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67845 Views 81 Replies Latest reply: May 27, 2009 8:35 PM by Beamrs 1 2 3 ... 6 Previous Next
mndrs538 Rookie 7 posts since
Apr 25, 2008
Currently Being Moderated

Apr 27, 2008 7:19 PM

Why was the swim so hard?


Ok, so I'm not the greatest swimmer, but I raced ina tri today (first time) and the swim was only 200meters... I thought I was well prepared, but I got in and started swimming and around the first buoy all of a sudden I felt like I was about to have an asthma attack...



It was my first race, I hadn't trained in the lake yet (only pool) and was wearing a wetsuit (which i didn't train in either).  It was so bad that i had to stop and hold on to a lifegaurd... i was litterally sucking air... another thing was that it was super hard for me to exhale in the water so I ended up trying to swim like a water polo player most of the time... but iwas awful and kind of scary... any advice?  or knowledge of why this happend?  how do I avoid it for the next time?  thanks!



  • CYRUS88 Rookie 2 posts since
    Oct 13, 2007
    Currently Being Moderated
    1. Apr 28, 2008 5:02 AM (in response to mndrs538)
    Re: Why was the swim so hard?

    Not training in open water before the event is what happened to you.  I remember swimming in my first Tri and swimming the open water 1000 meters.  I started to hyperventilate and actually had a panic attack in the water before reaching the first bouy.  I remember being hit by a couple of waves and drinking some water,  I didn't know what to do and worst of all i had a wave of swimmers coming towards me so i couldn't turn around and go back.  What I ended up doing is just trying to breathe deep and slow and i laid on my back for 5-10 seconds and waited for the fear to subside then i swam breast stroke to the bouy and the water calmed down enough for me to begin my swim.  It took me 40 minutes to finish the 1000 meters but it felt like hours.  The next time i swam in the same triathlon I had a similar episode but i was prepared for it and i was able to overcome the fear and i cut my time in half.  My advice is that you need to just swim in open water before you actaully do an event.  It is easy to get overwhelmed by all the water around you and start to have a panic attack.  Second, do a quick dip and swim before the beginning of the race so you can get the adrenaline out and when it's time to race pace yourself in the 1st couple minutes and save your energy for the last 50.  This will help you not get so tired since there are no markings in a lake to tell you how far you've gone.  Trust me the second one will be much easier.

  • Anthony_All3 Legend 237 posts since
    Aug 8, 2007
    Currently Being Moderated
    3. Apr 29, 2008 4:10 AM (in response to mndrs538)
    Re: Why was the swim so hard?








    The last post is correct.  To add about the wetsuit.  It will definitely add to the panic, especially since you didn't train in it.  A good rule of thumb is to never try anything new on race day, no matter how fool proof it may seem.  Especially with wet suits, lower end materials usually offer  greater resistance in the shoulders. To counter this you can try swimming x amount of yardage every week while wearing gloves in the pool, this will strengthen your shoulders and give you a stronger pull and add fatigue resistance.  Another good tactic is to use a pull bouy with the gloves, this will simulate the buoyancy you get with the wetsuit.  The additional buoyancy from the wetsuit will change your breathing technique dramatically.  I bet your neck was soar the next day right?  This was from a modified breathing technique your wetsuit forced you into.  Good luck and don't worry, like the last reply stated, your panic attacks will subside, they are perfectly normal for every new triathlete.  I swam for 20+ years, a majority competitively and am a certified open water diver, I trained in open water for my first, but was I calm and collected for the swim start, no way.  Same thing for me, panicked the first 50m and did the breast stroke for a while till the panic went away.  After that I new what I was in for and it never happened again, not even the next season after several months away from it.









  • Trimate Rookie 1 posts since
    Apr 29, 2008
    Currently Being Moderated
    4. Apr 29, 2008 10:23 AM (in response to Anthony_All3)
    Re: Why was the swim so hard?


    Panic attacks seem to be very common in the first triathlon!  I felt fine starting in my first one, but the lady next to me freaked and tried to use me as a life bouy... Her panic set mine off and that sprint triathlon became an endurance event.  My coach supports what the others have said, "Train how you will race, and race like you trained."  therefore if you never train in a wet suit- don't race in one.  After 5 years and 25 triathlons I still have trouble settling into a good breathing pattern if the water is really cold or the other swimmers are too close. 



