Help! I can’t swim.

“You know I’d love to do a triathlon, if only I could complete the swim…” I hear that so often when I talk about how I did my first triathlon in September this year. So now I’ll share with you guys how I survived the swim.


I’ve taken part in a Biathlon in 2008 where I did a 36:48 for the swim, in breast stroke. I’ve been doing recreation swimming since my secondary school days and my breast stroke (BS) was much faster than my front crawl (FC) , so I naturally swim that stroke every time I go to the pool. I attempted FC after signing up (end May) for the Tri Factor Triathlon (end Aug) and managed only 2 laps (100m) before I was out of breadth. Out of breadth means my “just-finish-2.4km-ippt” kind of panting. I procrastinated for a month before jumping into swimming more seriously, knowing at the back of my mind I could still BS my way through the 1.5km since I’ve done it before.

Wake up call

At end June I was starting to clock my mileage on the runs, after the devastating Sundown marathon, I decided to train more seriously. Got myself a nice Garmin Forerunner 210 and read up more on training. Learning FC was still put on hold until one day, I did a swim/run session and realised that it would be impossible for me to complete the triathlon coz my legs were so tired after the swim. I called up a friend and asked him about the swimming sessions he’s been attending and joined him for the next session. He would see me suffer that day as the swim coach dished out basic drills which killed me within 15mins of the 2hr session. Jaime was oblivious to how I was suffering that day, she was reading her magazine at the side, enjoying the quiet evening by the pool. I gulped so much water that evening I couldn’t finish my chicken chop at dinner!

Full steam ahead

After that first lesson, I thought it wouldn’t be beneficial to go for the next one, which was a week later, I’ll just suffer the same fate and probably kill of my morale (swimming with the other Pros) to start learning properly. I was thankful for the painful lesson that day, i took home the drills that were taught and practiced it when I went swimming on my own; those same drills were vital in helping me learn FC in the weeks to come. I started doing the drills for every swim session, recalling how she described I should position my body, she kept telling me to balance myself in the water, all these only made sense weeks later.

I went online in search for help and found Swimsmooth, which was pretty helpful, wrote down a lot of notes and tried to remember them when I went for the swim sessions.

My brother Roy started his exercise regime as well, and he shared with me this DVD he borrowed from the library, Total Immersion Swimming, which was the next life saver. I didn’t religiously follow the lessons on the DVD; the ones that helped me were drills like the side swim and underswitch; which was methodically and meticulously explained in the DVD. In the whole of July, I was doing 3-4 swim sessions a week, mainly doing drills and swimming FC with a pull buoy; the pull buoy made it much easier to swim but it was actually hindering me from finding my balance in the water. Without the pull buoy, I could swim 8 laps at a go by 23 July. I kept watching the DVD, somehow, watching people swim correctly was ingraining the movements in my mind. It’s just like climbing where I tell people who just started out, to watch how the experienced guys do it, somehow you will mimic the way they climb.


During that last week in July, I realised something about my side swim I haven’t been doing right. My hips were wrongly positioned and my legs weren’t really kicking correctly, after correcting that. I made a breakthrough in August and managed to swim 30 laps with 3 short rests in between. On 6 Aug, I did my first 30laps non stop in 41:36, it was still slower than my BS timing but that didn’t matter anymore coz now I’ve got a choice between 2 strokes for the triathlon. I could swim FC to save my legs and if I got really tired, I could just relax with BS.

Big day

Trained quite a fair bit in August but was down with a bad flu and I had to give Tri Factor a miss, luckily I already signed up for the Cold Storage one in September. Even though I tried to practice my sighting drills at the pool, it wasn’t enough to prepare me for the mess I was going to face in the Cold Storage Tri. I did a 70/30 between FC and BS that race, wasn’t too happy about it but at least I saved my legs for the remaining part of the triathlon. I’ll have to practice more in open water to get used to sighting buoys, handling the currents and getting used to our wonderful waters at East coast park. yucks.


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