I thought a thread focusing on wet suits would be in order because there's a lot of information about them and all newbies should be at least somewhat interested. I've done some sprints and (despite my wife's claims) don't claim to know everything so additional comments are of course welcome.
The first thing to cover is the main types of suits. I'd highly recommend a tri suit over a waterski type for several reasons. Tri suits are made for swimming and have extra contouring on the arms that help your stroke and the rest is very smooth to reduce drag. While good waterski suits also allow for arm stretchability they don't have the other features so stick to the tri suits. As for sleeved or sleeveless, that's personal preference. My suit has full sleeves and I've never had an issue with the water being too warm. Besides, I'm not a strong swimmer so I want that honeycombing on the arms for the extra power on my stroke. Of course, I don't swim in really hot places either.
All major brands have been given good reviews by the people I know who use them. All brands make a range of suits from basic on up which is no surprise. As a newbie most of us will most likely be after the second model up on the ladder. The basic models tend to not have the extra panels to help the arms stretch from my research last year. From what I saw, the next model up had good features and wasn't much more money. High end suits cost twice as much and unless you're after top level performance or really need the extra comfort or options they have I'd recommend against them for beginners. Personally I use an Orca Equippe S2 and I love it.
Getting a suit that fits you is important, but remember that the neoprene will stretch some and after some use it will go on easier and fit to your shape. Make sure you get some practice in it before race day because it's different swimming in one than just a swim suit. My tri club has special group swims at the pool for everyone to use their suits and so we don't look so out of place. There are lubricants available to help the suit settle on you, but my favorite is olive oil spray. It was a favorite in my last tri club because it's cheap, won't hurt the neoprene like petroleum based lubes, and won't react with sunscreen or cause allergies (that I know of). We used the spray on the wrists and ankles and sometimes around the collar to help it settle going on and it helps them get off easier when you get to transition too.
There was a whole thread on what to do when you get in the water but the short of it is to get in before the race starts and flood the suit. Get back out of the water and let it mostly drain. The remaining layer of water also acts as a lube and will give you the best thermal performance as well. Yes, the water may be cold but if you take the hit before the race starts you'll be more comfortable when it's time to perform.
I think that's the majority of what someone should know before buying a wetsuit. If you're not sure about buying one they can be rented too which can give you a chance to try some different brands for fit. If I missed anything then feel free to add in.
thanks for this post-- very informative! i guess my question is, how long before the start of the race does one get into the wetsuit? best,
violets are purple... "it never gets easier, you just go faster" greg lemond
4/30/2011 athleta iron girl, lake las vegas nv
800m swim/ 22.5k bike/ 5k run 2:41:49
Pre-race setup is well worth a mention so thanks for bringing it up. Again, I welcome any other comments to back up mine. I'll start with setting up in transition because it leads right into getting the wetsuit on.
Setting up in the transition area involves finding a spot along the bike rails to claim as your own. Typically the bike is hung by the seat with the handle bars pointing out. You'll easily see what everyone else is doing when you get there. I bring everything in a plastic box with a lid and just set the box next to the bike. Traditionally you just put down a towel and set everything on it but at every race I've been to a lot of people just used the box. I try to arrange the stuff in the box so its in order of use: running stuff on the bottom, bike stuff on top with some noteable execptions. The bike helmet is normally set on the handle bars with the sunglasses stuck through the vent holes.
Once you're set up in transition you can start getting everything on for the swim. Sunscreen takes up to 15 minutes to actually stick so get it on early, possibly before you really get your site set up. My experience is that everyone gets suited up after everything else is set in transition and then wears the wetsuit to the race briefing which is normally just before the penguin march to the beach. On longer races this isn't an issue because you tend to start pretty early in the morning. Take your quick dip to fill the suit with water as soon as get there and do some warm ups if you want to. From there just enjoy your day out.
A few last side notes that are worth throwing in:
1) socks - typically for sprint distance racing socks are not worth the effort. They're very hard to get on even when rolled up first and you're not out long enough to worry about blisters. Try using an anti-chafe cream on your feet before the race and then put your shoes on so the cream gets on the points where you'll have contact. This goes for both bike and running shoes.
