General Discussion Triathlon Talk » First tri swim disaster Rss Feed  
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2013-06-02 9:02 AM


Subject: First tri swim disaster
So did my first tri this weekend. A mini-sprint with a short 400yd open water swim. I routinely swim 1600-2400yds in the pool. Well, 100 yds out and I am freaking out. Got hit a few times, couldn't find a rhythm, couldn't breath, and went to the backstroke. Finished the rest of the race on my back. Felt great on the bike and ok on the run. Just looking for advice. I live very close to a lake, so I will practice open water swimming at least once a week for the rest of the summer. Just wondering if this happens to other people their first time.


2013-06-02 9:24 AM
in reply to: #4763936

Subject: RE: First tri swim disaster
Felt the same about my first race! Maybe going too hard? Probably not going race pace enough in training. At least in my case.
2013-06-02 9:29 AM
in reply to: nogoodjr

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Subject: RE: First tri swim disaster
First OWS for me was a sprint tri. It was a wave start, so I only got clunked a couple times and that didn't bother me. What freaked me out was that part of the water was shaded and I couldn't make myself put my face into the black water. I tried, but I couldn't breathe. I had to stop and get my act together treading water for probably 15 seconds, but I still couldn't do it. I resorted to breast stroke until I got back into the sun, and from then on, I was fine. I started OWS practice very shortly after that With practice, the overcast HIM didn't bother me at all, so it was just an issue of familiarity for me. With luck and practice, your next swim will take place face down

As for getting hit and crowds: my little sister and I both did IMFL this past year. We started side by side, but she disappeared pretty quickly. Afterward, she said she got hit and kicked repeatedly throughout the swim. I decided that this was my first and I was going to be reasonable and enjoy the swim and kill myself later. I got hit once, by a guy who actually paused to say "sorry!" and I replied "no worries". The difference in our swim times over the 2.4 miles was about 1:30. Draw your own conclusions about the benefits and disadvantages of being aggressive vs. seeking open water.
2013-06-02 11:08 AM
in reply to: #4763948

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Subject: RE: First tri swim disaster
I did my 4th OWS in my 1st Olympic tri yesterday and had a similar experience, from the start to maybe the first buoy I panicked every time I put my face in the water and would suddenly feel like I hadnt/couldnt breath. Not sure why I've done 2 sprints in the exact same water without that problem ( the water was very cold most agreed after that they couldnt feel their feet during the swim, maybe that had some impact?) . Took a minute at the buoy to go backstroke: refocus, catch my breath and calm myself. After that I was able to go back to freestyle and found a good rythem. I am going to be making an effort to get to the reservoir more this summer.
2013-06-02 2:51 PM
in reply to: nogoodjr


Subject: RE: First tri swim disaster
I go through the same thing EVERY TIME. I have yet to master that open water swim. I have done multiple sprints and an olympic. Once I'm out of the water I'm good to go.
2013-06-02 3:12 PM
in reply to: nogoodjr

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Central France
Subject: RE: First tri swim disaster
You are not alone. Happened to me in my first tri (and the only one I've done so far in open water). I panicked about 75 meters out. Too many people and cold water and I just couldn't get my breathing straight. I seriously thought about quitting then and there. But I kept on swimming and decided to swim away from the pack for a bit. It really helped - that and telling myself that I didn't get up at 5am after 4 months of training to wimp out 2 minutes into the swim. I got control of my stroke and my breathing, got back into the pack and swam fine for the last 300 meters.
For me it's the number of people that gets me. I've learned to take advantage of the really crowded swim lanes at my pool in the summer because they mimic (somewhat) an OWS. When you've got two people passing on your left and one or two coming at you on the other side of the lane, you will get whacked, pushed under, etc. a few times. It's good practice.

2013-06-02 3:52 PM
in reply to: jaja63

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Subject: RE: First tri swim disaster
I'm two for two in swim fails...the first wasn't too bad... a mini sprint and i happily did head-up front crawl for the 350m. The last one was last weekend... cold water, first time in a wetsuit and total panic attack for the 750m of misery. Ended up half back crawl, half head-up front-flail. Especially disappointing as I have zero issues in the pool. It was exhausting for sure! Just going to keep at it and try to get a few no-pressure practice swims in before the next event. I have no other options for now! GOOD LUCK!
2013-06-02 4:14 PM
in reply to: pilot_e

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Salt Lake City
Subject: RE: First tri swim disaster
Happened to me on my first Tri as well.

