As an avid cyclist, runner and sometimes duathlete, I'm familiar with running and cycling times and what's considered a respectable time. However, I have a lady friend who is an avid swimmer asking for advice as to what a decent half mile, mile etc swim time would be for an average female swimmer competing in a triathlon. Her current workout routine has her swimming two miles in about an hour and twenty minutes. Thanks in advance for the usual helpful and knowledgable replies.
My .02... An average woman will finish a mile, open water swim in 25-30 minutes, roughly. (Even though the swim in a triathlon is the smallest part of the event, I think it's interesting that you will probably see the most variation in swim times.) Two miles in an hour and twenty minutes is a respectable place to start for a beginner triathlete.
It's probably easier to think of swim times in terms of 100's rather than longer distances. A good swimmer will swim 100's on 1:30, a decent swimmer on 1:40's and a recreational swimmer (most triathletes) will swim the 100's on 1:45 to 2:00. I'm not saying that if you went ot the pool and swam a 100 all out that would be your time, I'm saying you could do repeats at these speeds.
I find that analyzing the previous results for the event I am training for is very useful. Some courses are slower than others due to the way the race is laid out and how well the start groups are staggered. I can usually find 2 or three previous years results posted for most of the events.
Most races will post results with split times included. Your swimmer friend should be able to access these results and get a good idea of "respectable" swim times for all types of racers - elite, et al.
I'm a mid-pack triathlete - but a back of pack swimmer. I swim about a 40 minute mile in open water - or about 2:00 100's in the pool. I'm not the last out of the water in a typical race - but I'm in the last quarter.
You'll also see a variation based on the TYPE of race. There will be many more novices in a SPRINT triathlon than in an International or Half-Ironman distance race. This is another great reason to try to look at the results of the previous year's running of the event you're interested in!
I disagree with Active Islander, however, an average elite female swimmer probably does swim a mile in 25-30 minutes.
I just completed a sprint triathlon and the fastest woman overall in the swim leg swam the 1/2 mile in 15:04.
Granted, an average female swimmer, completing her first triathlon, would likely swim a 1/2 mile in around 18 minutes.
I am an average female swimmer, so I speak from experience here.
Everyone should keep in mind the venue, it changes(conditions), from year to year as does the race itself and the athlete, I have competed in some events year after year and found the splits have changed drastically due to the crowd racing that year. Plus too, many elite triathletes do not race local races, especially sprints. Sign up for a race with a decent payout and then check the elite field as you will find the splits are way different from a race without payouts.
I suppose the definition of "elite" varies and is relative is come cases, depending on the size of the city... I think most "elite" women in my province and surrounding provinces (Quebec and Ontario) swim between 20-24 minutes for 1500m... But QC and Ont have a fairly large bassin of athletes.
I know that large basin well, it was probably the same group of folks who smoked me at motorcity this year, especially if the women are doing 20-24 minutes for an oly, ha ha!
Like fish boy here said, the venue conditioins can alter a race, take steel head for instance it was a 1/2 but they altered the course to go with the current so swim times might be a little higher than say motorcity where the olympic event had you with the current for awhile but also against it for awhile. So the swim times were slower. I would definatly look at a particular event you plan on competeing in. Also take whatever time you do in the pool and throw it away if you have never open water swam. Experience in open water will help this a lot.