June 24, 2014

Tri Talk Tuesday- Open Water Swimming

Once again it's Tri Talk Tuesday! This week we are discussing the open water swim. Head on over to: CynthiaMiranda and Courtney's blog posts about open water swimming and feel free to link up yours. And while you are over at Courtney's page (Tri Girl Chronicles) leave her some cheer. She just rocked her first Half Ironman!

The open water swim. These words often send chills up and down many triathletes spines. It certainly used to put me on the edge of a panic attack as soon as I put my face in the water. Why? Maybe it's because of certain images I couldn't get out of my mind. 

Like this:

or perhaps spotting this guy:

or it's this fear of being the slow person in the middle of this chaos:

All of which are very good reasons to fear the open water swim. However over the years I have learned a few things that have helped me with my open water anxiety.

  1. Don't panic and control your breathing. It's easy to say however panicking will only raise your heart-rate and hinder your breathing. Close your eyes for a minute and block out all negative things. Tell yourself over and over that you CAN do this and "it's just another pool swim." Take few deep breaths and blow bubbles in the water. This will help calm you down.
  2. Practice in open water as often as you can. Get comfortable with what it feels like to swim in open water, what it looks like through your goggles and what it feels like to swim in a current. These are not the kind of things you want to experience for the first time on race day. Grab a buddy and  practice together. Strength in numbers, right?
  3. Start in the back and off to the side. If you know you are not a strong swimmer and fear the starting line chaos, move over and to the side. Take your time start with the slower swimmers. You are less likely to get trampled and swam over or even kicked in the head (it happens). There is nothing wrong with taking a little extra time to slow down if you are a beginner. A calm and relaxed swim will only make your remaining segments (bike/run) that much more enjoyable. 
  4. Watch where you are going.  Before you jump in the water to race take a look at what side of your body you need to keep the buoys on. Make a mental note and remind yourself often. There is no black line on the bottom guiding you where to go. Practice sighting ahead of time and sight often. Keep the buoys on the correct side and don't rely on swimmers in front of you. Those swimmers could steer you off course and that will just frustrate and cause you to panic.
  5. Get in the water and warm up before the gun goes off. Allow your body to get used to the water before you start swimming, Splash some water on your face and fill your wet suit up with a little water. If you can, do a few strokes or wade around in the deep water to get your blood flowing in your arms.
Do you have a fear of open water swimming? What tips do you have to help calm yourself down?


  1. I used to have a huge fear of open water. I decided to tackle it last year starting in a lake with white sand, then working my way up to the Potomac. I still have some fear, but love OWS now!

  2. The weeds are the worst. I swim in a very clear lake but in some areas there are weeds that I have to swim through. Right now I barely brush them with my hands but as the summer goes on, they'll just get taller. Every time gets a bit easier and when I do start to freak out, I slow down and just concentrate on my stroke.
    The little fish don't startle me anymore but I worry about the day that I see a muskie lurking in the weeds. I saw one roll on the surface both this morning and Sunday morning. I know they'll avoid you but they still freak me out.

  3. Aww, thanks for the love! Great tips too. I always start off to the side. I'd rather have a few extra meters tacked onto my distance than get caught up in the washing machine!

  4. Thanks for the reminder on not following other swimmers and to keep focused on the path we're SUPPOSED to go! Great tips!

  5. I'm pretty sure that picture of the hand reaching for the leg would be one of my worst nightmares in the water. I was doing an OWS the other day by myself in a really clear lake and swam over an area where a lot of trees had been cut down, leaving behind huge stumps and branches. It freaked me out to the point where I had to stop and regroup. It really is a mental game in the water. I completely agree that practice helps significantly!

    1. Ha-ha Kristen! I hate stumps and branches in the water too. Good for you to keep moving along though.