Monday, February 1, 2016

Swim Safe in 2014

by Larry Creswell, M.D.

From a safety perspective, the triathlon swim can be very unforgiving. As we know, there are a few athletes who die each year in the United States during the swim portion of multisport events. That’s really just the tip of the iceberg, though. Many other athletes require rescue because of serious medical problems or just because conditions on race day were too tough to handle.

Athletes often ask me: “What can I do to ensure my safety during the swim?” Here’s my 10-item checklist:

  1. Get a check-up. Be sure that you’re healthy for the race. Visit the doctor for a check-up. Identify any major medical problems, especially any unsuspected heart condition. We know that among athlete fatalities, unrecognized heart problems are found in the majority.

  2. Understand the warning signs. During training, pay attention to warning signs that may be a clue to an unrecognized heart problem: chest pain/discomfort, unusual shortness of breath, palpitations, light-headedness or passing out and unexplained fatigue. Get evaluated if you have any of these symptoms.

  3. Become a capable swimmer. Perhaps it’s obvious. This is the cornerstone to your swim safety on race day.

  4. Practice open water swimming. It’s simply different from the pool. You need an extra set of practiced skills for the open water triathlon swim.

  5. Choose an event carefully. Take into consideration your health and your preparedness. It’s fine to “think big,” but remember to think about your safety, too. It’s easy to underestimate the demands of the open water triathlon swim.

  6. Develop a race plan that takes your health and preparedness into consideration. Work with your doctor and your coach.

  7. Check your swim gear before the race. Make certain your race suit, swimskin or wetsuit, goggles, and cap are ready to go on race day.

  8. Include a swim-warm up as part of your pre-race routine. This will help with your safety as well as your performance.

  9. Use a race-day checklist just before you start. Deliberately review the course conditions, recall your race plan, locate the safety resources and make a conscious decision about whether to participate or not. Make a wise decision. Only you can make the final decision to participate.

  10. Swim safely. Know where to find a lifeguard if you need one. Remember to stop at the first sign of a medical problem. Your life could depend on it.

Larry Creswell, M.D., is a cardiac surgeon and Associate Professor of Surgery at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, Mississippi. In addition to his regular column on Endurance Corner, he maintains The Athlete's Heart blog to offer information about athletes and heart disease in an informal way and to encourage exchange and discussion that will help athletes build a heart-healthier lifestyle. You can contact him at lcreswell@umc.edu.
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