    Hang in there!



  • Laurie D Rookie 2 posts since
    Sep 25, 2007


    My addition to the other posts, to which I 100% agree...



    Adrenaline rush, my ego and my wetsuit inexperience swimming did me in, but I learned a lot from it.



    My first tri was a super sprint (400K swim) in warm FL lake water, without a wetsuit, I had practiced a bit in open water prior, and it went ok.  No panic problems



    My second tri was a regular sprint (800K swim), still in Fl lake, I decided to use a wetsuit and did not practice in it , thinking I was "experienced"  enough.  Like  the other post said, the repositioning a wetsuit does  for your body made me panic 50 yards into the swim - I felt like I could not get a breath and my neck hurt like heck.  I ended up doing the whole swim on my back, still trying to overcome  the panic and breathlessness.  I felt so ashamed that when I got out of the water I was going to quit the race, but got my bearings in the transition area and went on to finish, although way down among the last to cross the finish line.  



    The best tip I ever read (somewhere here in by one of their coaches) was that to overcome the adrenaline rush which can cause breathlessness at the start of the swim you have to get your heart rate up before you start the swim, meaning you should do some running, short sprints, jumprope, anything that helps burn off the excess adrenaline as you're getting ready to start.  I tried that when practicing (with the wetsuit in COLD New England lake water) so that in my third tri in cold lake water, it worked. No panic, no breathlessness.  After stretching gently to warm up, I just jogged up and back near the start, out of the way, while waiting for my wave.  Helped with the jitters too.  I used an old pair of sneakers that I threw to the side at the start, went back to get them afterwards.



    So stick with it!  I'm 55 and last year was my first time doing tris, I plan to go on until I'm 80+!  Good luck. 



  • realbecca Rookie 1 posts since
    Dec 9, 2007

    I am very glad to read all your posts. I totally freaked out in the water at my last tri -- it was an 800m open water swim. I really wasn't that concerned about it ahead of time; I knew it would be hard, and I would be tired, but I never thought I would panic. I have been doing tris for one year, and I have done a 500 m open water and an 800 m open water. In general, I have very good endurance, but terrible speed. I did fine until about 100 m, and then I just panicked. I actually had to call one of the kayaks to pull me over to the boat, and they took me back to shore. I've been beating myself up about it ever since. I've been going over all the things that were different and how to prepare for them next time. I went out to the same water last week with my brother, who is an excellent swimmer, and he helped me through it. I was surprised that I had the same panic reaction at about the same distance, but this time I didn't get out. Anyway, I am just really glad to read about some other people who had the same experience. It helps me to know that I'm not the only one.

  • CYRUS8 Amateur 9 posts since
    Sep 17, 2007
    Currently Being Moderated
    8. May 2, 2008 8:49 AM (in response to mndrs538)
    Re: Why was the swim so hard?

    You're welcome!  I think the wetsuit might have added to your panic since it only adds to the restriction your body was feeling, also even your goggles might have contributed to it.  I actually put my goggles on my cap for a few minutes and that helped too.  Hope you do better next time!!

  • CYRUS8 Amateur 9 posts since
    Sep 17, 2007


    A coach might help but what you should do first is go out and buy a pair of flippers then find any lake or nearest open body of water to swim in and get out there with a buddy.  The flippers will give you confidence as well as improve your kick technique and your buddy will also help you not panic.  After a few times with a buddy then try the swim alone with your flippers and after a few tries then take em off and you will see how much better you feel in open water.



  • waterdawg Rookie 1 posts since
    Sep 27, 2007
    Currently Being Moderated
    11. May 2, 2008 3:58 PM (in response to mndrs538)
    Re: Why was the swim so hard?

    Wow, I've read that 99% of triathletes aren't "swimmers" but I had no idea.  I guess I really am lucky.  Growing up, swimming was my sport.  I kinda fell into tri's after I started spinning.  Now, the RUN, that's a tough one.  


    Seriously though, as a swimmer I wanted to relay my first experience and it helps.  My first tri was 400m lake swim.  I hadn't trained in open water, although I've swum in lakes many times, just never for sport.  As I said, I am a VERY good swimmer. I don't say that to brag but to say that even I was taken off guard by a few things.  First, you can't see ANYTHING and the "wave" start totally freaked me out.  I hadn't planned on it but I started sprinting just to get away from all the legs and arms.  Geez.  Then that blasted buoy, which looked really close from the beach, seemed really far away from the water.  Not to mention the fact that I was sighting it almost every 3 strokes, when I breathed.  It was not what I expected.


