Tri Diva Reunion Event? Hell, yeah!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Calming Swim Fears

Calming Your Swim Fears
Kelly Handel
Professional Triathlete
Consultant, Source Endurance

If you have committed to doing your first triathlon this year, first of all, congratulations on getting started! That is the first step and often the hardest part. As the summer approaches and temperatures rise in Austin, there is no better way to complement the day than cooling off with a swim. While this is often times the most ‘feared’ discipline of all, it is nothing to be afraid of and hopefully something you can even come to enjoy. Here are a few tips for getting you off on the right foot for a successful race.

Scout out the course. Try to arrive early enough to the transition area to set your things up and get to the swim start with time to spare. This means, maybe wander over there 20-30 minutes prior to your wave start time. Look at the course, and ask questions of volunteers or even the race director if you can find him/her. Be sure you know which direction to go and you can see all of the turn buoys (if possible) from the beach. A very good tip is: Start off to the side or the back if you are intimidated. So, if the first turn is to the left around the first buoy, aim to start to the right side of the swim pack you are starting with. Picture this: Everyone will merge to that point and make the turn, so you do not want to be on the ‘inside’ and get pushed off course. While you may swim slightly further starting to the outside, you will not get pummeled by all of the other swimmers. It will feel safer and less hectic in the mix of things.

Count the buoys. Again, do not hesitate to ask questions! Some race directors will make the turn buoys different colors. Maybe the ‘marker’ buoys are orange, and the turn buoys are yellow. Know the course as well as you can from looking at it, and if you know how many buoys you are going to pass, you can count them off as you go.

Sight often. This cannot be underestimated! Hopefully you have practiced ‘how to’ sight, but all you really need to do is lift the eyes to just above the surface of the water. You may even be able to work this into your strokes, if you practice it enough. Starting out, try to sight every 3-5 strokes. But remember, this does not entail ‘stopping’, but more so simply lifting your eyes above the surface, glancing ahead for the NEXT buoy and continuing to swim. Keep the sighting quick, efficient and frequent.

Trust yourself. You may find that you settle into a small ‘pack’ of others, which is a great place to be. But, do not let them lead the way entirely. They may be going fast, but they may also be going off course. Be sure even if you find yourself swimming in a pack that you are sighting often to be sure that you are on course.

Stop and tread water (or swim on your back) if you panic. This is VERY important for beginners to know! It is just fine to stop and catch your breath if you need to. The swim start can be a bit stressful and hectic, as there is a lot of splashing, kicking and arms and legs flying. This will clear out a bit, as people begin to fall into their own paces. If you find at any point you begin to feel short of breath, stop and tread water, or even flip onto your back and do some strokes here. It is important to relax, catch your breath and then continue on. There is nothing wrong with a short break, especially if this is your first triathlon (or even your first year of triathlons).

Practice in open water prior to race day. We are blessed in Austin with so many great swimming holes. You will feel much better on race day if you know you have ‘experienced’ open water at least a couple of times before you race. Make it a goal to go to Barton Springs, or perhaps the Pure Austin North quarry, a couple of times the month leading up to your event. It is a different experience than swimming in a pool; but think of it as fun. There are no lanes, no walls and no clocks; just you and the water! If you think your race may be wetsuit-legal, be sure to practice a few times in the wetsuit you may race in. Sleeveless suits are nice for added mobility and a more natural swim stroke; and they will still keep you very warm.

Relax and be confident in yourself! This is so important. We all have self-doubts, but come race day, try to find a minute before you start to quiet your mind and focus on what you are there to do. You are in control of your race. Things may happen, but remember that you know how to swim, you have trained for this day and you can control what happens. Self-talk can come in very handy, especially in the swim! Find a ‘mantra’ that works for you, and carry this through your race. Remember to smile; this is fun stuff, and the more you do, the easier it will get. After all, everyone is in it together!

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