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The other day I was thinking about my swim at Ironman Louisville (non-wetsuit) and how great I felt after getting out of the water, as opposed to the delirium  I felt at Ironman Wisconsin (wetsuit) and posed this question to my triathlon text group:  

“With the water temperature and downstream swim, would it seriously make sense not to swim in a wetsuit?”

Within two minutes my coach told me he’d been putting together a blog post on that very topic, which is below.

I know it may sound crazy, but not only did I feel much better after my Louisville swim, I cut nearly 15 minutes off from Wisconsin.  Granted, the latter was in choppy lake, and the wetsuit did give me “security” in the mass start, but with a smooth downstream swim and no congestion?  I definitely think ditching the wetsuit is worth contemplating, and Robbie points out some great reasons.


Ditch The Wetsuit at Ironman Chattanooga  — Coach Robbie Bruce

In 4 days thousands of athletes will line up at the inaugural Ironman Chattanooga and plunge into the mighty Tennessee River. The biggest question between now and then will be “What is the water temperature?”

The obsessive panic around water temperature usually starts about 2 weeks out from a race and I would venture that 99% of the athletes are praying for wetsuit legal temperatures.  Most triathletes will admit that they are less than stellar swimmers and a good portion would likely claim the swim terrifies them.

Wetsuit legal swims are a race directors dream.  Add in an assisted “with the current” swim and the race is all but guaranteed a sell out.  Every. Single.  Time.

Water temperature looks to be right around the cutoff line of 76.1 come Sunday morning.  But regardless of weather, and if the swim is deemed wetsuit legal, I challenge you to take the following into consideration before donning your neoprene.

6 Reasons You should NOT wear a wetsuit

To Use The Current.  The swim will be with the current.  A wetsuit, by design, is very sleek and slippery piece of equipment.  However, with an “aided” swim that can can be a disadvantage.  You dont want the water to slip over you, you want to use the current to grab every piece of your body.  More friction.

At Ironman Louisville I even opted out of a swim skin.  The current was up and I wanted to let it grab my tri suit, including the open pockets, and drag me down the river.  It did just that.  If you are trying to get pushed downstream do you want to be the slippery pebble or the jagged rock?

To Avoid Mental and Physical Stress.  A lot of people wear wetsuits because it makes them feel “safer” in the water.  For others, it can cause an claustrophobic ridden panic attack.  If that applies, then skip the wetsuit.  The lack of mental, emotional and physical stress will far out weigh the minute or two you save by having it on.

The Time Factor.  Faster swimmers get less of an advantage that slower swimmers from a strong current.  If you fall into the “I might save a minute category” I would skip it as well.  In fact, you will likely gain that minute back coming out of the water, stopping for a wetsuit stripper, carrying it to the T1 tent, then packing it in your T1 bag.

Chronic over heaters.  Need I say more?  Skip it.

Lack of Practice.  Skip it if you have not done enough wetsuit swims at RACE PACE or even above.  Four or five easy wetsuit swims is not appropriate preparation for racing in your wetsuit.  The practice swim the day before won’t cut it either.  Havent had any quality bike sessions FOLLOWING those wetsuit swims?  Skip it.  ** See numbers below.

Arm Fatigue.  If you feel your wetsuit causes restriction, then skip it.  Many triathletes sight sore shoulders and fatigued arms after a wetsuit swim because of restriction caused by the wetsuit.  If you fall into that category, skip it.  You might gain 1-2 minutes on the swim but you will lose ALL OF THAT and more on the bike. Heavily fatigued arms/shoulders/lats/neck are the primary reasons people sit up out of aero on the bike.  Sit up for even 5-10 minutes on the bike and you just soaked up all of those minutes “saved” on the swim.

By The Numbers

– You will save around 2-4 minutes on a 2.4 mile swim with a wetsuit in normal swim conditions.

– The average IM swim time is around 1:15 (75mins).

– You will have your wetsuit on for around 10-15 minutes prior to entering the water.

– You will have your wetsuit on during the swim for around 75mins.

– The average persons HR increases around 10 beats per minute just STANDING in your wetsuit. Average beats “wasted” standing = 100-150

– The average persons HR increases around 10-20 beats per minute SWIMMING in your wetsuit. Average beats “used” swimming in your wetsuit = 750- 1500. 

– Total additional beats attributed to just WEARING your wetsuit is around 850- 1650.

– If you are trying to AVERAGE a certain HR you will have to slow down more at the beginning of the bike in order to get it under control after wearing a wetsuit.

Whats your number?  Are all of those beats worth it?


EDIT:  This post gets a ton of views and I want to add a little nugget since I’ve actually raced Chattanooga now.  While I think this is a solid theory if you are a good swimmer, I would probably wear a wetsuit now if I did this race and it was legal.  The issue I had last year was they slowed the current considerably and wetsuits were flying by me.  It’s the first time I realized the distinct advantage a wetsuit gives you.  That said, my swim wasn’t near what it should have been for this race.  Thanks for reading!  Mike.

6 Reasons to Ditch The Wetsuit at Ironman Chattanooga