Since View The Race launched earlier this year the most popular "google search" I have seen is related to swim panic during a triathlon swim or overcoming swim anxiety. I wrote a post about this subject earlier this year and the use of a swim buoy in open water training. Now I knew that this would be a popular subject as everyone at one time or another is nervous about the swim portion of a triathlon. I even had a mini panic attack myself earlier this year. What I didn't know is how many people out there are really afraid or have a tremendous amount of anxiety about swimming in open water during a triathlon.
As I thought about this I asked myself..... What are people afraid of? Sharks? Jellyfish? Is it fear of drowning? Fear of being bumped or hit in the water? Unfortunately, people have died during the swim portion of a triathlon. Usually the cause of death is related to a heart attack or some other underlying medical condition. As terrible as that is I don't think that is the reason people are afraid of the triathlon swim. I believe people are afraid of the triathlon swim for the same reason people are afraid of anything else. It's a mix of rational and irrational fear. For example, why am I afraid of heights? Who knows....Below are the definitions of what is going on for someone that is experiencing swim panic.
What is fear?
An unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.
What is panic?
Sudden uncontrollable fear or anxiety, often causing wildly unthinking behavior.
Taking these two definitions it's fair to say that what people with swim panic are experiencing in the water is uncontrollable fear of impending danger/pain/injury which can result in irrational behavior. For example, trying to take your wetsuit off during a race in the water. (yes, I have seen this)
My first reaction to this definition is..... Are you kidding me? People are that afraid of swimming in a triathlon? I would think if athletes train in open water and are confident in their swimming ability then they shouldn't be nervous or afraid of the swim portion of a race. Then I looked in the mirror....What about the things I am afraid of? Why can't I just get over them as I am suggesting is so easy to do? People have the same feelings of panic and fear felt during the triathlon swim about many different things. Here are the top ten things people are afraid of according to an about.com article:
4) Crowded spaces
6) Thunder and lightening
8) Social situations
Most everyone is afraid of something. How many of the above are you afraid of? (I have 2 out of 10) So I guess my point is that being afraid or anxious about the swim portion of a triathlon is not that crazy. The swim portion of a triathlon can be chaotic. In addition this chaos is happening when you are in water over your head, possibly far from shore swimming in a crowd with no means of immediate escape. I guess that would hit the panic button for a lot of us. This actually seems a lot more legitimate than being afraid to look over the edge of a building (fear of heights) or seeing a snake at the zoo (behind 4 inches of glass).
All kidding aside, I truly believe repetitive training in open water will relieve some swim anxiety. Also, being comfortable with your swimming ability will make you more confident. In other words don't enter a race with a mile swim if you are not sure you can swim a mile. Hopefully with training you can overcome your fear. It is possible that regardless of the amount of training, you may not be able to overcome your fear. Triathlons are supposed to be fun, right? If you are afraid of snakes you wouldn't keep trying to be a snake charmer and enter snake charming competitions...Why is the triathlon any different? Remember if all else fails there is a fall back plan.....duathlons.