For most people the majority or often all of their swim training takes place within the cosy confines of their local pool. There is nothing to fear when it comes to the crystal clear water and solid black lane taking them up and down each lap. Your technique and pacing become easy to concentrate on. Allowing you to just focus on completing your laps.
Throw in the open water though and place people in an unfamiliar lake or the ocean and suddenly even some great pool swimmers start falling apart. When you are faced with the unknowns whether that is cold temperatures, poor visibility, rough water or even the supposed lurking sea creatures your focus is drawn away from what matters and moves towards creating unnecessary drama. You start becoming nervous in the face of the unknown.
Whether your fears are rational or not you have a responsibility to yourself to not let your fears throw away all your training hours and commitment to get to this point. You need to find a way to focus on what matters.
Acclimatise to the Cold
It’s called a warm up for a reason and attend any triathlon event and you’ll see 80% of people aren’t even wet before the race start. Put yourself within the elements before your race begins and get in and get wet! Put your head under the water and swim a few strokes so that you are used to the conditions before you start your race. Remember race starts are fast paced and intense with your heart rate naturally elevating before you even begin. So give yourself a break and the best chance of success by warming up first and acclimatising to the cold.
In cold conditions your body will naturally tense up and your breathing can shorten and quicken. Whilst swimming focus on slowing your breathing and telling yourself to relax. It won’t take long to warm up and adapt to the conditions. The sooner you can relax and slow your breathing the sooner you will be able to turn your thoughts to your pacing and technique.
Focus on What You Can See
You can pretty much guarantee that any event you do the visibility is going to be nothing like your local pool. And even if it was, there still wouldn’t be a friendly black line on the bottom for you to follow. However, all this can be overcome with a little practice and a few tips.
Make sure you know the course prior to the start of your race. Look at the positioning of the buoys and line these up with some landmarks to assist with your sighting whilst in the water. In rough conditions it will be easier to spot a building then it will be to see a buoy amongst choppy waves. You can also use the positioning of other swimmers around you to assist with direction. You just can’t always trust that everyone else has done their homework and is going the right way!
If not being able to see the bottom is what frightens you just trust that it is there, you don’t need to reach the bottom during your swim. You can always tread water, turn onto your back or get assistance from one of the lifesavers.
You Are the Scary Sea Creature
Your safety should always be your first priority. If you live in an area where you share the open water with sharks, crocodiles or other dangerous sea creatures pay attention to any warning signs or closed areas. For most of us though the drama is in our heads, not in the water.
Fish, turtles, eels and other sea life are going to be more scared of you then you are of them and will keep their distance. This is especially true in an event where the hundreds of triathletes will scare them completely in the opposite direction. Underwater sediment and sludge at the start of some events may be gross but aren’t going to hurt you either. Plus you’ll completely forget about it once you start swimming. Just get in, get moving and you’ll soon have the race on your mind and other things to worry about.
Overall overcoming your fears of the open water are the same as everything. Practice makes perfect! Take the time to get out in the open water and away from that black line and you’ll soon learn to love getting out there and training.