Fear in Open Water

           Have you ever lined up at the start of an open water race or triathlon only to find your heart rate skyrocketing beyond what you normally feel in a workout? Or perhaps you’ve had that sweaty palms, tight-chested, stomach-filled-with-butterflies feeling? These are feelings of anxiety and can come naturally during open water swimming; however, the feelings can also be managed to help performance rather than hinder it.

In order to channel the anxiety to enhance performance, you first have to find out what factors cause the fear. It could be the chaotic race start or the vast, deep open water. Perhaps it is the fear of not knowing what creatures you are about to share the water with.  It could even be the idea of swimming nonstop with no wall to rest on.

Then, decide if this fear is controllable. If in the past, you’ve found yourself worrying about not having sufficient training, then great, now is your chance to do it differently this time! Create a training plan that gives you the confidence to stand at the line on race day and know that you will finish strong. If you typically get the butterflies from pack swimming at the start and turns, these are also skills you can practice before the race. Grab a few buddies and practice some Open Water Skills .

As baseball’s great Mickey Rivers stated, “Ain’t no use worrying about things you control, because if you’ve got control over them, ain’t no use worrying. Ain’t no use worrying about things you can’t control, because if you can’t control them, ain’t no use worrying.” So essentially, if you have control over the source of the fear – or control over training for the fear – then the greatest strides you can take towards managing that fear are preparing for it.

If you don’t have control over the source of the fear, such as deep water or large fish, then ask yourself if the potential risk outweighs the benefits. Does the extremely slim chance of a large fish encounter outweigh your love of open water? Answer that question on the beach before you get in and never look back. If you do begin to think about that while you’re swimming, have a focus strategy – something else you can quickly think about such as your stroke, a song you like or your to-do list that day. Of course, you can control the amount of risk you are taking by choosing not to swim at dawn or dusk, and avoiding seal hangouts.

Finally, when it comes to race day, remember that some anxiety is a good thing. The butterflies tell you that you are ready to race. They’re there because you care. It isn’t about getting rid of the butterflies; it’s about getting them to fly in formation.

Jen Schumacher

Marathon Swimmer, www.jenschumacher.org

Sport Psychology Consultant, www.jenschumacher.com