That Feeling of Panic Swimming in Open Water

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Note…you might also want to read this older post about Fear of Ocean Swimming.

A blog buddy who is doing her first tri at White Lake wrote to me saying…

Ok, are you ready for this, I swam today in Lake Gaston, the water was cool, but do able with the wetsuit, but I had a complete panic attack after i started and really couldn’t get my face in the water. What in the world. It kept taking my breath away and I just couldn’t relax. I made it to the turn around with some real talking with God and the other friend that was in the kayak who by the way talked me through the worst part. Once I turned around and I guess new I was heading home, I could take bout 5-6 strokes and then spot for a second or two and try to start over. Oh my g–! I feel completely unprepared now. I was so confident coming to the water today because of how successful I had been in the pool. Now I have doubts. My transition practice was fine, great actually. But the swim, whoooo weeee. I’m just not sure. I felt great once I got out, not cold or anything, it was just trying to get my face in and relax.
Any thoughts???
Thanks, T.

T. wrote back to me…“I know I can swim the distance, its just a matter of doing it with 900 of your closest friends. Do we start in waves???”

Yes, we start in waves. Each wave will be probably ~150 swimmers! It’s too late to train for this, but one of the things we’ve done at the lake swims is get in each others faces while swimming…ie., purposely bump into each other. You can also swim in a pool with kids and ask them to purposely bump into you while you do laps. That gets you used to the pack.

One thing you can do on race day is to wait 20-30 seconds and then start swimming. Letting everyone else go ahead of you is probably worth the few seconds lost if you are afraid of the pack.

l told her that it was great that she was practicing before her race, so that she didn’t experience that feeling for the first time DURING the race! And what she’s doing is just right – swim a few strokes, stop to get your bearings, then restart! Eventually it will get easier!

I also suggested that she swim breast stroke if she feels uncomfortable putting her face in the water. There’s no rule that says what stroke you have to swim in a triathlon – anything goes. I have even seen people doing backstroke! You are also allowed to hold onto the lifeguard boats and take a rest. As long as you don’t climb into the boat, you can continue your race.

I reminded her that the water in White Lake is much clearer than most lakes, which may make things feel easier than looking down into muddy water. That’s one reason White Lake is a popular race! Hopefully, those tips will help her feel better about next weekend. Sometimes just knowing that your fears are normal helps!

The fact is, it is normal to feel SCARED looking down into murky water and see nothing, and worse, imagine that maybe you see something. It took me a lot of open water swimming to get over that. And I still feel that way sometimes. Luckily, race day excitement prevents me from feeling that way during races.

The photos below clearly show why you feel panic swimming in open water, even if you are completely comfortable swimming in a pool. A picture is worth a thousand words, eh? (click to enlarge)

Underwater shot at the Triangle Sportsplex pool in Hillsborough, NC. Crystal clear blue water with lane lines to follow!
Underwater shot at Eastlake in Chapel Hill. This is the lake I run to when I do my “six mile run to the lake and back”. I carried my underwater camera there this week, just to see what it would capture. Uh, not much!
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Posted in >Swimming
42 comments on “That Feeling of Panic Swimming in Open Water
  1. colleen says:

    I had an almost identical experience to the post below. Wanted to quit less than three minutes into the swim. But I somehow managed to talk myself out of it. Was my first tri (sprint distance) and it really left me defeated. Didn’t practice any open water swims and I regret it as swimming is my weakest event. The stress of the panic attack lasted through the entire race as I was tense, muscles aching from just trying any which way to finish the swim. Hate that feeling of doubt where I thought, I’m just going to stick to running from now on. But I want to keep trying, thank you for posting your experiences!!

  2. chris says:

    I just did my first sprint tri and totally freaked. I didn’t listen to people warning me about this. The wetsuit felt tight, couldn’t get enough air, getting kicked and grabbed and couldn’t calm down to put my face in the water. Plus, it drained me for the rest of the tri. My run was slow but I cramped up. I should’ve done some open swims and will if I ever do this again. It was so bad I think I may stay with running! Although I hope not, I did better on the bike than I thought and if I could get comfortable with the swim I might feel better about my times, never panicked like that before, gosh I used to surf all the time in a full suit in the winter. Glad to know I’m not alone.

