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Triathlon is a challenging endurance event that amazes friends, relatives and sometimes even the athletes themselves. The prospect of swimming in open water can be so intimidating it could discourage even the toughest contender from entering a race. Here are a few steps to conquer your fear and go into the open water with confidence.
Acknowledge your fears.
Having a bit of fear about the open water can be your greatest strength. Fear prevents overconfidence and stops you from getting into a dangerous situation. Recognizing that you have a weakness and taking the steps to overcome that weakness will properly prepare you for race day. Ignoring your fears and inabilities when it comes to the water could result in a DNF (“did not finish”) or much worse.
Discover what causes your anxiety.
Narrow it down by figuring out what part of swimming in open water really causes your heart to race and palms to start sweating. Is it the dark and murky water? Is the lack of a bottom or walls the scary part? Or do all the people and flailing arms everywhere cause you to panic? By shrinking your overall fear to one or two aspects of open water, you can plan a way to practice and train so they no longer pose a challenge.
Take baby steps in the pool.
Plan a training regime that slowly builds up weakness and erases fears. Are you worried about swimming the entire distance of 400 meters? Start with two laps of the pool or 50 meters. Slowly increase the length of each practice until you can complete 125 percent of the race distance. Anxious about not being able to rest on the wall or stand on the bottom? Practice in the pool by not touching or resting on the walls between laps. Learn how to roll on your back and float while you catch your breath and recover. Nervous about swimming with lots of other people? Train with a group and practice swimming in between other people to get comfortable with being touched and bumped.
Find a coach.
Find a local swimming or triathlon coach who will schedule private sessions at the pool and, if possible, in the open water. Developing better technique can significantly improve your swimming ability and might remove or reduce a general fear of the water. A coach will also provide accountability, motivation and maybe an opportunity to train with others of a similar skill level.
Register for an event.
Nothing requires commitment like a looming deadline. Do your research to find a local race with a short-distance swim (typically around 400 meters). Pick a date far enough in advance that you have time to prepare but not so far that you conveniently forget about it.
Practice in the open water.
This is not optional. The pool cannot completely prepare you for open water. Find a local lake, river or beach that is open for swimming or travel to the race site 1–2 days early to get comfortable with the conditions. Open water without the chaos surrounding a race is significantly calmer and less stressful. Before you even get in the water, spend some time on shore studying and getting familiar with the environment. Take note of the wind, waves, current, bottom surface, entry and exit location, and position of the sun at race time. Stay close to the edge in shallow water and always have one or two buddies watching from shore or swimming nearby.
Face your fears.
As race day approaches, write down a few of your strengths and skills to stay calm in open water. Some examples are “roll onto my back and breathe,” “start at the back of the pack and stay wide at the buoys,” and “breathe every 2–3 strokes so I don’t get exhausted.” Read them and remind yourself of them often. Create a calming mantra that you can repeat when you start to feel anxious. If you still need support during the event, swim to a lifeguard boat or kayak and hang on the edge until you are ready to swim again.
Don’t let your fears prevent you from starting a triathlon. Instead, use them as a motivational force to safely conquer the swim!