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.
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)