Oh man this is great stuff here! First off, I thought my wet suit was too small which made it too hard to breath. Although I never felt like I was panicing, I could not catch my breath. I ended up doing the breast stroke after about 100M in. I was all set to buy another wet suit $$. I only did one open water swim and that was only a few min. I didn't train in my wetsuit. I also was breathing every 3 strokes. Sounds like I need to spend some time in my suit and in open water. Once again this is great stuff, keep it coming!
Doc Tri, Thank you for the clarification. I realize now that I did not train the right way for the swim. I didn't even think about my breathing or stroking or pace. I just figured I'd get in there and swim 1.2 miles like I did in the pool. And you are correct. Most of my training was in the low-end of the aerobic zone. I did have a coach who put together swim workouts online and I'd take them to the pool, but I must admit I didn't adhere to all of the 'fast' and 'faster' 50's and 100's she had down. I should have asked about those, as at the time I didn't think they made sense when all I thought I was trying to do was to 'go the distance'.
I will practice your suggestions as they make total sense now. I am glad you are sharing your knowledge here. Thanks so much!
Its interesting that someone posted saying they had the same panic at the same point in the water on a training swim with one person weeks later. I have done a few tri's in open water, and think that alot of different factors effect your confidence. The one I think is the most powerful is the the simple fear of open water, whether crowded with swimmers or not. That just happens to make it worse. Water that is merky and too deep to touch the bottom lets fears of drowning, and the unknown enter your mind. Salt water swims especially, for an inexperienced swimmer can evoke fears of shark attacks. Even though we all know nothing is really there.......right?
I have been a triathlete for 23 years and did not start swimming until my first tri, many years ago. My experiences back then were very similiar. Through trial and error, the following are a few things I've learned that have helped me feel calm and actually now look forward to the swim; the Alcatraz swim to the Hawaii Ironman swim.
Check out the swim course before the swim; look to see where the buoys are and count them, at least to the turnaround buoy. If a wetsuit, is allowed, make sure it fits properly, not too tight in the chest area so it doesn't constrict your chest and possibly your breathing. Put your wetsuit on well before your swim wave start . Get in the water a couple minutes before the start and swim a few yards and if you can, stay in the water and start in the water. Be ready for your first buoy. I'm not the fastest swimmer, so I place myself in the middle of the pack. I taught myself to breathe on both sides. Breathing on one side can take you way off course if you aren't a great open water swimmer. Don't necessarily take for granted the swimmer ahead of you knows where there going. Do your own siting as best you can by looking up every few strokes. Swim buoy to buoy and try and relax. When you see the last buoy, pick up the pace and try and finish strong. Swimming fast for a beginner should not be the priority, getting a feel for the water and feeling comfortable in the water is important. Once you overcome your fear/anxiety, you can work on speed. It will happen with practice. Good luck and just get back in the water, especially open water when possible.
Scary-stuff, I've been there too. It could have been one or a combination of things:
1) Going out too hard; getting caught up in the pack
2) First open water swim
3) Being boxed in with all the other swimmers
4) Any hi-test caffine or similar can get your HR way too high
5) Sports induced Ashma (See an allergest)
I hope this helps and that you don't give it up. This once happended to me but I pressed on and finally did an Ironman
One or two additional thoughts, since this seems to be a widespread problem.
1. It sounds like most have experienced the open water panic. I've experienced it in the pool as well, and probably so have you. The difference is that in the pool I could simply swim to the end and rest. so discomfort never became fear and then panic. Eventually I learned that when I started feeling the anxiety that comes with insufficient oxygen, I had to relax, concentrate on swimming with good form, and think about exhaling completely before trying to take the next breath. That works in open water as well. In fact, concentrating on the minutiae of swim technique is a pretty effective way to keep the "I'm going to drown" thoughts at bay. From a training standpoint, It also helps to occasionally stop during a training swim and simply float in your suit. You'll discover that it's nearly impossible to sink while you're wearing one.
