12 Year Old Runner Wanting To Do Triathlons

by Natasha

I am a 12yr old girl runner. I have done a couple of triathlons before. I can bike at a good pace and am a county standard runner but where I fail is the swim.

I just want to be able to keep up, not lead, but in the bike and run I am always having to catch up with faster swimmers. I CANNOT get my breathing - by about the 5th length (of 12, of a 25m pool) I have to breathe every 2 strokes (front crawl).

I can swim around 3-4 times a week. What sessions should I do to improve my swimming for triathlon? I train myself but all I do is 100/200m intervals and the race distance.

Intelligent Triathlon Training replies:

The first thing would be to join a triathlon club or to get some one-to-one coaching. In swimming the efficiency of the stroke is so important that you cannot get away with just being fit if you want to optimise performance. At 12-yrs old you are still at a very coachable age, where technique can be learnt quite quickly.

The older you get the harder this becomes, to the point where adults learning to swim are unlikely to learn really good technique, and certainly not very quickly. Learning the front crawl stroke must be your highest priority, before the fitness side of swim training. Once you start to get the feel for the stroke you can increase the distances swum. Bad technique learnt now will be difficult to correct at a later date.

If you want to race in drafting style Olympic racing then this will be absolutely vital to your performance. In this type of racing, missing a pack by even a few seconds means you may never get back into contention. As a county standard runner you are in a good position to do well in this type of racing if you can swim well.

If you are unable to join a triathlon club, or there are no good clubs available then some one-to-one coaching with a good technical coach can help a lot. If you go the club route it doesn’t need to be a specific triathlon club, it could be a swim club, although some swim clubs can be 'funny' about triathletes.

They sometimes want more commitments to competitions than you are prepared to give, so check first. At your age the swimming you do in a club will be more than adequate. Many of the leading swimmers in triathlon still swim in a 'swim' club including reigning World Champ Helen Jenkins.

Triathlon specific training can come at a later date as you develop your career, probably in your late teens, when you are racing at Junior level.

Training sets that will help to reinforce your swimming technique are things like lots of 25-50m reps.

These help to ensure you swim with good technique, rather than get you fit. As you get better and better at holding the correct technique, times will fall, and you can start to work more on the fitness side.

Try 30 x 25m using a 2:1 work rest. I.e. if the 25m takes you 30s then have 15s rest and go again. Don’t try to do it flat out, try to go at a pace that represents your race pace for triathlon. Count how many strokes you take on the 1st rep. The idea is to try to maintain a constant count through the session, and reduce this in subsequent sessions.

You can then increase the distance to 15 x 50m doing exactly the same, then 10 x 75m etc. You can also increase the number of reps. For instance we will do 60x50 with some of our swimmers holding ~35s. This is not a taxing triathlon swim session (at least not until the last few reps) but it reinforces good swim technique with those who struggle to hold it.

You may also be able to get involved with British Triathlon’s Talent programme which will help with coaching etc, for more info on that see this link www.triathlonengland.org.

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Aug 12, 2013
Try the backstroke
by: Anonymous

Natasha: I am also a 12 year old aspiring triathlete(with no experience though) and I struggle with my swim time. I find the front crawl the most useful, but if you are allowed to do back stroke and have basic knowledge of blind navigation skills(you can stay on track without being able to look where you are going), the back stroke helps by letting you breath the entire time. If you are doing an indoor triathlon, just look at the ceiling for tile sections, scratches, stains, or any other markers you can use to know when to turn(i.e the thirteenth row, to the scratch on the twenty third row, marks the length of the pool, and the third section marks the third lap row, where you should be). However, if it is outdoors in open water, then you may need to do the front crawl even though it makes it harder to breath. Just try to breath rythmically. Hope this helped. Good luck!!!

Apr 23, 2012
Intelligent Triathlon Training replies part 2
by: Intelligent Triathlon Training

If you are physically fit you are probably struggling because your technique and timing is not allowing you to breath on a regular rhythm. If the efficiency of your stroke is not too good, this will mean you have to work really hard, therefore becoming quite tired and struggling for breath. Swim coaching for technique will help a lot, but that is something you need to get face-to-face with a coach. Also keep the distance of each rep you swim fairly short so you can focus on maintaining excellent technique the whole time. As soon as you start struggling for breath you will probably not be able to maintain such good timing and rhythm.

Apr 17, 2012
I already do front crawl
by: Natasha

About a year ago i did a few lessons on front crawl technique and i think it is now pretty OK. i just cant't breathe. i try to do 2x front crawl, 1x breast stroke etcetera but that just makes it even more difficult to breathe!

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