  3. Steve (Columbus, OH) says:

    @Susan – I can relate to your situation. Last year I did three triathlons; panicked during the swim in the first two and dropped out of the swim in the third. This year I did one triathlon and had a great swim, even did a negative split. I spent A LOT of time in the lake preparing. I started by simply standing in the water, bending at the waist so my head was in position to rotate in and out of the water to model the motion used to breathe. I had trouble breathing out under water and spending several minutes “warming up” that way helped my confidence.
    I also attended a clinic where we practiced a mass start. It really helped to be in a small group with no pressure or high expectations, like on race day. After that clinic I went back to the lake and practiced my start into the water AND exiting the water. I even practiced being fast and intense into the water, swimming about 50-75 yds, then settling into my rhythm. Understanding how YOU handle going from chaos and panic to calm and rhythm before you even step into the water can make a big difference.
    As for the pool, I tried to visualize the lake; picturing the murky water and even small fish swimming by me. My confidence grew when I started being more comfortable picturing the lake while being in the pool instead of needing to picture the pool while being in the lake.

    Best of luck to you as you prepare. Let us all know how well you do!


  4. Susan says:

    Hello all. I just googled “overcoming panic in open water.” I am in a desperate state! My first tri (Olympic distance) is in 13 days and I have now done 3 open water swims to prepare. Let me say that I can swim a mile in the pool and it is very relaxed and FINE.

    I have gone to a sports psychologist. I have meditated and prayed and talked positive things in the water. But every time I go in, I get this short of breath feeling, I HAVE to flip on my back or else if worse comes to worse hang on a kayak (humiliating) until I get my breath again. It is a raggedy, wheezy, death rattle (bronchospasm??) kind of strangled breath. I really feel like I am dying. By the time I get through tons of back floating and trying to CALM the hell down, everyone else is out of the water. This is so upsetting to me. I KNOW I can do it physically but somehow my mind has got me so messed up. I’d appreciate any suggestions.

  5. Patty says:

    I just finished my first tri today. I had practiced swimming more than anything else, and was up to 60 laps in 40 minutes. The problem I had today at the tri, was that I couldn’t catch my breath during the lake swim. I also gulped a mouthful of yucky lake water. I ended up doing breast stroke with my head above the water for most of the race, since I couldn’t seem to get enough air. I would like to know why this happened to me? Does anyone know? And, I would love to learn how to avoid it from happening in the future. The swim should not have been a problem for me. Had it not been for the breath issue, I think I might have enjoyed it. Thanks!

  6. Gretchen S says:

    I wanted to add a few comments to my earlier post about my game plan for my sprint tri next weekend. I’m going to wear clear not tinted anti-fog goggles, even though sun-glare may be an issue, it’s better than feeling like I’m swimming in the dark.
    Also, I’m going to get more wetsuit practice; I’m going to swim today in the pool with the wetsuit on so I can get a better feel for it. If I just can’t tolerate swimming with it, then I’ll do the race with just the trisuit. I have never liked any swim suits that are too tight around my shoulders, so it makes sense that a wetsuit zippered up the back of my neck wouldn’t give me warm fuzzies.
    Also, I remember the taste of the lake water seemed to add to my panic for some reason; I’m going to make sure to go ahead and taste some, even get a good gulp of it prior to the start of the race. It’s not a bad taste, bland and without the familiar chlorine, just very different from pool water. Since the race is on Sunday, I have plans for another open water camp on Saturday and this time I will make myself swim that entire course at least twice so that my freaky-deaky issues will come out of the closet and hopefully be conquered! Water is my friend and I won’t let myself feel betrayed; I’m still a strong swimmer. I’m pretty sure that with some equipment modification/tweaks as described, things will be much better.

