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DNF - What went wrong?

I suffered the embarrassment of a DNF during an Olympic Distance swim recently and I'm trying to understand why and am hoping you guys can offer advice and pinpoint why.

I'm not unfit, although swimming is my weakest of the three disciplines. I run a sub 37 10k and typically finish a 40k bike in under 1:10 and was aiming for around a 30minute 1500m swim. I'm hoping (and praying) the problem is equipment related because I have my 'A' race for the season in just three weeks which is a 70.3, and naturally if it's fitness related 1900m is going to be near impossible to fix in three weeks if 1500m caused such a problem.

Four days before this race I went to a local 50m lido and swam a 1500m straight swim (30 lengths no wetsuit) in about 32mins relatively comfortably. So I know I can swim the distance.

On race day about 400m into the open water swim, my shoulders felt like they were on fire, like I was running uphill compared to everyone else. By the time I reached 600m, I was breaststroking, trying to catch my breath as everyone swam past, trying to muster the will-power to break back into a front crawl. Within 60 seconds of a crawl, my arms were again burning and I couldn't continue and started breaststroking again. So after the first lap I struggled over to the swim exit and got out a lap early and started unracking my bike. image

I've narrowed the variables down between the 1500m effortless swim on Wednesday and the nightmare a few days later. The problem is either a)the wetsuit not fitting, b) the trisuit underneath being too tight (restricting my shoulders), 3) going off too fast (even though I felt controlled) or 4) lack of open water swimming. I thought wetsuits were supposed to make swimming easier!

I know it's hard to gauge via the internet, but I really need to rectify the problem before my 70.3 or it's a lot of time and effort down the drain. Tomorrow I'm heading to the lido again with my wetsuit and trisuit to see how I struggle again. But any similar experiences or advice would be most helpful.


  • Hi,

    Did you try various wetsuits when you bought yours? I tried several on from my local shop as they have a dive pool attached so let you try before you buy. I ended up with a Zone 3 Vision costing about £175ish but I tried others that cost up to £400 and picked the one that fit me best and allowed me free movement.

    ((Also I am a female so have a sports bra underneath my trisuit. I would say the trisuit is the least of my comfort problems.... eg. stitching up your bra straps to stop it coming loose when you run!!!))

    I swim competitively in Autumn and Winter so ease off the swimming in the spring and summer focusing much more on my bike and run. I swim approx 20-21 mins for a 1500OWS and wouldn't do one 4 days before a race.

  • PS. Hope you sort your probs out. x

  • Andrew4Andrew4 Posts: 190


    My guess would be a combo of 1 and 4 (but more on 1). Never underestimate just how much time a strong push off the wall is worth.

    Had you worn your wetsuit at all before your race? Is it brand new? It's worth remembering that over your shoulders you probably have 3-5mm of neoprene (unless you have a very high end suit). This adds resistance on your recovery and if the suit is new it is likely to be even less flexible.

    Make sure you get used to using your suit and really focus on your shoulder flexibility (think shoulder taps and finger drags) to make sure you recover your stroke properly. Hopefully after a couple more swims with some intervals rather than the full monty straight off, and you can loosen up your suit and adjust your stroke to the different feel of swimming in a suit - with luck you'll get over the shoulder discomfort and start to enjoy the effortless glide that a suit can afford you.

  • risris Posts: 1,002

    sounds rubbish, TH99 - but i'm sure you aren't alone! 

    i wonder how much of this is physical (issues around the wetsuit) and how much psychological (your brain tells you that it's had enough and off you go).

    how much have you worn that wetsuit previously - in race kit (just as Rachel says, trisuits etc can affect the fit), and in a race situation? i'm a pretty strong swimmer, but a mass start bun-fight is not somewhere i am all that happy, and i've had some pretty grim experiences in the aqua-ruck. 

    my experience has been that when the ruck kicks off i do everything wrong - my suit feels overly tight, i can't breathe, i get a whack, i can't breathe more, i realised i've gone too hard and my arms are hurting and going 'light' and then i'm breaststroking and giving myself a hard time because i'm not doing what i know i can. 

    for me it's as much a mental collapse as a physical one. if you into a major oxygen debt because you are in a mild panic then your muscles will complain - all you can do is try and get calm and ease back in slowly. 

  • gavinpgavinp Posts: 168

    As you have outlined yourself there are a number of factors that it 'could be'.  But it is more likely a number of factors combined.

    * your fitness on the run and bike don't relate to swim fitness unfortunately.  I know a guy who can run 100miles in a day but can't swim 25m without having to stop exhausted at the end of the pool.

    * Was that really just one swim in open water (and your wetsuit) before your race?  You need to get in as much as you can in open water between now and your A race.

    * How many times a week do you swim and is that on your own or with a club?  If it is on your own then you may have underestimated your swim fitness compared to the rest of the pack on the day.

    * Your shoulders were on fire?  You tried to stay with the pack which were much faster than you / and they are more used to a sprint start.  Tiring yourself out trying to go too fast at the beginning is a common mistake.  Race yourself not everyone else.  Stick to a planned pace and let them go..easier said than done I know

    * Wetsuit not fitting? More likely you didn't put your wetsuit on properly with the race start coming up fast.  Get it wrong and the shoulders ad back are easily restricted.  With one open water swim before the race I am guessing that it was the second time you have put the wetsuit on in a while?  (all based on the info you have given so correct me if I am wrong).

    So, the good news is that it all happened NOT on your A race.  Take the issues that happened and make them a positive learning experience.  Focus on how you can make those problems go away by preparing for them happening again.  Prepare well for your 70.3 now that you know things will and can go wrong - even when you think that you have all the bases covered.

    Above all though, enjoy the race and have fun


    Open water swimming in a wetsuit cant be compared to a pool time, the cold alone if your not used to it is a hell of a shock to the system. Ive just finished my first olympic swim in open water with the first 600m upstream & was a good 15mins slower than my pool swim. I too have a 70.3 in 2 weeks & am suddenly aware ill be close to the cut off time. I did get through it, though must confess i propbably swam 700m doing backstorke! It wasnt pretty but i was still moving & managed to get out of water in 54 minutes. Crap time but id take it using back stroke if i can get through that 70.3

  • Sam181Sam181 Posts: 6

    As well as doing more open water swims, also try to get a bunch of people to swim with or your club- so you get used to swimming with others close by- keeping your focus and your pace.

    Also I agree with Andrew Morrison re- most people really underestimate the help gained ( and the slight rest) from pushing off the wall.


  • Just to add to your list of possible causes. When you have a cold water start, the brain goes into a bit of panic mode and you will breathe shallower, also your blood vessels to your extremities contract so less blood is getting to your muscles as a result you will feel exhausted much faster than In the pool. This is normal and is called the mammalian diving reflex. Besides being mentally prepared for it, it really helps to have a good warmup before the swim.

  • WebboWebbo Posts: 1
    How much did you pull your wetsuit up when you first put it on? If you just put it on without creating enough slack in the shoulder area to rotate through your stroke, every time you move your arms it can be like a resistance workout. It's worth taking a moment pre-race just to make sure you've given yourself enough of a wetsuit wedgie to allow your arms to extend easily.
  • Amazes me how many people fail to test equipment in situations that they are to be used. I always test my suit in an open water environment with everything underneath that I will be using during a race/event swim.

    I even use my swim hat in the pool over my goggles and I have no hair! Just want to keep up with the feel and have nothing extra to worry about on event day.

    When I use to scuba dive I would practice drills in the local pool and still wear my open water gloves. People would pass comment and take the mick but at the end of the day if something went wrong in open water I would need to know I could handle the situation fully kitted up.

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