2. On of the posters indicated that he or she was going to go to the pool to practice sighting. I'd recommend against that, as I believe it will be largely ineffective. There are too many visual indicators in the pool that will keep you moving in a straight line. Those cues will not be present in an open water swim, and it will unnerve you to realize that you're going off course in the open water in a way that you never did in the pool. Additionally, body position with a wetsuit on is different than body position without one, and will change your body mechanics slightly. That may not seem like a big thing, but over 1000 plus yards it adds up. Finally, environmental factors such as waves, glare from the sun, and simply turbulence from other swimmers will affect your ability to see markers. Remember - train like you intend to race. Ideally you should practice under as close to the same conditions - weather, time of day, etc. - as you will experience during your race. Trust me, looking east to find a buoy at sunrise is a far different thng than spotting that same buoy at noon.
3. It sounds stupid, but make sure your collar isn't too tight. One of the funniest stories I ever read was a race report from a team member who was racing in a wetsuit for the first time. He had roughly the same experience you did, with the addition of being run over by the swimmers behind him when he tried to turn back. He had actually given up on the race and opened the collar on his suit, at which point he discovered why he couldn't breathe.
After five years of competition, I still occasionally find myself approaching that feeling of panic. The difference is that now I know it's a transitory feeling that I can get past. It just takes a little practice and experience.
I can relate completely, believe me. Although I participated in a 15-week TriCC (Tri Community College) and trained with 49 other people even in a wetsuit and out in open water, the lake where we trained was shallow and clear. Lake Ontario is cold and murky, and, quite frankly, SCARY! I was very excited at the start of my first triathlon EVER this past summer, and I guess I got caught up in the adrenaline rush at the start, because I was oblivious to the fact that I was swimming right down the middle and that the MEN would be starting behind me any minute! I am NOT a swimmer, by any stretch of the imagination, but I had worked very hard at conquering my fear of deep water. (The first time I trained, I sat on the edge of the pool for 15 minutes saying to myself, "I can't do this...") So I took lessons and kept at it, and felt I was well-prepared on race day. When I realized I was right in the way of these men who were evidently out for BLOOD and would probably think nothing at all of swimming OVER me, I went into a crazy panic. I forgot how to swim, and some woman next to me was on her back trying to keep her breathing calm, but when I tried that, I felt dizzy looking at the sky and had to turn over again. One of the male swimmers was nice enough to stop and ask if I needed any help, and even suggested I take off my cap and wave it so the kayaks would come and rescue me. I thought about it for a split second and then said to myself, "I did NOT spend the last 15 weeks of my life training so that I could QUIT in the first leg of the race!" Just at that moment, I heard my friend that I had been training so hard with yelling my name and telling me to swim over to the side, with her, where it was safe. I did just that, and she saved my LIFE. I remember thinking to myself during that panic attack, "Oh my God, this is IT! I am going to DROWN and no one is even going to NOTICE!" It was the single most HORRIFYING moment of my life. I am a high school teacher (and a cross country coach), and I have shared this story with my students MANY times, because OUR STRENGTH LIES WITHIN. I ended up taking 6th on the bike and 2nd on the run, because I was so ANGRY for losing so much time on the swim! I finished number 5 out of 10 women in my age group for my first sprint tri EVER, so I was happy! I guess I am a glutton for punishment, b/c now I am training for my second tri in August. I see the swim as the ultimate challenge. (Boston was my first dream for FIVE LONG YEARS, but I ran it in 3:57 back in 2006, so I needed a NEW challenge!) I wish you and everyone else who is just starting out the BEST OF LUCK on the swim...I believe it is the sole reason why more people do NOT do triathlons...it's just too SCARY! One piece of advice-try doing yoga-it really helps to regulate your breathing.
BUENA SUERTE/BON COURAGE!
I had a bad experience yesterday in the swim portion of a sprint tri. I would appreciate any thoughts or comments that would help me not repeat this experience. I have been swimming for 48 years, swim 2-3 times a week with a masters group, have used a wet suit and swam in open water. I have completed 10-15 triathlons including 1 olympic distance. Yesterday the water was about 55 degrees and I did a warm up on the bike and a short one in the water. I was unable to catch my breath once I started swimming. I could swim freestyle for about 10 strokes and then had to breastroke to breathe. I had to stop at a lifeguard with a rescue buoy and she convinced me that I would be able to finish. The 1/2 mile swim which usually takes me 15-18 minutes took 22 and I was still coughing and having difficulty breathing on the bike and run. I'm wondering if the cold water had was the issue or if I may need to be evaluated for exercise induced asthma.