  7. Gretchen S says:

    Thank you everyone for your stories; it makes me feel better to know that I’m not alone. Yesterday, I did my first sprint tri in Denver. Swimming was supposed to be my forte! I can swim a half mile in the pool in under 13 minutes! I even went to an open water training camp and thought it would take me 15 minutes tops in the open water course. Wrong!
    Immediately after starting the swim, someone kicked me on the side of my wetsuit bootie and it filled with water. It felt like an anchor. My breathing became ragged and I realized I was gasping. I didn’t even swallow any water; I remember hearing myself dragging air in and couldn’t believe I was making all that noise. As others described, the wetsuit began to feel like a vise around my neck, even though I had on a shortie sleeveless. I tried to resort to breaststroke, but couldn’t keep my face in the water, so was kind of bobbing and frog-kicking along. My tinted goggles added to that closed-in feeling, so I positioned them on top of my head. I just did the whole swim alternating between semi-breast stroke as described, with something like a side-stroke which seemed to be faster and still kept my head out of the water. I’ve never even side-stroked before in my entire life; what in the world was that?! Majorly humbling experience!

  8. Laura says:

    I had this exact problem last week at the DC tri. Could not catch my breath, felt totally panicked. I had done the tri last year and it was fine, and I had been training. Even on the bike I couldn’t take deep breaths and when they took my oxygen levels, they said I was at 81 (instead of the normal 96-100). I had to quit after the bike because the medics thought it was too dangerous to continue and I still couldn’t breath well. They think I aspirated water (went down the wrong pipe, into my lungs), which caused a “bronchospasm,” meaning I couldn’t get oxygen. I don’t remember swallowing water, but the beginning of a tri is always chaotic. I’m relieved to hear I’m not alone, but I’m nervous it will happen again.

  9. pj says:

    Thank you guys for all the comments. Just did my first sprint tri this weekend. Swimming was my weak spot any way and when I tried to freestyle with my face down, same thing, panic attack like I was closed in. I also did the breast and back stroke and as a matter of fact, part of it was over a sand bar and I just walked ha! That part of the tri was terrible but over quick. I kicked some bootie running to the transition, biking and running though. I guess from now own I will do the breast stroke in the pool and just get stronger that way. Heck with the face in the dark water 🙂

  10. Great post Carol! It is normal to feel a bit panicy (if that is a real word) in your first open water swim. Especially if you don’t normally swim with a bunch of people, or in a pool, or don’t swim in a wetsuit. Getting in a wetsuit doesn’t feel natural and is constrictive, then having to dela with 50-60 sets of feet and arms, and then murky water is very nerve wracking the first few times. If the water is very cold, you might even find it is hard to get into a normal breathing rhythm. I started hyper ventallating my 3rd race in 56 degree water every time I put my face in. I second Carol’s advise. I tried to stay calm and breaststroked until I could get my breathing under control. Don’t worry it happens to alot of us from time to time and you have two more legs to make up for any issues you have on the swim.

  11. txrunnermom says:

    Yep, I had the same experience at my 1st OWS. Fortunately, I had great friends who made me try it again and with their help, learned to calm down in the open water and just swim!

  12. Michael says:

    A friend of mine was a collegiate swimmer, went to swim his first triathlon (750 meters) in a lake and had the very same experience. The best way to over come that panic and everything that comes along with it is, as soon as you feel that onslaught of panic, is to stop and tread water, let other swimmers go past you. Take as many deep breaths as you need, start to swim a few strokes at an easy pace, stop again if you need to. Try not to do any other stroke other than your normal swim. Eventually you will get into a rythem, stay slow, go easy and within a few minutes you will be catching your breath and swimming. Its key to go at your pace, not a race pace if you’re in a panic.

