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When to Wear a Triathlon Wetsuit

   March 23rd, 2017   Posted In: Articles, How-To   Tags:

When to Wear a Triathlon Wetsuit

You may or may not have asked yourself when to wear a triathlon wetsuit when it comes to triathlon open water swimming rules. Well, I’ve asked myself that before hence why this post has come to life. Let me tell you, the weather leading up to race day gives me epic levels of anxiety. I start worrying about things I can’t control, like how bad will Friday traffic be during the six hour drive? What is the food situation there? At what point do I pack my stuff? The list goes on. But one of my biggest worries is the weather. Will there be wind or rain? What about extreme sun and heat (ugh, Eagleman flashbacks)?

when to wear a triathlon wetsuit

Let’s flash back to the week leading up to Sunday September 11, 2016. REV3’s Cedar Point 70.3 was my second Half Ironman. I put in my time in the pool, on the saddle and on two feet. I felt much better heading into this event than I did the year prior at Eagleman (let’s not talk about the ridiculously hot temps in 2015).

I’m faster in a wetsuit and am perfectly comfortable wearing just my tri suit. In a way though, I like swimming without a wetsuit. The way the water feels against my skin and the sun beating down on my back helps me get in touch with my inner hippie.

Now back to Cedar Point. As we arrive, the weather forecast looks about as perfect as you can get for race day: low to mid 70’s for the high, light winds and abundant sunshine. It looked like a border-line “wetsuit legal” swim (more on that in a few). The day prior to the race, forecasters called for heavy storms. This is no big deal for actual race day; HOWEVER, heavy rain the day before a race can cause water temps to drop quickly. Either way, I knew I was good because I packed my trusted sleeveless wetsuit and was fully prepared to swim with or without it.

Before we go any further let’s take a look at USA Triathlon’s (USAT) regulation regarding open water swimming temperature rules. According to their website:

“Each age group participant shall be permitted to wear a wet suit without penalty in any event sanctioned by USA Triathlon up to and including a water temperature of 78 degrees Fahrenheit. When the water temperature is greater than 78 degrees, but less than 84 degrees Fahrenheit, age group participants may wear a wet suit at their own discretion, provided however that participants who wear a wet suit within this temperature range shall not be eligible for prizes or awards. Age group participants shall not wear wet suits in water temperatures equal to or greater than 84 degrees Fahrenheit.”

when to wear a triathlon wetsuitWater temperatures of 78 degrees are pretty warm but for me, it’s too hot. Wearing a 5mm thick sleeveless triathlon wetsuit overheats me every time unless I slow way down. I only wear a wetsuit in a water temp of 70 or less. If I know I’m not feeling all that great on race morning, and the water temperature is 70+, I’ll wear the wetsuit in an attempt to save some energy for the rest of my race. This is what I have found to work for me, but remember, every swimmer is different.

I know very accomplished swimmers who like to swim in a full sleeve suit in 78 degree water. I, myself, in the past have donned my blueseventy Sprint full sleeve suit and swam in a race in 68 degree water, and have regretted it ever since. It was the hottest I’ve ever felt while in the water (besides open water swimming in Key West during a vacation!)

My best advice for you for when to wear a triathlon wetsuit is this: trial and error. Simply try out different suits in different water temps. If you think that you are a naturally cold swimmer, perhaps try experimenting with a thicker suit or a full sleeve suit. If you know you are a swimmer who tends to push it hard leading to overheating in a pool while swimming your 2500 yard speed work, you would want to try that sleeveless suit or go “suitless.”

Wetsuits can also add a certain level of security, or stability, to a swimmer. They will undoubtedly provide buoyancy for better positioning and speed to any caliber swimmer. You will notice that more triathletes than not will don a wetsuit prior to a race, and these two factors (buoyancy and speed) are why.

Taking it back to Cedar Point, the final “race temperature” ended up at 74 degrees, as noted by a race official. I was nervous and, as a result, was not feeling overly confident on race morning, so I took the sleeveless wetsuit to the start. I decided to swim without it, opting only to wear my tri suit. On my transition out of the water, I felt prepared and ready for the 56 mile bike through some of the most scenic country side I’ve had the privilege to ride, followed by running 13.1 miles on a route through a city that provided great support. My official time for the swim portion of the 70.3 at Cedar Point ended up being a 39.52 for the 1.2 mile swim.

It wasn’t my best, and I now blame it on poor sighting during the swim, which ended up adding .15 miles to the already 1.2, according to my Garmin 920. It is a shame this race is no more, I would register again and I would tell you all to register, too. This was a great overall race.

Adam Himmelwright is a swimmer that started competing in triathlons as a way to get back into shape. In the 2009 Nations Triathlon, Adam swam the swim portion in a relay triathlon. That propelled him to competing solo. Eight years and numerous tri's later, he is living the triathlete lifestyle.

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