Butterfly in Triathlon

I think we should all do butterfly in our triathlon swims.  Nothing else.  Just fly.

The rules say we must swim the leg.  They don’t say how we should do it.  Why rely just on freestyle?  Too easy.  Breaststroke?  Come on.  Backstroke?  Seriously?

I say, it’s fly or nothing.  Completing a 2.4 mile long distance swim in nothing but fly should be a piece of cake.  If you can’t do it, you shouldn’t even think about doing triathlon.  Go learn fly, then you can get in the lake.

Sound absurd?

It should.  There’s no way the vast majority of us would want to do the butterfly for a triathlon race.  Many of us aren’t good at the stroke.  For others, it would be too exhausing.  And while there are people who like to swim fly (take for example Julia Bradshaw, who in 2002 recorded the fastest ever fly-only English Channel crossing in 14:18 — hours, not minutes; or Dan Projansky of Michigan who competes in 10k open water swims doing noting but fly – see here), the vast majority of us just wouldn’t do it.

That’s not the point, though.  If you WANTED to swim a triathlon with nothing but fly, you could.  The same argument goes for any stroke. 

Why do I bring this up?  Over the past day or so, I’ve been following a growing thread on Slowtwitch where a poster asked if he should do a triathlon if the only thing he can do is breaststroke.  He basically got blasted.  Folks told him flatly to go learn to “swim”, to start at the back, to swim outside.  They said swimming breaststroke is dangerous for other swimmers.  Basically, they implied he was a second class triathlete for not being able to swim freestyle.

Here’s the deal as far as I’m concerned.  Not everyone is a fast swimmer.  Not everyone can swim freestyle well.  Hell, lots of folks probably can swim equally as fast (if not faster) doing breaststroke versus any other stroke.  Most everyone has done some breaststroke in a race.  It’s not a bad thing.  Folks who swim it shouldn’t be banned.

As for the argument that it’s dangerous to swimmers, I’m not sure it’s any more dangerous than dealing with freestyle kicks and punches from other swimmers.  I should know – when I swam at Ironman Florida I took five or six punches to the kidneys from a guy who would not find open water.  It hurt like hell, and nearly knocked me out of any rhythm I had.  How did I get rid of him?  A couple of well-timed breaststroke kicks. 

We should be inclusive.  For 99% of us, triathlon is just about “doing it”.  If you can only do breaststroke, do it.  If you want to do fly, go for it.  If you are great at freestyle, so be it.

Just keep swimming.


13 thoughts on “Butterfly in Triathlon

  1. Very interesting post! I must admit though, when I share a lane with someone swimming breaststroke, I hold my breathe every time we pass! I am actually pretty comfortable swimming fly but I can’t imagine doing it for 2.4 miles!!! I really enjoyed this and your other posts!

  2. I see that conversation rear its head from time to time. No matter what stroke you can do to finish the leg, you should do it. I cannot imagine breaststoke being any more dangerous than someone swimming over the top of you or kicking you in the face. I’m with you, a few well timed breaststroke kicks will get someone out of ‘your space’ super quick. In the end, you finished, who cares how you got there? Are you going to judge the people who walked part of the run? It is kind of the same thing….

  3. I got through my first two sprint tris with only doing the breast stroke. I was towards the back. I think I only made contact once or twice with swimmers both times and can’t say which of us was guilty. I’ve come a long way and probably will only fall back on breast stroke again if I have a moment of panic or if I need to take a moment to get my sighting better. But for me it was definitely about just “doing it”. I expect to be faster out of the water this year though.

  4. I am in agreement with the first comment to the original poster in the ST thread (-:

    Haven’t ranted on your blog in a while Joel so here we go …

    I really do not care if you BS during the swim when things open up BUT if you line up in the middle or front of the pack and do it at the start then you deserve to get the shit kicked out of you in T1 by all the guys you kicked in the head.

    Stay to the back or learn to swim freestyle. Just because you can swim the breast stroke doesn’t mean you should and in a way it is selfish that your race is so much more important than everyone else’s that kicking other competitors is okay. (Now using the BS as a way to get an aggressive swimmer off of you as described above is a completely different topic).

    And don’t give me that shit about, “it doesn’t say I can’t swim breast stroke in the rules …blah, blah, blah” It also doesn’t say in the rules that I cannot grab you by the throat and hold you under water until you pass out. See my point?

    I also partially disagree with your statement, “We should be inclusive”.

    For the most part we should be inclusive but you know what, this sport isn’t for everyone and my enjoyment of the race should not be interfered with because you want to do a triathlon but learning to swim freestyle is too much of an inconvenience for you.