  13. Todd says:

    Experienced same thing last Oct. After a few adjustments, my next experience was much better. 1) Let the pack go. I let the
    whole group ( 45-49) get out 20 yrds ahead. No people around.
    2) recited Psalm 21..a word for every right hand entry. This is usually good for about 350 yrds in pool. Helped me achieve a rhythm. 4 of these and i was out of the water. 3) Got a sleeveless. The freedom of mobility greatly lessened the constricted feeling. Water was 63, but felt fine after just a bit. ( and cuts transition time) good Luck

  14. Sean Beaty says:

    Just did my first triathlon (sprint, Pumkinman Las Vegas) today and had a similar experience to what has been described here as a panic attack. I was about 200 m into the swim when I became very short of breath with severe chest tightness. I just could not get a deep breath and felt like ripping of my wetsuit off. I was about to call for help, given my severe sense of impending doom. However, I was able to calm myself . I did finish with combination of breast stroke and back stroke. But wow, i was really in shock as my pool training went great…. I did one practice session in the lake and had no problems. Next time, I will be sure to get more practice in open water. Also, I did not do a warm-up which I think was also a big mistake. Thanks to all for the comments and suggestions. Good to know that this is not an uncommon problem.

  15. Linda Naticchioni says:

    Just completed the Long Beach Tri and had a horrific swim – had been practicing for months and could not make the transition from pool to ocean well at all. Should have trained in the ocean prior and didn’t – big mistake. Had to pull myself out and was so disappointed. It is such a different experience from even doing a swim in a lake – no current. This time it was so difficult and I could never get a rhythm or even put my face in the water. Anyway – I will keep trying but may only do them if in lake conditions. I love the competition but wonder if I’m cut out for the ocean swim. Ugghh!

  16. Steven Poast says:

    I (like many) am comforted by the comments posted on this blog. I just completed my second triathlon today (Cincinnati Triathlon). It was my second triathlon, my first was in May. Both were sprints. I have competed and placed in several duathlons over the years, but wanted to make the switch to triathlon for the hope of completing an Ironman. Today, just like in May, I felt that sense of panic in the water, of course this one was in the Ohio river, so that alone was rough. Today I realized it’s the idea of breathing out underwater that panics me. I can swim 2+ miles in the pool, breathing with no problems, even trying to make it harder to prep for race situations. Yeah, that doesn’t work. Next weekend I’m going to my parents farm to practice in their pond just to get a grip on breathing in the “murky” water.
    Thanks to all of you for being open about your experiences in the water.

  17. Rose says:

    I’m new here! Holy heck, I can relate! Fear of open water swimming surmounts my fear of swimming in general. I’m finally improving at swimming, but my first time in the ocean was terrifying. It was clear and I could see fish, shapes, kelp, etc… There’s no cure but practice and a zen like heavy handed lid on that fear! It makes me feel better to know I’m not alone though 😉

  18. carol says:

    Hi Rick,

    Thanks for your comment. You are certainly not alone, as this blog post is my most frequently commented post ever! You did a great job getting through that swim despite your panic, so kudos to you! Maybe you need to do some open water training, if you can find a group or good spot, give that a try. It took me a year of doing open water swim training once a week before I really felt comfortable in open water (looking down in the murkey water really freaked me out for a long time).

    Good luck!

  19. Rick Partlow says:

    I did my first open water swim in my first triathlon, a sprint, back in fall of 09. It was tough and I almost panicked at the end, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.
    Then I did my second sprint this June, 2010 and my goggle strap broke about a minute before the start of my wave. My wife managed to fix it but by the time I got in, my pulse was up, my breath was ragged and I was already shaky. Then I got stuck behind some slow swimmers before the first turn and one kicked me in the face and knocked my goggles off. I grabbed the buoy and hung on to fix them, but that was it: I was panicking.
    The lifeguard threw me a float, but it took me a good three minutes to calm down enough to continue. What should have been a sub-9 minute swim wound up being 12:30 and left me with a dread of going back in the open water.

  20. Robb Johnstone says:

    I used to read comments like these and think “what a bunch of newbs!” Today I am completely humbled and I totally understand. Last weekend, I had a panic attack 100 metres into an Olympic swim. No breath. Tightness in the chest. Dizziness. Fear. All of it. I am a strong swimmer (was expecting 25 minutes) but this was a new feeling – after 5 Olympic distances and 2 Half Ironmans with no problem! I floated for a few minutes and then just swam breast for the remainder. Got out of the water disoriented and weak as a kitten at 36 minutes. Weird. I think it was the cold Canadian water, the congestion (I started over-kicking to get rid of a guy who kept grabbing my feet) and lack of open water prep. Probably over-confidence too. I am going to get out to cold water lakes more this summer, work on calming myself, do a more thorough pre-swim warmup, and experiment with sleeveless wetsuits. Good luck to all of you. I can now sympathize!