For most people, your first swim is about surviving. After you get it out of the way it becomes much easier.
2013-06-02 4:45 PM
in reply to: JZig

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Canyon, Texas
Subject: RE: First tri swim disaster
With any new discipline, there are growing pains, I think it is part of the evolution of becoming a seasoned triathlete; and hats off to those that swim well. The important thing is getting the experience under your belt, making adjustments and finding applied training improvements. I did the same in my first OWS, 1,000m in 37mins. The second, a month later in same lake, I felt much more comfortable, although I did do about half on my back, 2,000m in 59mins. I'm still learning to relax without being able to monitor my form or progress... at this point, I'm learning to just count my strokes to keep my mind occupied. Keep at it.
2013-06-02 6:32 PM
in reply to: nogoodjr

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Extreme Veteran
Detroit, Michigan
Subject: RE: First tri swim disaster
Oh, yes. My first two triathlons I panicked on the swim and had to finish with backstroke. Even the tri I did last weekend, my seventh, I started to feel panic coming on during the swim and had to give myself a tough-love pep talk.

There's no good answer except get out in the open water and practice. What also works for me is to get in the water before each race, swim out deeper than I can touch, and just put my face in the water, play around, try a few different strokes, etc. Then by the time the race starts I have nothing left to be afraid of (hopefully!).
2013-06-02 6:39 PM
in reply to: 0

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The Woodlands, TX
Subject: RE: First tri swim disaster
If at all possible, get in the water and swim some on race day. This will help a lot! It's not a question of being able to swim the distance, sounds like you can do that easily. It's really more about anxiety management.

I had an experience very similar to yours during my first tri, except I only managed 20 or 30 seconds of "swimming" before I was on my back sculling my way around the course.

But.....the first race was the worst, and every race after that has been more comfortable. For me, some warm-up at the venue helps a lot. The other thing that will help until you're more comfortable with people swimming so close to you is to start at the very back and give the pack a 20 or 30 second lead before you take off. This should give you time by yourself to calm down and get into a rhythm before you encounter other people.

The one other thing that helps me during the initial part of the swim is to focus on the exhale. In retrospect, that's what forced me onto my back.....I wasn't exhaling, so when I rolled for a breath, my lungs were too full to actually breathe.

Edited by g_shotts 2013-06-02 6:41 PM

2013-06-02 7:17 PM
in reply to: g_shotts


Subject: RE: First tri swim disaster
exactly same thing happened to me. I agree with most of the others. I think the cold water and the tight wetsuit are mostly to blame and also what you have to get used to. get in and definitely do some swimming before your wave is called. get your lungs and body used to the cold. good luck
2013-06-02 7:39 PM
in reply to: nogoodjr

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Saint Paul, MN
Subject: RE: First tri swim disaster
I had similar issues today in my first Tri. The last four months I worked in the pool to get comfortable with bilateral breathing. It is pretty much second nature now in the pool. Though today in the lake I just couldn't get in a rhythm. I went right back to breathing on one side, and every time I got into a rhythm I got kicked or hit. I chalked it up to my first OWS. I assume it will get a little better in my next one next weekend.
2013-06-02 8:47 PM
in reply to: jlruhnke

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Extreme Veteran
, Connecticut
Subject: RE: First tri swim disaster
Scary as I'm not even a strong swimmer in the pool!
2013-06-02 10:35 PM
in reply to: nogoodjr

Subject: RE: First tri swim disaster
Its like riding with clipless pedals, everyone falls. First OWS, everyone panics. Some make it through it and finish, some don't. The second race goes much better.

2013-06-02 11:08 PM
in reply to: ziggie204

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Extreme Veteran
Hollister, CA
Subject: RE: First tri swim disaster
Ugh. Sorry. Happened to me too... Still happens about every other race. Don't let it stop you from doing longer races! OWS should be incorporated into training... I've yet to do that too.

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