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5 tips on how to get over your fear of open water

The fear of the unknown and uncertainty of open water can create anxiety in beginner swimmers. Beginner triathletes have to overcome this before race day to have a successful swim. Swimming pools are nothing like a lake, but they are still beneficial for training. What you learn in the pool can be easily transferred to open waters, just without the clear water and straight black line. You can overcome your fear of open water if you have a successful strategy and the willingness to execute it. Prepare for the swim with these five tips to get over your fear of open water.

It’s important to swim in open water before race day. Credit – Tom Marek.

Pro tip: wetsuits can help with your buoyancy in the water. If you invest in one, take proper care of it so you get the most out of it.

  1. Practice makes perfect

The best swimming abilities in the world won’t mean a thing if you can’t remain calm when things don’t go as planned. Staying relaxed and maintaining your form is critical during a triathlon. You might pass people. People might pass you. You could veer off course. You might get accidentally kicked or hit by another swimmer’s stroke. While none of this is intentional, it can still throw you out of rhythm.

Find an open body of water before race day. Practice so you understand what it feels like to not have the benefits of a pool. Focus on maintaining your form and breathing evenly. Know what it feels like for the waves to splash over you. Be specific in your open-water practice and familiarize yourself with what the pool can’t provide. Practice sighting and become familiar with these tips so you understand how it’ll keep you on course.

  1. Anticipate and plan ahead

Create “if-then” plans before you enter the water. Credit – Tom Marek.

Be proactive and create “if-then” plans for your swim. If you begin to feel nervous, then resort to slower strokes and calm your breathing. If you feel lost, adjust your stroke and focus on sighting. This will help you get back on track. Implement anxiety-reducing tactics that can help you during the swim. For example, some swimmers count their strokes. This allows them to focus on a short-term goal, regain control of their breathing, and focus on what they can control.

Have a physical checklist of items you’ll need. Plan ahead and make sure you have what you need for all practice swims and race day. It’s important to make sure everything fits, like your swim goggles. Make sure you have a backup pair just in case! Create a mental checklist of things to focus on and you’ll have a productive fallback when things turn bad. If you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail.

  1. Go with the flow

Most swimmers exhaust themselves fighting waves or veering way off course. Learn how to not swallow water and maintain sighting when you swim in open waters. Create a plan that accounts for the circumstances around you, but be prepared to adjust. Focus on what you can control, like your breathing and your sighting. Alternate between sighting, stroke speed, and relaxing when the opportunity presents itself. There is a time and place for everything. Don’t forget, humor helps. These triathlons memes can give you a good laugh and remind you of what you’re capable of accomplishing.

  1. Talk to other triathletes

Talk to veteran triathletes. Their information will be valuable. Credit – Tom Marek.

Veteran triathletes can help you improve your technique, reduce any anxiety, and catch any and all errors you might make during an open-water swim. Another pair of eyes can spot things you can’t. They can also share stories, advise on certain practice techniques, and give race-day tips. You can learn more from others. This is more of the mental component to swimming, but any helpful information is beneficial. Read about William’s first-ever triathlon. High Five Events’ Communication Manager breaks down his race-day experience, including the good and bad of the swim. 

  1. Practice one skill at a time

Fall back on your training. Next thing you know you’ll be done. Credit – Tom Marek

Practice and skill-development are reliable confidence boosters. Isolate your swimming skills such as sighting, stroke, breathing, and form. Practice them individually to zero-in on becoming better at them. All of these can be worked on in the pool, where you might feel more comfortable. Those skills can then be transferred to your practice swims in open water. Then practice putting them all together in action holistically. The simple act of refining each of your skills and working on them can produce positive results and boost your confidence. Pro tip: incorporate these 7 tips when you begin training. They’ll help with your journey, including overcoming your fear of open water.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. A beginner triathlete has to face the open water someday. A great plan, the right amount of practice, and the patience to tolerate fear and failure until you succeed are all you need to become a successful swimmer. Keep in mind, getting over your fear of open water will not happen overnight. It’ll take several swims and consistency. With hard work and dedication, you’ll overcome your fear of open water in no time!

Complete at least one open water swim before Rookie Triathlon

Hundreds of Rookies will complete their first triathlon at Rookie Triathlon on Sunday, May 6th. If you’re training for your first triathlon like William, then you’ve probably never completed an open water swim. Perhaps all of your training has taken place in the pool. Until Tuesday, April 24th, all of William’s swim training has taken place in the pool. Check in with his training and see how his open water swims went. Paul “Barny” Williams, William’s coach and professional triathlete, provides some advice and talks about the importance of completing at least one open water swim before race day. Watch the video below and feel free to share the advice with your Rookie friends!

The open water swim is a game-changer

Up until Tuesday, April 24th, none of my Rookie Triathlon training swims were in open water. They were all in a pool. The pool was daunting at first, but over time I became more accustomed. Clear waters allowed me to see the guiding, black line below. Lane dividers kept me from going all over the place and running into others. Protocol taught me how to share a lane with someone else and not crash head first. For good reason (whether I liked it or not), all of that was about to change.

open water

Sunrises at Barton Springs never get old.

