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Triathlon Swim: What is "Spotting"?

Article written by Niki Jamieson

Triathlon Resource"Spotting" is a term used to describe the process of staying on track in an open water swim. Not knowing how to "spot" can have you swimming in the wrong direction, wasting time and energy that can be better utilized in the bike and run.

Triathlon Swim: What is "Spotting"?

These guidelines should get you started in "spotting" your way successfully through a mini-triathlon swim:

  • After the chaos of the start, get into your swim rhythm.
  • Assuming you are swimming front crawl (or freestyle) and breathing in rotary fashion, take between 5-10 strokes. The amount of strokes depends on your comfortability level. For this purpose, let's pick 8 strokes.
  • At the end of the breath on stroke 8, look forward (just above the water line) and "spot" the first buoy just before you put your head back in the water to breathe out. This should be one continuous smooth movement.
  • If you are heading in the wrong direction, re-align yourself.
  • Keep moving during this process! Do not stop and linger or someone behind you will bump into you.
  • Rotary breathe thoughout this process at will.
  • Continue swimming 8 strokes, spotting and re-aligning until you have reached the first buoy.
  • Once you have rounded the first buoy, take your 8 strokes and "spot" the second buoy.
  • Continue swimming 8 strokes, spotting and re-aligning until you have reached the second buoy.
  • Once you have rounded the second buoy, take your 8 strokes and "spot" the swim finish on the beach. Try and aim for the spot closest to where the ropes mark off your trail to the bike racks.
  • Swim as far as you can into the beach. Running in deep water is exhausting! (We know this has nothing to do with "spotting" but it's an important tip most newbies miss)

With some practice in a pool or open water, we're sure that this strategy will get you through the swim in the straightest line possible so that you have plenty of energy to finish the race.

Read some tips on having a great swim:

  • Read this funny account of a staff member's first triathlon swim to Martha's Vineyard while the rest of the race was heading to the first buoy.
  • The Gun: What to do at the start - Wetsuit, goggles and swim cap on, you are anxiously standing in the sand looking through the sea of participants waiting for your turn. You've never done a mini-triathlon and, frankly, you are nervous about all of those people charging into the water at the same time. What should you do?
  • How to Avoid A Frightening Start: Think Out of the Pack (video) - We thought that this was, quite possibly, the funniest video we've seen depicting a triathlon start and wanted to share it with you for a laugh!
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