Calming open-water swim nerves

by The Coaches on June 18, 2009

38389387_5ff1bf310f_oThe open-water swim can be an anxious time for triathletes especially for those new to the sport.  Below are some pointers to help develop a swim strategy and alleviate some of those pre-race nerves

Prior to your first race, try and practice open-water swimming in a lake or the ocean.  In the interests of safety, always have at least one partner who stays close.  Practice sighting (every fifth stroke or so) on a fixed object so that you swim in a straight line. Typical landmarks include trees, piers, tall buildings etc..

Create a pre-race warm-up routine.  We suggest warming up in the water for 5-10 mins prior to the start.  During this time, concentrate on your form and breathing.  If possible, use this time to identify a good sighting point for the first stretch of the swim.

Position yourself for a calm swim.  If you remain on the outer edges of the pack, you will avoid the relative mayhem that occurs in the center.

Nobody wants to actually bump, knock or contact other swimmers.  In mass starts some inevitably happens but remember, nobody is out to get you.

Some bumping can occur at the first turnaround buoy as athletes all converge on the same point.  To avoid this, give the buoy a 5-10 yrd clearance…it will add a few seconds to your swim but you’ll avoid contact and maintain your rhythm which will probably save your more time in the long run.  Position yourself on the right of the pack at the start if the course is counter-clockwise and on the left if clockwise…this will make it easier.

Practice breathing at different intervals in the pool; every second, third, fourth and even fifth strokes.  This gets you used to varying your breathing pattern.  During the actual swim start, you might want to breathe every second stroke, which will help prevent shortness of breath and also reduce the initial feeling of constriction that can sometimes be felt when wearing a wetsuit.  Once you’re settled and underway, resort to your normal breathing pattern.   Sometimes a wave or another competitor may interfere with your normal breath…having practiced different breathing patterns will ensure that you can quickly adapt on the next breath.

If the nerves are getting to you, remember an occasion where you were swimming comfortably in open-water.  Try and recall the sensations you felt, sounds, sights etc..  You can also count your strokes or focus on one aspect of your form.  By focussing in this way you will distract your mind away from any race anxiety and give it something positive to concentrate on.

There is no penalty for stopping.  There will be boats, kayaks or surfboards scattered along the course.  Find one of these to hang onto for a little while if you feel the need.

Remember, you can’t win the race in the swim and relative to the other events, it’s the shortest component.  Try not to rush the swim and you’ll remain calm and set yourself up well for the bike and run.

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