I am glad for this discussion because I too have had a hard time and thought it was just me. I do well in pool swims but seem to panic in open water, it is really holding my time back overall in the triathlons. I do think that the added pressure on my neck makes it hard to breathe properly and I panic. However, considering someone died on my last tri in the water without a wetsuit, I do not think that I could forego it. Has anyone done any adjustments to the neck of the wetsuit before? I think if I had less pressure it would be better. I am not sure about opening the neck because I am worried that too much water will go in.
The problem may not be that your wetsuit collar is too tight. It may be just the difference between swimming with a suit on and swimming without. When you're in the pool and you get short of breath, your instinct is to lift your head to get your face out of the water. Your hips naturally drop, and although you slow down, you can get a full breath.
When you wear a wetsuit, your hips and legs are covered in neoprene, which gives a lot of additional flotation. That's good from the standpoint of maintaining efficent swimming position. However, when you get short of breath and lift your head to breathe, your hips don't drop. The result is that you hyperextend your back in your attempt to lift your face out of the water. Try breathing with a hyperextended back and you may recognize the sensation you've been feeling in the water. The really insidious part of this is that, since you can't get a full breath, you become even more hypoxic, which increases your desire to keep you face out of the water, which hyperextends your back...
If that's the problem, the solution is to be sure that you breathe by rolling to your side and turning your face out of the water while keeping your back straight. That will allow your chest and lungs to expand and bring in more air. Also, remember to breathe out on your non-breathing strokes so that you can take a full breath during the time your face is clear of the water. Since the other side effect of panic is a tendency to hold your breath, that may be a contributing factor. Above all, learn to relax when you feel that panic coming on. If you can concentrate on maintaining good form and resist the urge to start thrashing, you can work though the nerves and regain your normal swim form.
For the record, I've experienced panic attacks in several open water swims. I also just completed a half iron race in which the swim was a joy from start to finish. I'm not saying I'll never feel uneasy in the water again, but the longer I do this the less open water swims bother me and the more I enjoy them. It just takes practice and experience. Good luck with future races.
By the way, don't leave your collar open. You'll negate most of the benefits of wearing a suit.
So I am competing in the Timberman Triathlon as my first HIM, and all I can remember about my last open water swim (done it once) was that it was a terrible and very scary 400m. I want to practice open water swims, and I'll be able to because i'll be right off of the mediterranean for the next 2 months, but I don't have anyone to swim with, and going into that deep of water without anyone is very scary for me...Also, I tend to freak out thinking about what is under the water while i'm swimming through it (whether its jellyfish or whatever else)...any ways to deal with these problems?
My advice for a first timer, besides the good stuff everyone else said is, Start Late. But this is a race!? (Well, if your new, you're not going to win. ) The panics and everything will cost you many seconds in your time anyway. Even after 15 or so Tri's and coming in the top 15 or better, I still do this myself when I'm not feeling good.
Stand at the start line back away from the crowd where there's room and count to 15 sec, slowly after the horn. It will seem like an eternity. You will start calm, and as a slower swimmer, you won't get beat up too much, if at all.
When you think about it, if the sprint tri lasts 1 hour for you ( very unlikely as a newby), that's only 15/3600 or 0.004 of your time. Well worth it!
Another tip -- If you're going to practice, do it at the time time you're going to race. The weather is much colder at sunrise, and often the water is calmer which is a nice bonus. And don't forget to go for a quick run out of the water. It'll warm you up, and give a good practice for the transition. Enjoy!
(No I didn't think of this on my own, credit to Mike Collins video on open water swimming.)
What a great thread of advise!
I agree with all of the training tips but let's say that for whatever reason, race day arrives and you haven't had the chance to do as much open water/wetsuit training as you can planned (of course, this happens to the best of us).
I think the best thing you can do for yourself on race morning is get warmed up outside of the water and then in the actual water if allowable. So arrive earlier than normal to transition area, get setup and then go for a light jog or bike. Get your heart rate going for 5-15 minutes. It will make a world a difference when you start the race, especially in colder water. After your warm-up on land, get into your wetsuit and try to get some warmup time in the water prior to race start. Depending on the race setup, wave starts, etc, this may or may not be possible. But even if you can only get a few minutes before your wave goes, definitely make the most of it and get in and swim some crawl.
These warm-up techniques will help to minimize the body shock from the cold water, high exertion and nerves that play a role in your swim start performance.
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Don't worry you're definitely not the only one. Even experienced swimmers like me and a few of my teammates on the Cal Tri team still panicked their first time. Swimming in open water is completely different than swimming in a pool. I've been a swimmer since I was 10 months old. I'm comfortable swimming in all sorts of situations including those involving many people swimming in 1 lane hand to foot, kicking, scratching, punching, double and triple passing people, pinching... (club swimming). But none of that could have ever prepared me for my first triathlon race this year. Even when I had practiced a little in the open water and a little in my wetsuit, I STILL had a panic attack my first time swimming in a race. I had to do backstroke halfway through because something about the fact that I couldn't see the bottom of the body of water threw me off and the murkiness made me feel claustrophobic and panicked. I couldn't breathe as easily in my new wetsuit and it was so much more stressful when there weren't clear lane lines to mediate the chaos. Thankfully I made it to the end in one piece and learned never to underestimate the power of open water.
Open water swimming is a completely different animal compared to pool swimming. Lake swimming is also different too. I personally think swimming in sea water is more difficult than swimming in a lake since there tends to be more of a current. Just try to do more open water swimming. The more I practiced in open water the more comfortable I became with it. The more races you do, the easier it will be to deal with the crowds of people and not get freaked out.
Trying out a new wetsuit before doing your race is also always a good idea. Make sure you train a little in it so you get used to the feel and are better able to deal with the added resistance.
There are classes that teach people how to swim better in open water specifically for triathletes, so maybe you'd want to look into that. You can also work on perfecting your stroke with a coach. There's plenty of group lessons you can take at community pools all over the place. YMCA's are usually pretty easy to find.
I am doing my first triatholon june 14th, in naperville(sprint women's triathlon. I am very nervous and feeling panicky about the swim.. I think I will ask for a swimming angel. Has anyone swam in this event? any advice or encouragement.