There’s no reason for you to be afraid of the deep 

By Fabi Carino | Photo by Tim Marshall/Unsplash

The swim leg of a triathlon is the biggest challenge for any triathlete. Surveys reveal that an average of at least 30 to 52 percent of participants (60 percent of which are women) in a given event have expressed anxiety with thoughts of drowning and fears of getting kicked or hit inducing panic.

Panic attacks are often intense shortly after they begin, and usually last no more than a few minutes. The symptoms include hyperventilation, pain in the chest, feelings of extreme fatigue, actual physical trembling, lightheadedness, mental confusion, and a desire to just flee the current situation. To complicate matters, a triathlete experiencing a panic attack may not be aware that the sensations he is feeling are caused by anxiety or fear.

Here are several tips I have learned from personal experience to get over your fear of the open water:

Before the Event
  1. Practice makes permanent. There are no shortcuts to being an efficient swimmer. You just have to keep on swimming and do it at least thrice a week and schedule open-water trips once a month. Start using a rescue can and slowly wean from it as you gain confidence.
  2. Get a swim coach so you have a solid program of drills for efficient swimming. This will help lower your heart rate, which lessens your chances of a panic attack.
  3. Simulate a mass start with your team to mimic the cluster effect. Get used to the kicks and bumps that normally happen in the beginning. Maintain your focus throughout.
  4. Swim using a tempo trainer to train your mind to move at a steady pace. My coach normally sets a tempo between 1.3 – 0.8 strokes per minute depending on your individual goal.
  5. Visualization. Defined as the act or power of anticipating that which will or may come to be. Obtain a copy of the race course and take a minute a day to imagine yourself swimming, knowing what to do in stressful situations and completing it successfully.
  6. Nourish yourself at least two hours before the race. Do not feed yourself with anything new which may upset your stomach. Avoid caffeine overdose to avoid increased heart rate and hyperventilation.
During the Event
  1. Warm up for at least 10 minutes before the actual swim leg.
  2. Look for a good position, either from the side or the back. Wait and allow the faster swimmers to go ahead by at least 30 seconds.
  3. Start at a moderate pace and slowly build up to a faster speed. If you get caught inside the “washing machine” (the mess of limbs and bodies of your fellow triathletes trashing in the water), try to get away from the pack instead of struggling at the surface.
  4. If you find yourself hyperventilating, pause and allow some deep breaths. Count three to five seconds inhaling through your nose and exhaling as you swim. Do some yoga breathing exercises and exhale by creating some humming sounds underwater to relax.