  21. Dave says:

    Thanks for telling your stories. I am training for my first 1/2 ironman coming up in two weeks. All the training in the pool cannot prepare you for the possible panic attacks that open water swims can bring. I have been in the open water twice now with two weeks to go before my first race. I get freaked out by anything touching me in the water so I need to learn to control my fears. Knowing I’m not alone really helps. My trainer tells me to get into my own head space and just relax. Get out of the way of the pack and try to stay off to the side. Just focus on finishing the swim and then you can pass people on the bike and run for the rest of the day. Good luck to everyone and don’t ever give in to this fear. It is just another demon that needs to be tamed to become an ironman.

  22. Amy says:

    Oddly enough, I am actually releived to read the stories posted here. I had my first practice in OW on Saturday, my first TRI is this coming weekend. I felt slightly nervous as I stood in the water, but nothing more anxious than when I stand at the start of a distance race. When I got going in the water, I completely panicked. I put my face in the water to start my swim, gasped for breath and took in water. I tried doing the breast stroke, but it seemed that every time I put my face in the water I freaked out and took in a big gulp of lake water. I tooughed it out for 500 meters and sadly asked to be taken out of the water. I was so disappointed in myself. I have never quit anything before. I thought my training would pull me through, but I just kept having mini panic attacks. Thank you all for sharing your stories.

  23. Jason says:

    I completed a couple of sprint and olympic triathlons two years ago and, after taking two years off, competed in another olympic triathlon yesterday. I had what could best be described as a panic attack about 200 meters into the swim. I was nervous and couldn’t catch my breath. I’m not a very strong swimmer but have no problem completing 1,600 meters in the pool and had never had this feeling when doing triathlons and training a couple of years ago.

    Thanks to the folks who posted previous messages to this website, I now have a plan to prevent or overcome this in the future. First, unlike this year, I will make sure I get in a good amount of open water swim practice before the event. I failed to do that this year (assuming that it wouldn’t be a problem since I was doing well in the pool and had never had a problem in open water before). Second, if I experience the “panic” feeling again, I will keep in mind that I can just float or tread water until it passes. Third, I will have a back-up stroke to use if I can’t overcome the feeling. My time will suffer, but I’ll get through the event (it isn’t like I was going to win the thing anyways).

    Thanks for the advice and good luck with your training and events.

  24. Amy P. says:

    I had a similar experience in a “practice” for an olympic distance race I will be doing in a few weeks.
    First time in open water – swimming out and back in an arch shape with nothing good to sight – 1400m. Bad situation.
    First 10-15 strokes were fine – then couldn’t catch my breath. Sounds like you all know the drill.
    I floated on my back, caught my breath…flipped over and did a few strokes. Repeated this process several times.
    I found treading water and looking around to get my bearings helped more than lying on my back feeling disoriented.
    I noticed that I felt more panicky when I swallowed some water, or got out of my rhythm.
    I got through the second half of the swim much easier after realizing I needed to relax and concentrate on my breathing and form. Staying in my rhythm was hard to do when I incorporated sighting into my breathing.
    Rationalizing that I know how to swim well and swallow water all the time in the pool made me feel better.
    Since sighting seemed to break up my rhythm, my plan is to practice that in the pool and then out in open water.
    I think learning a proficient back up stroke is a great idea also – it can be kind of a mental security blanket.
    We have trained for it – we can do it – its ALL mental at that point and thats what I kept reminding myself and finished decently.

  25. Alix says:

    I had the same experience. I did my 1st tri this weekend and it was a bad expereince. My first 50 meters was great until (1) I had to pass someone and (2) someone had 2 pass me. I completely freaked out! I also had to do the breast to get going. I also could not put my face in the water. Sooooo disappointed!