    My advise is the same as the previous posts.  Practice in the open water, even if it's only once.  Same with the wetsuit.  If you can get several people to simulate the start, even better.  I have my first ocean swim tomorrow and I'll be wearing a wetsuit for the first time.  I was VERY nervous about the currents and creatures in the ocean but I found a buddy to do a quick swim this week and now I feel 100% better about the ocean and the wetsuit.


    Swimming is a very technical sport.  It's almost all upper body strength and technique.  I've seen very strong men all but drown b/c they thought they could power through the water.  Work on your technique. Try to find a good swimmer or coach to help you.  Think about it like gears on a bike.  One good pedal stroke in a low gear gives you a ton of power on a flat road, while if you use a low gear, on a flat road, you're pedals spin out of control and you go nowhere.  A good swimmer can gain a lot of ground with one stroke, a novice will waste a lot of energy and go nowhere.  


    A proper freestyle stroke, starts by reaching as far out as possible, rotate your shoulder forward and engage the lat.  Use the lat to pull the arm out slightly, down and back. The elbow has a slight bend. The hand is closed and cupped but you're using you entire arm to grab the water, not just your hand. Continue to pull through and extend the arm all the way back, really using the triceps, until your thumb brushes your thigh. (you don't actually touch your thigh, although it's a great drill)


    I hope I'm not telling you a bunch of stuff you already know but I wanted to offer anything to make your next swim better.  The bottom line is that even "swimmers" get anxious in open water.  Practice your technique, no surprises on race day and stay calm.  Especially in a wet suit.  (It's nearly impossible to drown in one)


    Good Luck!  I'm off to get running advice.

  • Tri ing Rookie 1 posts since
    May 5, 2008
    Currently Being Moderated
    12. May 5, 2008 11:33 AM (in response to mndrs538)
    Re: Why was the swim so hard?


    I would agree with all the previous posts, yet would add one more thing. Breathe, and plan to panic. I know it sounds strange, but if you can mentally prepare yourself to be flustered, then you won't be taken aback when you are jostled, jarred, swallow water, can't breathe, etc. If you can say to yourself, "Ouch. I just got hit. I just swallowed water.  That's the first time and there's sure more to come, " when you are being jostled, you'll realize that it is just part of the race, you're not going to drown, and you'll be OK. This will help you avoid a full-blown panic attack. I've raced for about 6 years now, and participated in well over 40 triathlons, and I am STILL a poor swimmer. However, I am comfortable in a race environement. Every time I step into the water, I know I'll be swam over, kicked, jostled, and swallow a bit of water in the first part of the race (ithe whole thing if it's a shorter race). But it's amazing what your body can do if you just stay calm and keep breathing. If you can just keep breathiing, you are able to swim through the panic. Many times I have swallowed water as a result of being kicked in the face, but have been able to just cough up the water on my exhale and continue breathing. The more consistent your breathing, the clamer you will become. Just keep breathing, even if you're kicked, or swam over. I also breathe every stroke initially- this allows me to compensate for that panic feeling, and allow me to breathe quicker if I need to as a result of being kicked, etc.



    Good luck!



  • tarrow Rookie 2 posts since
    Nov 16, 2007
    Currently Being Moderated
    13. May 7, 2008 9:29 AM (in response to mndrs538)
    Re: Why was the swim so hard?

    Man, it is great to read all the postings.  I am racing in my first tri this Sun.  The open water swim is 200M, thank GOD!!  My first open water practice was absolutely aweful!!!  I counld not make it to the car fast enough before the tears started flowing.  I am a decent pool swimmer, but had no idea what to expect in the open water.  Good thing that was three weeks ago.  I have since had two more open water swims, both with wetsuits.  I can feel the anxiety slowly fading, but still very nervous about Sunday.  The previous note about expecting the anxiety and knowing it will happen really helps.  I know I will not be alone.  One thing I think will also help me is that I have joined a tri training group that has open water swims frequently.  As I do more of my training in open water, I expect to get better.  Why do we do this!?!?

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