2) gloves - I don't bother with my bike gloves for most sprint distance races. It will depend on the day to a degree and more on the actual distance. My first tri this year has a 12 mile ride and the second has a 20 mile ride. I'll be more inclined to wear them on the second race and will definitely have them for the Olympic and Half I have planned later. If I do wear them I don't take them on in the second transition. I just rack the bike, take off the helmet, change shoes, grab the sunglasses and go. The gloves can go into my jersey pocket while I'm running.
3) salt water swims - I keep an extra bottle of just plain water in the box when I do a beach tri. I personally can't stand the salty covering in my mouth after that swim and prefer to take a few seconds to rinse out so my first few drinks on the ride aren't loaded with sea water residue. For longer races this is even more of a big deal and not ingesting sea water is crucial because of how easily it can upset your stomach and make it hard to eat and drink what you really need on the course.
Hopefully this wasn't too long of a novel for everyone. It's all stuff I learned from doing sprints and from talking with friends in the tri club who do longer courses.
I am doing my first triathlon in June. It is a beginners sprint tri. The water part is .25 miles in calm lake water with the expected water temp around 75. Would you still suggest a wetsuit? I noticed they have things that you can wear for all 3 legs but I wasn't sure if it was to be worn under a wetsuit or if you just swim, bike and run in it. I've included the link so you'll know what I'm looking at. Thanks in advance for your help. I'm really nervous about the race especially the swim part. Your thread is making this easier for me.
Excellent posts Andy. A couple of things to add. One, wetsuits in USATriathlon-sanctioned races are limited in thickness beginning Jan 1, 2013 to 5mm, which isn't a problem for nearly all tri-specific wetsuits but may be a problem with water-ski neoprene (I don't know what the common thickness is for these types). How often a local tri will measure is unknown, but probably not a likely occurance. Second, there are regulations regarding wetsuits and water temperatures: allowed below 78 degrees, optional 78-84 but not eligible for prizes, prohibited above 84 degrees. Since wetsuits give you bouyancy and generally have less water resistance than skin, I take advantage of any opportunity to wear a wetsuit. The temperature regulation also applies to skinsuits/speed suits which have neoprene in them. The USATriathlon.org website has a list of approved suits. General tri-suits made of lycra and some other materials are fine.
Caroline: go with a wetsuit and practice getting it on and off and swimming in it. Wear the tri-suit you linked under the wetsuit.
Have fun and good luck.
Thanks BT for the help elaborating on the rules. I've never actually done a race where it was warm enough for the suits to be prohibited so it hasn't been an issue and didn't occur to me.
Caroline, I have friends in the tri club who use similar suits and won't race without them. As BT said, just wear it under the wet suit and you won't have to worry about changing at all through the race. With that much covered it will make your day that much easier and more enjoyable. Just relax and enjoy the moment without stressing about any details. Best of luck and keep us posted on your success.
I wanted to post an update after my first open water swim of the season. The water was 67 F so the wetsuit and swim cap were invaluable. I'm willing to admit that I struggled for the first 600 meters before finally finding what worked for me over the last 200 meters. Better late than never I guess.
The wetsuit will feel like it constricts a lot and breathing in will be harder. The cold water didn't help any, nor did having a faster swimmer crawl halfway up my back before going around me. I found that by just going through the motions of my swim technique I made great progress and was able to stay within the limits of my swim fitness. I wasn't putting any real effort into the swim stroke but still made progress and didn't have to get rescued by the lifeguards. As a bonus I wasn't last out of the water either!
While it might seem like a basic idea several of us had to seriously adjust our usual level of effort as compared to pool swimming to make this work. Also, it has me thinking back to some longer swims I did before a loooong break from open water swims and as I recall it was all a minimal effort approach which allowed me to concentrate on other things like navigation. I'm sure as I get better this will be less of an issue, the fastest swimmers doing 2 laps were passing me before I completed half of my single lap and they had no obvious issues with their wetsuits.
Hopefully this helps someone else with their early season swims.