General Discussion Triathlon Talk » First Open Water Swim Rss Feed  
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2019-07-12 12:36 PM


Subject: First Open Water Swim
I just joined this forum a few months ago after doing my first sprint pool triathlon in April and loving it. My husband and I do it together as a fun way to challenge ourselves.

I’ll be doing my first open water triathlon tomorrow and I’m super nervous about it. I sadly wasn’t able to do much open water practice. I went twice to practice being comfortable in murky water and getting used to not seeing. But I have a psychological fear of the murkiness, and the coldness that comes from the depth. When I practiced, I wasn’t even able to go close to the ropes (I was at a roped in beach) without freaking out about not being able to see the bottom. I know I can swim, I know I won’t just drown even if I get tired, and I know how to tread water. So this is fully psychological.

Even though I didn’t prepare thoroughly for this, I still want to do it. I decided to do triathlons this year as a way to challenge myself to overcome my fears. But I’m definitely worried about panicking and not finishing.

Any advice or stories of your first open swim (or someone you know) that went much better than expected? I’d love to hear it.

Much appreciated,

2019-07-12 1:20 PM
in reply to: Rissa Chantal

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Highland Park, Illinois
Subject: RE: First Open Water Swim
Try some mental talk. For example, get to the first buyo, then to the second... Make it chunks. Try to occupy your mind with something. I used to sign in my head Frank Sinatra's "Embrace me", and tried to swim into the rhythm of the song. I recently started to count to 1,000. Or go with the whole alphabet, with names for each letter (Adam, Adele, Anna, Bob, Barbara, Bryan, Cecil, Charles, etc...)
2019-07-12 2:46 PM
in reply to: marysia83


Subject: RE: First Open Water Swim
That's great advice!! I will definitely try this. Thank you!!
2019-07-12 3:34 PM
in reply to: #5260788

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Subject: RE: First Open Water Swim
Try to get there early and do some easy warm up strokes to get used to it. If you do find yourself getting anxious, do some sidelying recovery strokes or flip to your back for a few strokes. Keep an eye on the swim caps a little piece ahead of you and remember you’re all in it together.

Most importantly, have fun! I tried to make a point to thank a few of the kayakers as I turned around the buoys. This helped me keep everything in perspective. It’s too easy to put unnecessary pressure on ourselves during the race.
2019-07-15 12:35 PM
in reply to: Rissa Chantal

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Placitas, New Mexico
Subject: RE: First Open Water Swim

Welcome Carissa,

I didn't see this Friday, so I'll ask "How did it go?" and hope it went well for you.  

You are correct that there is a large psychological component.  You are also correct that your psyche doesn't give up easily.  

It can, however, be conditioned into a new direction.  

Assuming you have at least *some* access to open water...

Spend some time meditating on a POSITIVE swim experience.  Break off thoughts that turn negative.  You might, for example, imaging that you're a sea turtle floating along in an island lagoon where you can see the coral and colorful fish swimming around you, a gentle breeze and the sun above you.  Stay positive, and allow the sun to change to overcast, but you're still the sea turtle floating along without a care in the world.  Increase the depth so the coral is now 50' below (still visible).  Allow a little murkiness and maybe some stiffer winds to come into your scene, but continue to focus on your inner sea turtle floating along.  Cement these thoughts into your psyche even before you start driving to the beach.  As soon as you notice a negative thought intruding into your peaceful sea turtle image, stop and regain that positive image.  It may take weeks to push out those negative thoughts and replace them with your serene sea turtle.  

Now you're ready to venture to the beach...keep these positive thoughts on the drive over, as you change into your swimsuit, and as you walk along the water.  

Spend some time implementing that serene sea turtle image.  Float along in the shallow water.  Let the waves push you back towards shore.  Venture out a little further, floating along.  Dive down along the bottom and explore with your hands.  Go out a little further, and notice when you dive down the thermocline (changing temperature).  When was the last time you did an underwater somersault?  Do a couple slow somersaults (and don't worry what other swimmers think).  Practice swimming parallel with the shore in waist deep water then chest deep water.  Swim both directions and practice breathing to the left and to the right (bi-lateral breathing should be practiced in the pool first).  

Little by little, you're making each aspect of that open water experience "normal."  The key is little by little so you can keep those positive images in mind.  You may not do all of these the first time to the open water.  If the images of a sea turtle don't work, pretend you're a river otter playing in the muddy (murky) water and finding pretty pebbles to take home as treasure.  

Years ago, when I was a lifeguard and swim instructor, I used many of these tactics on the kids I was teaching.  I'd show the kids how to overcome some "small" obstacle and then introduce them to the next "small" obstacle.  Often, within 2 weeks, they'd go from not putting their face in the water to jumping off the diving board.  

2019-07-15 12:51 PM
in reply to: Rissa Chantal

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Subject: RE: First Open Water Swim
OMG this was me!

I got into Triathlon to overcome my fear of swimming. I used to be afraid of the deep end of the pool (no, not when I was 4 or 5, I was 50). Just the fact that the pool no longer scares me makes me realize fear is about doing something over and over until you are not scared any longer.

So I finally got used to OWS and then I got sick and had to take a 4 year hiatus. I am back this year and first OWS of the season, I was like you. I got there and was too paralyzed with fear to actually swim.

My husband is also my workout buddy so we went to a nearby lake every Saturday and Sunday for a few weekends. Each time I went, I would go a little further out until I finally went all the way across and back (about 800 yds) and then up to about 2200 yds. So what worked for me was just increasing the distance gradually (by whatever didn't make me panic) until I could actually get some distance in.

I'm not going to lie and tell you I am fish-like now - I find I have to OWS regularly to keep the fear away.

You can do it!!!

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