The swim leg strikes fear into the hearts of all new triathletes and many seasoned age groupers alike. Why is it feared? And why is it such a challenge?
I believe the stigma that surrounds the swim can be traced back to our childhood. (Don’t worry it’s not a Freudian thing, where I’m going to suggest that if you were in nappies till the age of 6 you’re more susceptible to the fear of drowning) However, when you think back to your school days, at some point we’ve all owned a bike, and at some point we’ve spent much of our lunch times running around the playground, or on the football or netball courts for school sport.
BUT, in contrast, it was only a small percentage who actually embraced swim squad and enthusiastically harassed mum and dad to take them to the pool at some ungodly hour of the morning so they could swim lap after lap in their budgie smugglers. Personally I was happy to bank a few extra hours sleep and wait till dad came in and woke me with the promise of breakfast and Scooby Doo cartoons.
My early memories of swimming was the teacher standing on my fingers as I tried to grab the side of the pool in desperation as I was gasping for air. Feeling like I was about to draw my last breath and the only chance of survival rested in the hands of this lunatic that thought it better to stand on my fingers than get me out of that hell hole. I didn’t truly learn how to swim till the age of 11, and that was only enough to get myself out of trouble.
So as you can appreciate, the idea of swimming anything longer than the length of a pool was going to be a challenge both mentally and physically.
My first event was an enticer race which started with a 300m swim in a man made lake. I can safely say that despite the fact that I had practiced and knew I could actually swim the distance, I was terrified. What if I panicked? What if someone hit me while I was swimming and I drowned? What if …. I just forgot how to swim?! Agh!!!!
I remember training in the pool and trying to work out how long it would take for me to swim 300m. Hoping that might put my mind at ease. I also remember strategising where I would start. Back right, back left, back middle, back back? (Notice none of the options had the word “front” in it) But none of this really mattered when it came down to the day. In the end I just had to put on a smile and enjoy whatever came, even if that meant being rescued by the lifesaver dudes on surf skis.
At the start line I had to wade out about 5 meters through the reeds that lined the bank of the lake and take my position next to another 40 plus competitors. Many looking just as nervous as I was.
I decided to start at the back (no surprises there) and to the middle. The gun went off and we were away. The first thing I noticed was a missing black line down the middle of the lake. In fact, there was a lack of anything as I could only see about 1 meter ahead of me under the water. It’s a real claustrophobic feeling. Your arms are moving, you know you’re actually going in a forwards direction, but it feels like you’re standing still. Then the questions started entering my head:
– Where is everyone?
– How deep is this lake?
– Am I starting to panic?
– How do I find the first turn around buoy?!?!
It took the best part of a 100m to get used to the lack of visibility. I eventually reasoned that if I followed the splashing arms and legs ahead of me, and occasionally did a few strokes of breast stroke or doggie paddle I’d work out which way I needed to go. The next thing that surprised me was the amount of swimmers that were still around me after the 100m mark. I’d just assumed that I would be the slowest and I could have a relaxing swim behind everyone else. Maybe I’m not as slow as I thought? Sweet!
Hmmmm but that presented me with another challenge. Every time I touched someone I had this overwhelming urge to stop swimming, see who I’d hit and provide them with a heart felt apology for being so clumsy. 10 apologies, and a 100meters later that soon stopped? I mean, no one was apologising to me when I got bumped.
The final 100 meters was just about finishing this weird experience. Needless to say, the fact that you’re reading this means I made it out alive. And when I did, I was the happiest man in T1 (transition). I couldn’t believe I did it!
So what did I learn from this experience? Heaps, allow me to share:
– Firstly, make sure you can actually swim the distance. Let this be the least of your worries on the day.
– Try and practice at least once in open water and not in the pool. This is something I really wish I had done prior to the race. Get a feel for not being able to see the usual black line that keeps you company when you visit the pool. It takes a little to adjust and can be scary for the first time. Just be assured there’s nothing to worry about and you are in fact swimming at your usual speed.
– You may be slow but there will always be someone a little slower
– Practice sighting so you don’t have to stop and do breast stroke or doggie paddle
– Practice in a crowded pool so you get used to the others passing you and their wake hitting you and maybe even bumping you
– Practice breathing on both sides just in case you have someone splashing like a mad man on one side (I still can’t do this one yet)
– Practice with a cap – it’s surprisingly different as you can’t hear as much
– Take your time and go at your own pace
And above all, don’t let the fear of the swim leg discourage you from giving this great sport a try. Start small and built up over time and you’ll be amazed at what you can achieve with a little practice.
So I encourage you to register for your first Enticer event now! You have to start somewhere and there’s nothing like an impending event to get you motivated. Let me know in the comments which event you’ve registered for.
Keep Smiling Tri Monkeys
Ps: I’d love to hear your stories or feedback so please leave a comment and let me know what you thought of this post or what else you’d like to see on Tri Monkey in the future.