1. Do you need a wetsuit for the race?
If you're training or racing in water temperatures of 60 to 65 degrees farenheit you will want to wear a short or full wetsuit. If you're swimming in 50 to 60 degrees F or lower you will need to wear a full wetsuit. Hoods, booties, and gloves are accessories that can be purchased for lower water temperatures. Some race regulations require participants to wear wetsuits. Other races require you to wear nothing more than a speedo. If you are tough enough to withstand the frigid temperature, take the plunge, but read the race guidelines first!
2. What kind of wetsuits are there?
There are various wetsuit styles and brands (Orca, Ironman, Quintana Roo, De Soto, Piel, etc.) available to purchase. Select a wetsuit style for the water temperature you plan to swim in most frequently. Short suits will fall above your knees and elbows and are suitable for warmer weather. Full suits have full length sleeves and legs and are suitable for colder weather. But whether you pick a short or a long wetsuit, the important thing to keep in mind is the flexibility and comfort. When you're swimming in a race, your suit should be flexible enough so that your stroke technique won't be affected. Pay attention to how comfortable the neck and underarm panel fit. They should fit snugly but also allow you freedom of movement so that you won't become fatigued from trying to swim in a too-tight suit. Knowing which style (short or full) you need and trying on various brands will help you determine which wetsuit is best for you.
3. Where can you buy them?
Various sporting good stores and bike shops around the Boston area sell short and full length wetsuits. REI, International Bicycles, and Wheelworks are popular stores that sell wetsuits and can provide you with assistance and advice in selecting the best wetsuit for you.
The advantages of wearing a wetsuit are buoyancy and speed. Wetsuits are constructed of rubber and neoprene, materials that create an automatic buoyancy effect which helps you to ride higher in the water. And depending on the thickness of your wetsuit, you will ride lower or higher in the water. Riding higher in the water will help your body be in a more streamlined position because your legs won't drag as much, so you will swim faster when you train and race. For less experienced swimmers, this can provide a great advantage. The disadvantage of wearing a wetsuit is a slower transition. Certainly it's faster to step straight from the water and onto your bike than it is to strip off a tight rubber suit first, but exiting the water, frozen from the swim, might not leave you feeling pumped to jump on your bike.
5. How to train with a wetsuit
Keep in mind that your wetsuit will feel differently on dry land than it will in the water. And your swim stoke will change a little. With a wetsuit on, your body will sit higher, your legs won't drag as much, and your arms will move differently because of the snug fit of the suit. If you train several times with your wetsuit on you will know what to expect when you get in the water and you will feel more comfortable on race day.
6. How to practice getting it on/off, etc.
It's tricky to put your wetsuit on and take it off. Many athletes use a lubricant, such as Body Glide, an expensive product made specifically for this purpose, or the inexpensive and conveniently available Pam cooking spray. Spraying your feet and ankles can help get the suit part way on and then you can work it up your legs and over your arms. Petroleum jelly can be used to lubricate the neck and cuffs of the suit to reduce chafing and speed up your transition from swim to bike. The more you practice swimming in your wetsuit the more chance you get to practice taking the suit on and off and this will help you transition on race day.
After use, it's important to wash your wetsuit with clean warm water and dry it in the open air. Getting into the habit of washing your suit will help prevent deterioration and remove bad odors.