Thank you all so much for sharing your experiences and insights. I did my first sprint tri in May. I had been swimming for 3 or so years and felt very confident about the swimming portion of the tri (much more so than the run). Instead, I totally CHOKED on the swim - I felt like I was off kilter from the moment I got into the pool - I could never catch my breath or get re-centered. I did a glorified dog-paddle interspersed with a lame back stroke and breast stroke the entire 400 yds. I freaked out at the people all around me - in front, behind, on the side. People coming up behind me wanting to pass, when I was trying to pass someone who was suffering even more than me. And I kept thinking, what would I do if this was an open water swim?? I would be dead by now!" I'm relieved to find out this freezing up is a common phenomenon and that I can overcome it, esecially if I go into knowing what to expect and keeping centered and focused. Lori
Elizabeth - 55 degrees is COLD, even with a wetsuit even with warming up. Did you have a headcover and gloves on also?
Were you in a lake or the ocean - and was it windy - waves - current? Have you swum your tris in water that cold before?
Those are the things I would be thinking of. Could be it was just not your day to race, even with all your experience. You sound about my age (50 +), so be sure to listen to your body about this.
Laurie- Thanks for your reply. I did have 2 swim caps, no gloves. It was a little windy/wavy but I have been in those conditions before. I did swim in cold water 1 week prior to this race for about 10-15 minutes, but the water was colder at the race. I am 57 and I will take your advice and listen to my body better at my next cold water swim. I plan to get out and do some more swims soon because there are no lakes in Minnesota that have warmed up yet!
I can't even tell you all how much this discussion has helped me. I completed a sprint tri yesterday with a 500m swim and I really thought at one point I'd have to quit in the water. In fact, one of the lifeguard guys made me speak to him to make sure I was okay to finish. I was nervous at the start and lost my breath as soon as the water hit my chest. I was nearly hyperventilating and had to swim most of it on my back. I've done one triathlon each year for the past 3 years and have always had a problem with the swim, but this by far was the worst. I am signed up to do another tri next Sunday, this one with an 800m swim, and I'm already stressed about the water! I know I need to practice more in the open water, but I think I really need to work on some relaxation techniques so that I don't freak out again.
One of the last posts mentioned avoiding high caffiene drinks before the race... How much of an impact do you think that has? I had one of those 5-hour energy drinks prior to the start of the race. I was also using my wetsuit, which may be a bit tight through the chest, for the first time in open water (I've practiced with it in the pool).
I really want to continue on with triathlons, but I don't want to be so stressed about the water. I'm glad to hear so many other people have had similar experiences. The support alone makes me feel better.
I was in that water with you in Orlando. A local guy told me that the gators only eat the slow people, so that kept me moving. I also was ALL OVER THE PLACE. The boat people kept asking if I was okay, because I kept swimmimg to them when I really just wanted to swim in a flippin' straight line. Yee gads. The bike was fast and beautiful even with the rain, but the run portion felt like we were running in the tunnels of **** in soaking wet shoes!!! And I live in Phoenix! The finish line never looked so good!!!!
I've only done 5 sprint tri's but a few things I learned.
- Get fully wet with the wetsuit before start. If you don't the cold shock and the suit around your neck will make you feel like you're chocking.
- Get warmed up before the swim. If you'll don't you'll feel that initial fatigue after the crazy start and you'll be out of gas on the water. You can't coast while swimming.
- Make sure your goggles are on good, and put the swim cap over your ears. Loosing you're goggles really sucks, and dropping an ear plug throws you off.
I too was all over the place in the swim. I stayed close to the buoys and kept veering towards the kayaks. Glad I didn't hear about the gators! Just sheer determination kept me going, plus I was doing the half with my son and had to finish! Not that we did it together or even trained together - he's much too fast for me, but we are from NC and planned this trip a year ago! I was absolutely determined to get thru that swim.
The bike completely lulled me into security! All that wonderful rain. Then came the blow - that run was brutal. Wonderful picture of you - threecutekids!