Why a Pool-Swim Tri Is a Great Option for All Levels

Pool-swim tris are legit races for both beginner and experienced athletes. Here’s how to make the most of your race in the concrete cage.

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Pool-swim tris are legit races for both beginner and experienced athletes. Here’s how to make the most of your race in the concrete cage.

If you doubt the legitimacy of a triathlon that’s not in open water, Terry Casey, a USAT- and USA Swimming-certified coach and pro triathlete, says to think again. “A pool-swim tri is a ‘real’ triathlon—there are the traditional three events that make it so!” Casey should know—based in Albuquerque, N.M., her athletes have more pool-swim race options than open-water options in the arid, land-locked state.

Here’s how pool tris typically work: When registering, you give a projected swim time for the distance and are seeded accordingly. The races use a time-trial start, where the fastest swimmers start first with an interval (about 10 seconds) between athletes. Then athletes usually split lanes or serpentine the pool (snake back and forth the entire width) until you hop out to transition to the bike, typically in the pool parking lot. The rest of the race is just like any other triathlon.

The advantages of a pool swim are most obvious for beginner triathletes or those who are anxious in open water. “The black line on the bottom of the pool and the consistent walls provide familiarity, a built-in safety factor, a more controlled environment and are less intimidating,” Casey says. All triathletes no matter how hardcore will appreciate that canceled swims due to temperature, pollution or weather are less likely, and you don’t have to worry about the craziness of a mass start or squeezing into and peeling off a wetsuit.

With athletes seeded according to projected swim time, competitive athletes may be frustrated that they don’t know where they stand within their age group before the race is over. But “that could be an advantage,” Casey says, “because it forces you to really push it and give it your all.”

To make the most of your pool-swim tri, Casey recommends practicing your flip-turns under the lane lines, a skill you’ll need if you need to serpentine through the pool. (For novices, practice touching the wall and pushing off at an angle.) Also, do your research ahead of time—check out beforehand which way the serpentine swim flows (clockwise vs. counterclockwise) and then practice it, and know how the swim finishes (does it finish at a ladder before the end of the pool?).

Because of the obvious logistical challenges, almost all pool-swim tris are kept small, but that also means they’re fun local races with huge support from the community, Casey says. And because they are mostly sprint races, they can be a chance to test your top-end speed. “Go for it,” says Casey, “and enjoy the sufferfest!”

Pool tris around the country

SLO Triathlon
San Luis Obispo, Calif.
800-meter swim, 15-mile bike, 3.1-mile run

Now in its 38th year, the SLO Triathlon features a wave (not time-trial) start with waves staggered throughout the day, with the start and finish at Sinsheimer Park.

Alaska Women’s Gold Nugget Triathlon
Anchorage, Alaska
500-yard swim, 12-mile bike, 4.1-mile run

This women-only event sells out every year—this year, it sold out in 6 minutes. If you missed the boat, save the date for registration opening for the 2018 edition.

Socorro Chile Harvest Triathlon
Socorro, N.M.
400-meter swim, 19K bike, 5K run

Coach Casey’s favorite (her hometown race), the adult race starts in the 50-meter pool on the New Mexico Tech campus, and it features a youth race the day before.

Secret City Sprint Triathlon
Oak Ridge, Tenn.
500-meter swim, 15-mile bike, 5K run

Swim in the 100-meter (yes, you read that right) Oak Ridge pool with a wave start.

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