A Non-Swimmers Guide to 2016 Age Group Nationals

By Allie Burdick | July 13, 2016, 9 a.m. (ET)

I hate the swim.

I taught myself how to swim as an adult and, because of my poor form and fear of drowning, it kept me from pursuing triathlon goals beyond a local sprint race.

allie burdick at worldsI found out about an amazing event called duathlon, where you cut out the swim and add a run, and I chose to race those instead. Two runs in one race was perfection for this longtime road racer and marathoner.

Back in 2014 I qualified to represent Team USA at the Duathlon Age Group World Championships in Pontevedra, Spain, and it was amazing. Afterward, I knew there was only one goal I should have for 2015 — to take up the challenge of facing my swim fears and qualify for nationals in triathlon.

There are three things most people do not know about triathlon: 

  1. You do not need to be a great swimmer since the swim portion is the shortest part of the race.
  2. You can achieve the most on the bike portion because it’s the longest.
  3. Runners have a distinct advantage since most traditional triathletes are not runners.

Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s very humbling to have a slower swim time than 80 percent of the field but, I also glean confidence for usually having one of the fastest run times. Obviously my goal was to work on my weakness (the swim) and gain as much power as possible on the bike in order to qualify.

To give you an example of how a typical race worked for me, here are my age group rankings from my very first Olympic-distance race (1-mile swim, 25-mile bike, 6.1-mile run) in Columbia, Maryland, in May 2016:

22 out of 34 in the swim with a time of 36 minutes
6 out of 34 on the bike with a time of 1 hour and 30 minutes
1 out of 34 on the run with a time of 45 minutes 

See what I did there? It was good enough for third in my age group and a nationals qualification!

Now what?

Obviously my swim and bike can use improvement. The course conditions for the Columbia Triathlon were terrible (water temp was 61 degrees and bike course was in 30+ mph winds) and I was able to improve my finishing time by 13 minutes in the very next race I completed, five weeks later.

In the remaining eight weeks leading up to nationals, after my second Olympic-distance race, my coach and I have focused a lot of energy on the swim. I now swim five days a week, both in open water and in a pool. A typical week of training looks like this:

allie burdick triathlon

Monday
Swim open water 40 minutes
Run 30 minutes easy 

Tuesday
Swim in pool 2,000 yards
Bike 1 hour 

Wednesday
Swim in pool 2,800 yards
Run 45 minutes with speed 

Thursday
Swim open water 50 minutes
Bike 45 minutes with drills 

Friday
Swim 35 minutes open water
Bike 2 hours with tempo

Saturday
Run 6-7 miles easy 

Sunday
Swim drills in pool 2,000 yards
Bike 1 hour speed 

Just looking at the schedule of all those swims everyday was a bit overwhelming but, taking it one swim at a time, it was not as bad as it seemed. And, of course my swim efficiency and overall speed has dramatically improved.

I can now honestly say that I love the swim.

The best advice I can give to anyone reluctant to pursue triathlon because of the swim is to face your fear, work on your weakness and get in the water as much as possible. Who knows? You just may end up at nationals!

Want to learn more about the 2016 USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships in Omaha, Nebraska? Find information about Olympic-Distance Nationals at usatriathlon.org/agnc16oly and Sprint Nationals at usatriathlon.org/agnc16sprint.