There is a question I get every year from dozens of triathletes – “Do I need a wetsuit?” The answer? It depends! The first thing I should say is that you never HAVE to have a wetsuit. In the same breath, I can also say that if the water temperature is – oh, say 65 degrees or lower, you are probably going to want a wetsuit!
The Midwest waters are tricky. The water temperatures can range anywhere from 55 degrees to 90 degrees depending on the body of water, location of the race and time of the year. In Lake Michigan, the water temperature can change almost 20 degrees just overnight! The thing to remember here is that wetsuits aren’t just about keeping you warm, they are also about buoyancy and can also help eliminate drag in the water. Become friends with your wetsuit. It can do you more help than harm.
The general USAT rules are that wetsuits are allowed up until 78 degree water temperatures if you are among those aiming for a podium spot. If you are just trying to do your race and are not looking to “place”, then your wetsuit is legal up until 84 degree water. After 84 degrees, you will potentially start to overheat in the wetsuit, so for safety precautions, you will not be allowed to wear it.
However – in those “wetsuit safe” conditions – my advice is to 1) wear a wetsuit if it is legal and 2) go with a full leg, full sleeve wetsuit. If the race allows you this wetsuit advantage, it makes sense to take full advantage of it.
The weaker the swimmer, the more advantage the wetsuit provides. Compare it like this: if a triathlon allows you to use race wheels – would you use only one or would you go with two? Same with wetsuits, when given the option, take that full advantage.
If you are a newer triathlete or maybe you are an experienced triathlete, but you just haven’t “nailed” your swim yet, I recently wrote a blog post on the 5 Tips for Open Water Swimming. You can check it out here.
If you have any questions on the what’s, whys and how’s about open water swimming or wetsuits, please drop me a line! My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. I am here to help YOU be a better athlete!