A couple weeks ago I wrote about graduating to open water and becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable. Yeah, so I put off that graduation swim for a couple weeks. I found every excuse I could to not visit Barton Springs. I’d hit the snooze button, go for a bike ride, or return to the pool. Everyone I talked to about their first triathlon said they’re glad they did an open water swim beforehand. Others wish they had completed at least one non-pool swim before their first triathlon. I knew I needed to get out of the pool. I just needed to clear that mental hurdle.

Mental hurdle cleared

I jumped in Barton Springs (how else do you get in?!) this past Tuesday morning (4/24). I made sure I had my buoy (and noseplug!) for my first open water swim. This would be the longest continuous swim for me since my mock Rookie Tri championship. My breathing and form have improved tremendously. I didn’t want to lose all of that on my first non-pool swim. I wore running tights, no board shorts this time! The water felt good and I knew standing around wouldn’t help matters. So I took off.

open water

Can’t help but have a great day after that swim!

I tried to remember everything from the pool, plus sighting. My first long swim in Barton Springs would not result in running into someone. Everything started feeling good until about the halfway mark. That’s when the rocks disappear. Your energy starts shrinking. The form and breathing you’ve practiced goes out the window. But this is where Barny, my coach, kicks in. Just like anything else, it’s all friggin’ mental. I can’t control the rocks disappearing, but I can control my form and my breathing. Both of those impact my energy levels and my ability to remain calm.

Open water swim: Take Two

I needed to go back to the Springs. Barny had it built into my training plan. Rookie Tri is less than two weeks away. I need to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. Barny wanted to stretch out a new wetsuit in the Springs. He and I planned to return the next day, Wednesday (4/25). This time, he challenged me to do the swim with no buoy. After all, I can’t use the buoy on race day.

This swim was harder, not because of the missing buoy. I had a hard running workout with RAW Running the night before. Add to that, I biked to the Springs from our office (~4 miles one way). So my body wasn’t in peak shape. But in the end, this is all preparing me for Sunday, May 6th, at Decker Lake. As I mentioned, the swim was harder, I needed to breaststroke a few times to get me breathing back down. I paused at the end of the Springs to rest and catch my breath. BUT I DID IT. I feel my upper body getting stronger. Plus, I didn’t run into anyone!

If you’re a Rookie and have been in the pool 100%, I strongly encourage you to swim in the open water at least once before Rookie Tri. You need to experience something similar to what you’ll experience on race day. I promise you’ll be better off for completing at least one open water swim. I know I’m planning at least one or two more. Check out our next blog post to watch a video from Barny where he talks about the importance of an open water swim before your first triathlon.

Time to graduate from the safe pool to the open waters of Barton Springs

Image of Deep Eddy Pool.

Deep Eddy Pool.

Just a few days ago I wrote about swimming being as difficult as I’d imagined. All of my swimming, except one swim, had taken place at Big Stacy Pool. I was comfortable at that pool. There were familiar faces. My routine was consistent: change clothes, swim, shower. On April 9th I show up for my regular lunchtime swim to find out Big Stacy is closed until the end of the month! What?! Doesn’t the City of Austin know I’m training for my first triathlon?! And to think, I was getting more and more comfortable in the water. Now what do I do?! Graduate.

I knew of a few other pools, so I skipped across town to Deep Eddy Pool. The adjustment took time out of my swim workout, but I had to get in a swim. The switch made me get out of my comfort zone. New location, more traffic, different showers, $3 entry fee, etc. This was a baby graduation. I had to learn about a new (to me) pool and all of its nuances, including the temperature difference. The water temperature was closer to that of Barton Springs (~68 degrees). Deep Eddy isn’t free to use like Big Stacy, which added to my process. Side note – Deep Eddy pool is the oldest pool in Texas, built during the Depression Era.

By now, swimming laps has honed in my stroke and breathing. My familiarity with swimming and level of comfort in the water has grown exponentially since my first swim. Less time is spent on each end of the pool catching my breath. What’s next? Graduate.

Become comfortable with the uncomfortable

This graduation will be bigger. At first, I was uncomfortable swimming longer distances. I’ve since become comfortable. Now it’s time to revisit being uncomfortable again.

graduate

Barton Springs.

I’m planning my first open swim (since my mock Rookie Tri championship) in Barton Springs. The lanes aren’t 25m or 33.3m. They don’t have a black line guiding me under water. There aren’t lane lines to keep other swimmers from swimming in my direction. Basically, all comforts of the pool are gone. But, this is essential and I need to swim in open water before Rookie Tri. Afterall, the swim portion of Rookie Tri takes place in Decker Lake, not Decker Pool.

If you’re just starting out like me, don’t spend 100% of your time in the pool. Become comfortable with swimming in the pool, then branch out. Being as prepared as you can for Sunday, May 6th, will ensure a much better experience!