Open Water Fears.

Open water fears…

I can’t speak for everyone but, swimming is my weakest discipline in the triathlon.  Not only swimming but open water swimming.  My first race was a treading water mass start.  After everyone passed me it got better but then I swam in the churning mess of the other swimmers wakes.  I had a lot of anxiety over the open water.  No walls to grab, no pool bottom to see, critters in the water, things you thought were critters in the water.  It was stressful.  But, that’s the nature of the race.  Unless you are doing an indoor tri, there will be no pool.  It’s either a lake, an ocean or a river.  Take your pick.  I am not yet brave enough to choose a race with an ocean swim.  The lake swims I have done have been choppy and very stressful for me, and the river swim…well river water is gross so there is that.

So, what do we do, how do we overcome this obstacle?  You can stick to duathlons, no swimming there or you can toughen up and attack this part of the race head on.  That’s what I decided to do.  I broke it down into a couple of key elements.  

  1. Distance
  2. Intensity
  3. It is over first.

Let’s discuss…


Depending in the race it will vary from 500 meters to 2.4 miles typically.  MY best 500-meter open water was 17 minutes, my best 2.4 mile was 1:23 minutes.  It is always the shortest part of the race.  That fact helps me process what I must do.  I know exactly how long I will be in the water (roughly), so I know that within a very short period of time I will be done with it and it’s over.  Kind of like eating vegetables for me, get them down fast and I can move on to good stuff!  I am a very compartmentalized person, so breaking this out into small bits that I can process helps me move past it with minimal stress.


Some triathletes swim with reckless abandon and put up times that to me seem impossible.  For me it’s about staying safe and managing my energy and pace.  I move to the outside of the pack to avoid most of the splashing and contact.  If it is a time trial start then everyone gets spaced out by a few seconds and you avoid the crowd.  I am not fast and I have a pace I swim and that’s that.  It has improved over the years but mostly because I have become more efficient not because I have tried to get faster.  I conserve energy for the bike which is where I spend most the race.

It is over first

That’s the biggest part for me.  I do not have to spend any part of the race dreading or thinking about the swim. The race is designed this way for safety.  This is the most hazardous part of the race and it stands to reason we would start with it.  On the bike, we do so much to manage our race, nutrition etc. and for me the run becomes very mundane.  My mind slips into a groove and I just power through it with minimal thought other than managing pace and fueling.  

The biggest thing any triathlete will tell you and any tri coach will tell you…you should practice open water swimming.  You must get into the open water before your races and practice.  The pool will not duplicate how you feel in lakes, oceans, or rivers.  This is especially true if you are wearing a wetsuit, even more if it’s the first time you are wearing a wetsuit. 

The swim is there and not going away.  It’s the first leg of the “TRI” part of triathlon.  Embrace it, break it down however you need and attack it like you do the rest of the race.  Before you know it, you are out of the water and on your bike!

Train hard, train safe!


Previously fat guy!

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