Credit: Free photos from acobox.com
The recent tragic deaths of two triathletes during the New York City Triathlon brings up the fears many novice triathletes have about the open water swim. If the thought of the open water swim gets your heart racing, you’re not alone. Many people feel butterflies when they think about all of the what-ifs that come with the swim:
- What if a water creature touches me?
- What if I get kicked in the face?
- What if I lose my goggles?
- What if I get tired and can’t make it?
Fear is a factor for many during open water swims. It is natural to feel nervous about the swim, especially if you are feeling that it is not your strongest discipline. That feeling of anxiety is meant to help you hone in your focus and prepare for the swim, however, for some the anxiety becomes overwhelming and keeps many people away from triathlon altogether. Here are some tips to get to the start of your triathlon mentally ready for the swim:
Work on your swim skills – The better you feel about your swim skills, the more confident you will be in the water. Get a swim coach. Go to open water swim clinics. Be deliberate about working on your skills and getting more comfortable in the water.
Practice in open water - You wouldn’t show up to your triathlon only having ridden your bike three times in your life – and if you did – you would be pretty nervous about the bike. Same goes for the swim! Take family vacations somewhere with access to open water. Find a kayaking friend to go out for an open water excursion. Find an open water swim group. The more practice you have swimming in the open water, the more confident you will be.
Practice the what-ifs - Take opportunities to practice the potential challenges you will face during the swim. If you are nervous about having people swim close to you – go out with some friends or teammates you trust and practice keeping your cool while they swim all around you. If you are nervous about swimming in choppy water – go out and swim in choppy water (of course – be sure you go with others and make sure the conditions are safe for swimming) or go to your local gym and swim laps during the water aerobics class. (You’d be surprised at how choppy the water gets when there are 20 people jumping around in it!) If you are nervous about losing your goggles, take your goggles off in the water and practice putting them back on. If you’re worried you’ll get tired during the swim, practice rolling onto your back and resting and then rolling back over and getting started again. Anxiety is natural in novel situations. If you take the opportunity to experience these situations before your race you remove the anxiety that comes from experiencing something for the first time.
Choose your focus - Planning for where you want your focus to be helps you to be successful on race day. You wouldn’t show to your race without having done any training and say “Let’s just see how it goes”! Your mental prep is just as important as your physical prep. Where does your focus need to be during the swim in order to feel calm, confident, and in control? What will your mantra be for the swim? Here are some examples:
“Relax and breathe.”
“My stroke is smooth and I’m in control.”
Your mantra can help remind you of where you want to focus and how you want to feel during the swim. It can also help to keep your focus in the moment. Take the time to work on your confidence and mentally prepare for your swim and you ‘ll be ready to sign up for your next race before you hit land!