  26. Chris Jones says:

    I just finished my third mini tri yesterday and my swim leg is getting worse! I want to do the full distance but freak out over the swim. In the pool I’m fine. I can swim 1.5/2kms non-stop freestyle and walk out feeling great. Yesterday, in the race, I couldn’t do one stroke of freestyle, that’s right, not ONE stroke; I ended up breaststroking the whole way. Whenever I put my face in the water I just feel claustrophobic and panic. I feel like I have no air in me. I’m going to try a few things to overcome it. 1. Swim without goggles and close eyes when head in water and only open when breathing to side. Goggles allow you to see underwater which is okay in a pool but freaky in a brown muddy river. 2. Stay well away from the pack! 3. Swim easy, concentrating on breathing not on all the confusion. Time will tell if it works!

  27. Mary J says:

    I appreciate reading about others’ experiences. I am a real newbie, but I really love it and want to stick with it.

  28. Mary J says:

    I feel devasasted today, but not alone as I read all of this. I had my first TRI this am, and could not finish the swim. I am a really strong pool swimmer, and this was my first time in open water – the Gulf of Mexico – the water was calm and perfect, but I could not breathe, my wet suit felt like it was too tight in my chest and I kept having coughing fits in the water (I am on antibiotics and decongestents for bronchitis and strep throat.) When I came out of the water, I felt completely worn and exhausted, and could do no more. I am supposed to do my first olympic tri in a few weeks (in Tampa Bay) but now I am scared. I SO want to do this!!!! Maybe I should wait till my bronchitis is better?? Or maybe that had nothing to do with it?? Maybe I just panicked? Maybe it was both. I feel crushed.

  29. jeff says:

    Just finished my first open water swim (1,500 Meter race). I have been swimming between 1,000 – 2,000 meters in a pool a couple times/week for about a year. I am so relaxed in a swimming pool, that I can otentimes go 5 strokes per breath with no problem. Five minutes into my first open water swim and I completely panicked. Yikes, what an aweful feeling. Ended up swimming 90% of the race on my back … and then left calf cramped with about 300 meters to go. Long story, short … I’m going to get some professional training in open water for a few months before going for an open water Sprint or Olympic. Best of luck to all of you.

  30. michael says:

    I just finished the Nation’s Triathlon (Olympic) in DC yesterday. I have trained in open water (flat and choppy) swimming 1500m or more with ease. I wear a HR Monitor and my normal HR is 135-140 for swims (aerobic pace). Yesterday I started out fine for about 7 minutes and then something changed – I may have gotten taken in some water, someone kicked me, etc… and I completely blew up!! It was impossible to breathe… like others describe here… panic feeling and unable to catch my breath… unable to return to a smoothe stroke/rhythm. I flipped onto my back and did backstroke for almost the entire remainder of the swim (1200 meters). It was a disaster! When I look at the HR data I spiked right up to 160 bpm and at one point was at 168bpm… way to high for a sustained aerobic swim.

    I don’t know what caused this. It happened once in a Sprint as well but with that shorter distance it wasn’t so devastating. After this one I felt really tired and struggled through the rest of the day (oh, I had a blowout on the bike too… rode in a herniated tire!!).

    Any advice on how to recover from this type of blowup and return to normal pace swim? I would like to do longer distance but not unless I can get out of these freakouts. Thank you.

  31. dan says:

    today was my first open water competition, I trained for 2 hours in the pool without holding on to the sides 2 days earlier & beyond , this was supposed to be a 30 min event (1mile)3 minutes into my swim I told a lifeguard that i was done.Can you believe all this physical training went out the door becouse a panic attack . i’ll have a xanax next time!

  32. David Mark says:

    I did my first triathlon today. I did lots of training in the lake where it was held. It went smoothly and I was comfortable.

    Today, about 100 yards into the race I started to be short of breath. The water was choppy from swimmers and someone behind me had hit me what seemed like a dozen times.

    I pulled out of the pack, treaded for a couple of minutes and swam alone for the rest of the swim. It is several hours after the race and I think my chest is still tight. (Normal pulse rate, no panic).


