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Swimming is the most technique-focused of the triathlon disciplines, and it’s also the most etiquette-driven. We asked 2008 70.3 world champion and 2000 Olympian Joanna Zeiger, now a triathlon coach in Boulder, Colo., and resident swim expert Sara McLarty to weigh in on ways to handle matters of decorum that may arise in group swimming.
How many seconds should you leave after the person in front of you?
Joanna: It depends on the number of people in the lane. If it’s not crowded, go 10 seconds apart. This takes away the manic feeling in the lane, and the person going first doesn’t feel they’re doing all the work. If the lane is crowded, go five seconds apart. Once you have established the amount of time, try not to leave early! And, do not swim right on somebody’s feet unless they tell you it is OK.
Sara: The standard is five seconds. If the pool is long course, 10 seconds is acceptable. This is especially important if the coach is reading off times. Leaving early or late will not allow the coach to give you the correct time.
If you are repeatedly catching the person in front of you during a set, what should you do?
Joanna: Tell them they suck and they need to move to the back. Or, be nice and gently tell them you would like to move ahead.
Sara: If the set contains long intervals (400s, 500s) try to pass the swimmer during the interval. Don’t let your workout suffer by slowing down to wait. Gently tap the swimmer’s foot as you start to pass on their left side. If the set has short intervals, (50s, 100s) ask them to switch positions while resting on the wall.
If everyone in the lane is about the same pace, what is the protocol for determining the leader?
Sara: Talk to your lane mates after the coach has given the set and determine who should go first. The person who is a strong kicker should lead the kick set while a strong puller should lead the pulling set.
Joanna: I agree. If nobody wants the task, then split up the leading responsibility throughout the workout.
Is it ever acceptable to arrive late or leave practice early?
Joanna: Uh, no. It’s so rude. Would you show up late for a business meeting?
Sara: As a coach, I’ve learned to understand that everyone has a life outside the pool that takes precedence. I’m just happy that they made the extra effort to squeeze in a little swimming during a busy day.
Do you tell a lane mate his or her suit is becoming a little worn (read: see-through)?
Sara: Ladies, make sure you tell the other gals if their suits are showing more than they should—you’d want them to do the same for you!
Joanna: For sure. I am always on crack patrol, whether it is a too-thin suit, bike shorts or a tri kit.
Is it OK to move to a faster lane for small parts of a Masters workout to challenge yourself?
Joanna: No. If you want to challenge yourself, lead your lane or move up at the start of the workout.
Sara: Yes, but alert the people in the lane you are moving into. If the set suits your strengths, take on the challenge of swimming a faster interval. On the other hand, moving into a slower lane doesn’t automatically mean you get to lead; be respectful of your training partners.
Triathlete Final Thoughts: If you’re swimming in a group, you have to play by some of the unspoken rules—no one likes a late, lazy, clueless lane mate.