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7 Tips to Reduce Anxiety About Your Open Water Swim

Open water swim is a lot different than doing consistent 25 yard laps in a heated pool with lane markers and a black line on the bottom. For many, the shock of the open water can cause anxiety and fear because it is so unlike the conditions we all train with. The lap pool is a nice cozy safe place to train, and although it helps build our endurance and strength, it doesn’t really help us much when faced with the open water. You can alleviate some of the stress of the open water by doing your homework ahead of time and arriving to the swim start confident and prepared.

To help you do this, I am going to share with you 7 tips to help you prepare for your next open water event. These tips have helped me over the years and my goal is for you to use these to ease any tension/stress/fear ahead of time so you end up with a great swim.

1. Race day should never be your first open water swim. Do everything you can to have at least one or two practice sessions in the open water, preferably with similar race conditions, water temperature, and proximity to other swimmers. Wear your wetsuit, especially if you haven’t swam in it. Practice getting it on and off quickly. I sometimes set the timer on my phone and practice unzipping it, pulling off one shoulder, then the other, then stepping out of it quickly on the pool deck.

2. Train to the distance of the race regularly at least 2-3X a week for 16-24 weeks before your iron distance race. Practice swimming either 2100 yards or 4200 yards straight without stopping. If you can race in a shorter distance event prior to your Ironman or 70.3 that will help prepare you for open water conditions and build your confidence.

3. Practice open water drills in the pool. There are a few of these that I recommend such as 1. Take out a few of the lane lines and practice swimming close together as a group. 2. Put a few objects on the deck and practice sighting them from the pool. 3. If you have access to a buoy or some sort of ball, place it in the deep end and practice swimming around it. 4. Practice closing your eyes as you swim a few strokes to mimic the limited visibility of the open water. 5. Finally, practice bilateral breathing which will help you tremendously in the open water.

4. Make sure your wetsuit fits properly, having tried it on and swam in it previously. Test out your race day goggles and swim cap as well so you don’t have any surprises race morning. Tip: Always carry an extra cap and goggles. You never know when something might accidentally tear or break.

5. Study the course. Know where the Swim out is in relation to T1. Check out the current water or surf conditions the day before. Know what time you will get in the water and where the entry is. Study the placement of the buoys in relation to the start, and try to place a few landmarks in your field of vision to keep you on course. In my experience, the worst swim times I’ve seen in these events are the folks who swim 600-1000 yards more than what they needed to.

6. Have a good warm up. If there is a swim practice the day before the race, this is a must! Getting in the lake, ocean or river and swimming the course or part of the course can be a game changer for your confidence. If there is no in water warm up on race morning, bring some tubing bands to warm up your back, arms, and shoulders. Check out my YouTube videos for some great swim warm up routines!

7. Stay relaxed and have a plan. For athletes who have experienced anxiety or panic in the open water, I remind you to have a PLAN. This include your safety stroke- such as breast stroke or side stroke- to revert to if you are feeling anxious in the water. Have a few affirmations memorized as well to help calm yourself down. “I have trained well for this swim and I will finish it no matter what.” “I am a good swimmer and I can make it through this.”, etc. Staying relaxed means staying calm and easing into a rhythm you can sustain for the duration of the swim, not worrying about things you have no control over.

I hope you find these tips helpful. If you’d like more on the open water swim and want to go a little deeper, you can get my FREE download The Complete Guide to Iron Distance Swim by clicking HERE. This will go over everything you need to know about the iron distance swim from start through T1.

Have you thought about hiring a coach for your next 140.6 or 70.3? Let’s talk. Click the box below and put in your info to have a FREE 15 minute call with me about your race goals.

Mary Timoney

Ironman University Certified Coach

ACSM Trainer

USA Cycling Coach


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