  33. Tracy says:

    It is comforting to see others struggle also. I had my first OWS this last weekend and it was a complete and utter failure. I was sick on decongestants and could not catch my breath. I don’t know if that had anything to do with it or I just freaked out??? I am dumbfounded. I swam a mile in the pool just 4 days before and was gassed 150 yards into the 500 yard swim. I have practiced my OWS on probably 5 different occasions at a local lake with very little problems. This time though, I couldn’t get into a rhythmn, when I flipped onto my back to catch my breath I got light headed and dizzy. It was horrible. Since then my plan is to spend 5 days swimming instead of 2 to 3. Spend more time in open water and learn a recovery stroke (back stroke and/or breast stroke) just to get by if it happens again. Very deflating but good to know it is fairly normal for both new and experienced swimmers. To all of you out there I will make you a deal. I won’t quit if you don’t!!!!! Challenge is why we picked up the sport in the first place, this is just one I didn’t figure I would encounter….. Good Luck to all and thanks for you posts, they are reassuring to me and give me hope that others have overcame it so I will too. Heartfelt Thanks!

  34. Lou says:

    I just finished my first triathlon today(sprint) and I can’t believe how bad the swim went. It’s good to read similar experiences, 100 yards in and I felt like my wetsuit was too tight and just couldn’t catch my breath or put my face in the water. I made it through mostly on my back. I guess I need more open water training to get me over this.

  35. BTS says:

    Sue, I am training for my first 70.3 ironman (april 2009) and my first full ironman (aug 2009). I did my first triathlon 3 weeks ago and my 2nd one yetserday. I completely panicked both times. I have swam the same course in non-race conditions and did not panic one time. I also absolutely could not put my face in the water. I tried the breaststroke but it seemed way too slow. i resorted to the back stroke for almost the entire swim except for the last 100m when i could see the finish and just gutted it out. If anyone has any tips please respond. I can get through a 500m open water swim with backstroke but i don’t think i can do it for 2000m or 4000m for that matter.

  36. JohnM says:

    Similar experience to Amanda, was hoping to make a tri in a couple of weeks, but have not trained for swimming for a couple of years, and never in open water. Got 50 yards out from shore and panicked, then felt like I couldn’t catch my breath in the wetsuit. Scary!
    Any helpful tips on how to overcome this would be greatly appreciated! 🙂

  37. Amanda says:

    My first tri is in two weeks and I just tried my first open water swim today by myself. What was I thinking? Around two minutes after I started I had a panick attack. How do you mentally prepare yourself for this swim? Floating on my back seemed to help a little bit, but overall it was a very frightening experience.

  38. Sue says:

    I did an Ironman last year with no problem I am now doing shorter swims and guess what? I panic. I did an Olympic while sick and on decongestant medicine (not good) and I am now doing just a sprint distance and not sick but I went for an open water this morning with my girlfriend and panicked again. Once I realaize it’s not that bad and you REALLY need to exhale while under water, you can do it.

  39. rich o. says:

    I had the open water panic attack today as well. I am training for my first triathlon this weekend. I had done the open water practice swim last week with no real issues. Made it through the whole course. Today, for some reason I started panicking about a quarter of the way through the course. I floated on my back for a couple of minutes while I calmed down and caught my breath, then decided to swim back to shore feeling completely defeated. I plan to do the practice swim once more before race day. At least I panicked now before the race. Just wanted to throw my two cents in for those others reading this getting ready to do a tri this summer.

  40. caitlin says:

    i just experienced my first open water swim panic attack today. This after having two prior triathlons with no such problem and starting the race with alot of confidence and postivity….it was quite a strange feeling. Like i just had to get out of the water. i got myself to the side and stood up, breathing until i felt comfortable again and was able to get back into the race and swim just fine for most of the course.

  41. Bob Little says:

    I had a panic problem my first open water swim–which was in a race. I ran out of breath by going to fast and my mind just started screaming that I didn’t have the support of the pool to protect me. I used the backstroke for two minutes to get past it. I did some open water practice swims and some mental exercises and have not had a repeat.

  42. lydia flynn says:

    this is lydia grandma says she wants the youtube of you and the bike race in clear water. thank you!!


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