    And if you have an injury or something that would preclude you from doing a forward crawl stroke then participating in the swim of a freaking triathlon is not for you. Go race a Duathlon. Be a runner. Find a swimmer and race it as a relay but the last thing I want to see is other racers getting kicked and injured by an unprepared/undertrained breast stroker.

    “Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean to knock the wind out of you by power kicking you in the sternum while I was breast stroking but my life is just to busy to learn to swim freestyle so I am now going to kick you in the ribs because I never practiced sighting either!”

    Screw that.

    • Rants are fully allowed, Jeff. I think the key here is that if someone is going to do BS, they need to be careful about where they are. Front & center of the wave = bad. The back half of a wave = might be OK.

      By inclusive, I believe we should invite folks of all abilities into our sport. Now, I completely agree that someone who can’t swim effectively probably shouldn’t do a 2.4 mile swim (in any stroke), but ultimately if folks are smart about what they do, it sholdn’t be a big deal if they do BS or Fly or back or dogpaddle for that matter.

  5. The first thing that comes to mind is a Chris Rock sketch: “Shit, you can drive a car with your feet if you want to, that don’t make it a good fucking idea!” – haha

    In my mind, it depends a lot on the race. There are some events that are more suited for newbies and beginners. A lot of events by me often even have an opt-in “beginners wave” that you can voluntarily join if you are new to the sport. It certainly is awesome that this sport is as inclusive as it is. But at the same time, everyone needs to realize that each person has their own goals and to be understanding of that. Being a newbie does not excuse you from that fact.

    I agree with a lot of what Jeff said though. If you are planning on doing breaststroke then unless you are a world class breast stroker, you going to be moving slower than the freestyle swimmers and should be lined up in the back or side. The same goes for a newbie freestyle swimmer. If you know that you are not the strongest swimmer you should line up according to your ability. It is not only a courtesy to other races, but is also an issue of safety. But, yes, I acknowledge that even with everyone swimming freestyle there are kicks and punches.

    • I think the key phrase in your entire comment is “If you know that you are not the strongest swimmer you should line up according to your ability.” Common sense must rule (granted, not everyone has that). I’m not against folks doing BS in a tri, but they should be smart about it. The front of a wave is not the smartest place to do BS, in my opinion.

  6. Well said. I just completed the Kingscliff Triathlon at the weekend. It was Olympic distance so the swim was 1,500m. I completed the swim in 20:53 (tide assisted) and came out of the water 9th in a field of 38 men in my age group.

    And guess what … I did BREAST STROKE for about 400m of the swim leg … and I overtook other blokes thrashing around in freestyle at the same time. This was a field of 30-34 year old Australian male triathletes. And 20:53 is a pretty darn good time for 1,500m in anyone’s language. I started right at the back of the field and just worked my way to the front …

    My goal for my next two races is to be first out of the water by doing freestyle the whole way and starting near the front. 1 July 2011 I was only able to swim 200m in 50m lengths.

    Caveat: When I was in high school I was a top 10 Australian junior triathlete and I started squad swimming at 5yo so I have a background in swimming. I was a breast stroker in my high school swim team. But still – I tell everyone that they are allowed to do breast stroke in the swim leg because it’s better they give triathlon than feel ashamed that they don’t swim freestyle.

    I challenge those who knock breast strokers to do butterfly, at least in training … I always include at least some butterfly in each training session to strengthen my body and lungs. And that’s something I never see other triathletes do.

  7. I love the responses here, just as you would expect on the topic. I do think that if you are only comfortable doing the BS, then it would be smart to stick back and out of the chaos especially during a swim start. I have taken a strong kick to the face from someone doing the BS and it was not fun. It took all I had in me not to do a rendition of the fist drill on my next few strokes.

    While the rules do not call it out, I see it the same as being smart about how you handle your bike around other riders. There is inherently more risk to this stroke than freestyle (if done properly) So I suppose this applies to bad freestylers as well.

    I echo the comment about having someone join my lane who is doing the BS. Makes me cringe everytime we cross.

  8. I agree that no one should catch hell if they’re swimming some alternative stroke to free. And where they kine up completely depends on how fast they are at that stroke. Swim a 1:05/100 breast? Line up in front; 2:00/100, please line up to the side. I’ve noticed that ST and BT forums are really just a place for people with inflated egos who have nothing to back that ego up with to yell at people and make themselves feel superior.

  9. You can always count on STers to be d-bags.

    If fly is more comfortable for you, rock it. But if you are a seasoned vet, you’ll just look silly.

  10. Pingback: Triathlon Swim-Meister VII – The Fast Lane « the5krunner

Comments are closed.