
Triathletes go for training runs with runners and long bike rides with cyclists. Triathletes can befriend open water swimmers and both can enjoy joint open water swimming sessions – which is already happening all over the world on an informal basis. If a triathlete is new to the sport or slower than their open water swimming counterparts, then the triathlete can wear wetsuits or fins to keep up. This is already done in places from La Jolla, California to the island of Malta. Open water swimmers greatly appreciate sharing their love for the open water.

3. Hold Joint Races
Over 1,000 race directors conduct over 3,000 USA Triathlon-sanctioned races in the United States every year. The race directors obtain permits, arrange for safety personnel, set turn buoys and swim starts and finishes (known as T1 transitions). The infrastructure is set to add open water swims to these triathlons without much of an additional cost. After the heats of triathletes go off, then the open water swimmers can compete on the same course in an independent open water swim. The swimmers can then cheer on their triathlon cousins after their race is over. The triathlon race director already has personnel on the water who can help conduct the event – and a website to accept additional entries.

4. Share Successes and Failures
As both sports grow, there are bound to be problems and issues regarding operational, logistical, financial and rules. Both sports can share their successes and failures with each other so both sports can resolve problems and anticipate issues.

5. Conduct Mentoring Programs
The fear of the open water is very well-known. We have documented what triathletes and swimmers fear in the open water. But open water swimmers have conquered these fears. Experienced open water swimmers love to help others do the same. There also seems to be a mutually beneficial opportunity for triathletes to convince their swimmer friends to go for bike runs or training runs.

6. Share Marketing Expertise
This is where the sport of triathlon can really help the sport of open water swimming. While many triathlons have gone corporate with professional event management companies, most open water swims are still organized by cities, small teams or individuals with small budgets. Although many open water swims prefer to retain their personal touch, ‘professionalizing’ the organization of open water swims will help bring in more sponsors and more direct benefits to the participants.

7. Celebrate a Healthy Lifestyle
Running, biking and swimming is important for a population that is becoming increasingly sedentary and out-of-shape. Maintaining muscle tone, cardiovascular endurance, flexibility and a low body fat percentage are all results of both triathlons and open water swimmers, especially as the general population ages. Joint camps, clinics and conferences could help both sports.

Triathlon, in particular, can and is reaching out to younger athletes, getting them involved at earlier ages. Open water swimming can also make inroads to young children, as they do in races from the La Jolla Roughwater Swim in California to the Nike Swim Miami in Florida and many places between. Make it fun and they will come.

8. Share the Enjoyment
Sharing stories of endurance and inspiration helps both sports. At triathlon conferences, there are always opportunities to hear inspirational stories. Great triathlon speakers abound. Some of these stories bring tears to your eyes. The open water swimming community rarely provides the same opportunities to their fellow swimmers. But at the Global Open Water Swimming Conference in Long Beach, California, there will be a great opportunity for both triathletes and open water swimmers to share stories and experiences and get mutually motivated by each other’s efforts.

9. Share Data and Coordinate Research Projects.
Data helps know where the sports came from and where they are going. Research helps define specific benefits of technique and training for the advancement of the sport. Both triathlon and open water can share demographic data and trends and research results with each other for all athletes.

10. Coordinate Race Sanctions and Insurance.
U.S. Masters Swimming requires a race sanction for any competitive event, clinic or camp. USA Triathlon requires its own sanction. And USA Swimming requires its own separate sanction. As a result, open water race directors often obtain three different sanctions and then they have to separately start the races – and ask non-members to purchase a one-day membership. A confusing situation for race directors. The situation could possibly be solved if USA Triathlon members and, for example, U.S. Masters Swimming members had the opportunity to join each other’s federation for a reduced fee. The membership numbers would undoubtedly rise and USA Triathlon members would receive USMS SWIMMER Magazine and U.S. Masters Swimming members could receive the benefits of the triathlon community. Mutual benefits would abound. After what we have observed from the triathlon’s creative leadership, collaboration and cooperation between the triathlon and open water swimming world can certainly benefit both communities.

These dreams, born in the 1980’s, are closer to fruition in 2010 than ever before. We believe they will come through sometime during this next decade while retaining their own independent lifestyles, traditions and legacies.

Photo shows Sarah McLarty, an accomplished open water swimmer who transitioned successfully to the professional triathlon world.

Copyright © 2010 by Open Water Source
Steven Munatones