Open water swimming can be scary, especially when you're new to it. Here are the top five fears, and how to overcome them...
Worry 1: Fear Of The Unknown. None of us like to admit it too freely, but swimming in open water can be pretty scary at times. There’s nothing to hold on to for safety and there are fish, weeds, shopping trollies and goodness knows what else lurking beneath us. It’s certainly a far cry from swimming laps in the local leisure pool.
Tri Coaching Tip: Practice is the best way to build confidence but the use of “cue words” can also help. These are like mantras that you repeat as you swim, examples being “relax”, “breathe”, “control” and “smooth”. Repeat one of these words on each stroke to help you focus on your technique, rather than losing your thoughts to external factors like fish and weeds!
Worry 2: The Water Is Freezing. At UK triathlons you’re allowed to wear a wetsuit if it’s below 22 degrees Celcius. However, the water at early season races is typically between 11 and 14 degrees Celcuis, which can feel pretty icy and unpleasant. Thankfully there are several things you can do to stay warmer.
Tri Coaching Tip: Try wearing two latex swimming hats, or one latex hat and a neoprene one underneath. Then make sure you warm up in the water for at least five minutes before you race. Failing that, we recommend that our triathlon coaching clients splash plenty of cold water over their face and down their wetsuit before the gun goes.
Worry 3: People Swimming Over You Triathlon swim starts are often described as like being stuck in a washing machine. There’s white water everywhere, fists, elbows, feet and no space to move.
Tri Coaching Tip: If you’re really worried about this it’s important to start at the side of the swim-pack. This halves the amount of swimmers around you and gives you space to move into if needed. If you want even more space, swim at a slight diagonal angle away from the pack, turn wide around the first buoy and then rejoin the pack once the swimmers are more spread out. You might end up swimming slightly further, but it’s worthwhile if it quells your fear.
Worry 4: I Haven’t Done Enough Training From a safety point of view, you should make sure you can swim the race distance in a pool before you attempt it in open water on race day. Doing this a couple of weeks beforehand will boost your confidence for race day. That said, if you can swim 1km without stopping, the chances are you can swim 1.5km too. And the good thing about swimming in a wetsuit is that it provides extra buoyancy.
Tri Coaching Tip: So if you feel like you need to stop, simply flip onto your back and float. Raise one arm and a safety canoe should approach you and offer help.
Worry 5: I Get Breathing Difficulties It’s true that cold conditions can make you more prone to breathing issues. Fast race starts and the shock of icy water can cause you to hyperventilate, resulting in quick, shallow panic breaths.
Tri Coaching Tip: If this happens, start breaststroking and move away from the main pack. Eventually your breathing will return to normal. To avoid it happening in the first place you must remember to exhale properly as you swim. When the gun goes off at the beginning of a race, don’t set off at break-neck speed and forget to breathe. Focus on breathing out underwater as if you are sighing. If in doubt, say “bubble, bubble” underwater before you turn your head to breathe each time. We've had great results from our triathlon coaching clients with these tips, hopefully they'll work for you too.