In Praise of the Wetsuit

My good friend and fellow type-1 triathlete Céline recently wrote about how she is too stubborn to wear a wetsuit during triathlon. I started to write a response on her site, but it quickly became a post all of its own, so here it is.

I think about wetsuits this way:

  • Am I faster with a wetsuit? Yes. I’m more buoyant, streamlined, slippery, and compressed. My core muscles are getting stronger, but I still tend to drop my legs at the pool; it’s a lot harder to do that with a wetsuit. Considering all of the different factors, I estimate that I’m about 0:15/100 faster with one.
  • Does it hurt my feel for the water? No. Not at all.
  • Does it make it hard to breathe? Nope.
  • Am I comfortable in a wetsuit? Yes… comfortable enough. A well-fitting, sleeveless wetsuit is pretty much something I forget that I’m wearing when I’m in the water.
  • Does it make it possible for me to race in the early and late months? Yes, and in the ocean, too. The water temps this season at my races varied between 55° and 82°F (12-28°C), and I wore a wetsuit for all of them.
  • Does it take longer to remove than the time I save swimming? No. Not by a long shot. With enough practice, I can remove it in less than 15 seconds. It’s definitely not the slowest part of my swim-to-bike transition. Plus, my last event had “strippers,” and that was the best thing ever!
  • Do I look super-attractive while I’m wearing it? Um… probably not. But as Lisa says, triathlon takes all shapes. I’ve learned to be okay with having not much to hide behind and with seeing interesting bulges (my own and others) while I’m standing around waiting to race. It’s a lot like bike riding; at some point you get beyond the fact that everyone you’re with is pretty revealed.
  • Does it give me a very convenient place to stash gels when I swim? Yes. I just put ‘em down by my ankle.
  • Does it help keep my diabetes paraphernalia attached? Yes. My CGM or infusion set has never come loose while wearing one. This is very different from the pool, where about once per month, my CGM or set comes unstuck.
  • Is it a question of safety? Initially, yes, but not now. Putting aside the fact that even a dead body floats, a wetsuit makes a swimmer extra buoyant. If you’re at all uncomfortable, a wetsuit can be a bit like a safety blankie. While I initially freaked the hell out the one time that I went swimming in open water without one, those days have passed, and I wear one all the time now for the other reasons listed above.
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7 Responses to In Praise of the Wetsuit

  1. StephenS says:

    “Do I look super-attractive while I’m wearing it?” Maybe it’s because I was a swimmer for a long time, but I never thought about what myself or anyone else looked like in a wetsuit. Or bicycle shorts. Until now. Thanks.

    Seriously though, I can concur on the buoyancy of the wetsuit. A huge help in an open-water swim, where you can get knocked around a lot. Also, I once did a tri where the swim was in waters with nettles, which are like jellyfish, and it definitely kept me from getting stung (except on my arms).

  2. Jeff Mather says:

    “… I never thought about what myself or anyone else looked like in a wetsuit. Or bicycle shorts. Until now. Thanks.”

    Happy to oblige, Stephen.

  3. Céline says:

    Jeff, twice this week you’ve forced me to get off my high horse, uncross my arms and at least consider other options.

    The 70.3 now sounds like a far off goal rather than something completely ridiculous.

    And the traitorous part of my brain actually wondered where to put my pump when I’m wearing a wetsuit after reading today’s post.

    I’m not running out to buy one just yet but I’m willing to consider it now which is much better than last night when I wrote my ‘stubborn’ blog.

    I haven’t yet decided if you’re the little devil who sits on my shoulder, the little angel who sits on my other shoulder or the voice of reason echoing in my head. Whatever your alter ego, you do get me to think about things more than most people do.

    And I guess I really shouldn’t worry too much about how silly I think wetsuits look. Wearing one would certainly distract from the neon coloured swim caps we have to wear…

  4. mary! says:

    strippers, as in people stripping down to their birthday suits during transition?

  5. Jeff Mather says:

    Strippers (in this context) are volunteers who help you remove your wetsuit. It goes a little something like this:

    (1) Unzip your wetsuit and pull it down to your waist. This is easy, and I usually do it while running from the swim exit to my transition spot. It’s just a lot easier to run that way.

    (2) When you get to where the strippers are, you push the suit down over your butt, flop down onto your backside, and let the volunteer take over.

    (3) The volunteer gives one or two good tugs to the top of your wetsuit (which is now down at your feet) and—Voilà!—you’re free.

    (4) The volunteer gives you a hand to grab, pulls you up, gives you your wetsuit, and sends you off to the bike!

    Doing this on my own is a little more complicated, but doesn’t take that much longer. It’s just so quick to have someone else do it.

    I have heard stories about stripping “accidents” that are more like what you described, Mary… Usually because someone’s tri shorts come off along with the wetsuit. :-O

  6. mary! says:

    yah, i figured there was a logical explanation – sounds helpful!

  7. Jeff Mather says:

    Helpful, logical, but not nearly as exciting.

    It’s also funny because when I started triathlon one of the first questions people asked me was “What do you wear under your wetsuit?” as if we were all nakey in transition. Of course, it was also one of the first questions I asked Señor Google in the winter before my first triathlon.

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