It was a cold brisk morning and my body shivered as I contemplated why I came to Mont Tremblant for the weekend to wake up at 4am and voluntarily jump into icy cold weather. I hate the cold. The race was starting soon and other athletes were taking off their layers of clothes and putting on their full wetsuits. I did the same, since this is my first Ironman event and I feel like a complete newbie. People started bunching up at the start, and the gun went off for the pros. Everyone starts to cheer in excitement. I clapped my hands, but nerves instantly took over my body. Slowly more and more corrals entered the water, until it was my turn to enter. As it touched my feet, I instantly began to panic because of the temperature. The gun went off, so I jumped in the water and felt that I couldn’t catch my breath. I was instantly panicking. Cold water rushed through my wetsuit, others arms and legs hit me left and right, someone swam completely over me, I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t catch my breath, I wanted to quit. I wanted to wave down a kayak right there and quit. But then I remembered all of the training that brought me here, all of the hard work that I had put into this race, how long I had been looking forward to that day. I calmed my mind down, swam at my own speed, and focused on breathing. The key was to STAY CALM and have the confidence to know I could do this race.
Does this sound like a familiar scenario? Or maybe you have yet to experience the open water. How many people have you met that told you they could never do a triathlon because of the swim? For me, countless. First, they may have never learned how to swim. Then, there is the whole concept of “open water” with marine life, seaweed, etc. and just being out in the open. There is also the temperature and constricting wetsuit. Last, but definitely not least, there are the other athletes swimming around you, which can sometimes make you feel like they are trying to drown you. The open water swim to many people can feel like a daunting task, but can be overcome. Here are some tips to overcome the open waters:
1. Trust your training - You did the work, race day is the time when you get to see the results.
2. Have the appropriate gear - Goggles, wetsuit, swim cap, etc. If you have not swam with a wetsuit on, I highly recommend that you test it, it is definitely a feeling to get used to.
3. Know you are surrounded by help - There are eyes all over you, paddle boards and kayaks there to help if you need it. You are in a safe place.
4. Practice sighting - This is hard to practice in a lap pool, and we don’t really think about it until we are in the water race day swimming off course.
5. Start on the sides of the pack or in the back - Avoid the middle of the crowd, until you are comfortable with race day mass starts.
6. Try to have a training session in open water - and/or see if the race has an open water swim the day before. This will calm your nerves after you feel the water and build your confidence race day. Also, open water is generally colder than the pool, and our body needs to adapt to this. Get in that practice swim!
7. STAY CALM - This is probably the most important tip. Once your nerves get the best of you and you panic, you don’t get the oxygen supply you need and it can spiral from there. Just keep in mind... you trained for this, you are limitless, and you will survive, so keep calm and swim on.
I still get those pre-race jitters before I jump into cold water and I have done seven triathlons. The more I do, the more comfortable I am getting. Believe that you can do it because you are capable of so much more than you think!
Written by Jaclyn Storey
Follow Jaclyn on Instagram! @storey_time