I’ve always had a decent level of confidence when it came to open water swimming. My sisters and I grew up spending summers on the ocean, near the lake or at the local pool. I’m thankful my mother insisted we all take lessons….and continue with it passed yellow. (Yes, I’m that old the Red Cross levels were in colours…I think I made it to Green. Green was pretty high, no bronze medallion like my sister scored, but not too shabby either). But the water…It went beyond swimming – I’ve played in some of the craziest waves Martinique Beach could offer, Snorkelling off a boat in Mexico, Scuba diving from the shore in Turks and Caicos, Surfing…you get the idea. Put me in any water and I’d be just fine.
So it came as a huge surprise to me, during one of my first open water swims 2 weeks ago, I started to panic. I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced a panic attack, but I was faced with a shortness of breath, uncontrollable fear, and felt like someone had just put 30 wool blankets on my chest. I tell myself: “Relax. Take a few deep breaths”. In the throws of a panic attack – especially one happening 20 feet from shore – those words mean nothing. I did manage to calm myself down in fairly short order, with the assistance of the bestest friend in the world, floating on my back and taking it easy.
Where did this come from?
It’s hard to say. Maybe my wetsuit is too tight. Maybe I just need more practice in the open water. Maybe all my “cool as a cucumber” talk about ironman is just a cover up and I’m going to go into a full meltdown on race morning.
I know a lot of triathletes have concerns about the swim portion, claiming it as their weakest sport and the thing that causes the most anxiety when it comes to race day. That was never me! I held back and let the crazy swimmers take off, allowing myself a less congested area to swim in and somehow managed to miss most of the head kicking. But now! Now I was just like the rest of the swim-fearing athletes out there!
By my calculations, you can’t pop an Ativan and expect to exercise (successfully) for 16 hours.
I know I can swim 3800M, but just to be sure I decided to do a little research on making life easier. Here are my tips I’ve learned:
- Try swimming with my eyes closed in practice to increase the level of stress and learn how to handle it
- Practice swimming in groups OR
- Hold back in my heat, and let the swimmers fly! Head injuries are avoided in this tip. The only set back is that my swim is fairly strong and I wind up trying to pass some of these people I let get by at the start.
- I must remember that swimming is ~10% of the race. Don’t burn out in the first 1.5 hours of a 15-16 hour race.
- Break the swim into different sections to make is seem more manageable (Via buoys or other sighting tricks)
- Sight every 8-10 strokes
- Get Anti-fog spray for goggles
- Focus on technique – it’s easy to lose all focus on this when things get rolling
- If I can practice in open water, that’s best, 50 M is better and 25M as a last resource.
- Practice swimming with what clothing I’ll be wearing. Don’t forget the anti-chafe glide for the neck!
- I need a strong positive mental focus for those 90 minutes. Something to think about and calm me down. That will go into my Race Day Plan. (More on that as it gets developed).
So, I have lots of advice and I’ve been back in the water twice since my incident. Still not feeling 100%, but moving in the right direction. And I always swim with a buddy, for the record.