I am not sure why I fear open water swims. I am not going to drown. I know how to swim, to tread water, and to float on my back. If I get tired, I can swim breaststroke and backstroke. So what is it? Why the major anxiety before and during an open water swim?
It’s the panic attacks. I’ve had two. The first one was during my first triathlon a long time ago, and it was my first time in open water. I was swimming in a pond. It was no big deal, but it was: no lines at the bottom of the lake, no clue how to spot, and people hitting me. The second one was last year, and I swallowed water from a wave, and I started to choke. On both occasions, I calmed down, but the panic attacks with the inability to take a breath while treading water in a large body of water were very scary for the 15 seconds they lasted.
It’s the lack of control that leads to my anxiety. I don’t know when the panic attacks will hit. I have to force myself to calm down at the beginning of each swim and be present the whole time. That’s a hard one–to be present. When I swim in a pool, I can think all I want because I’m in a rhythm and swimming from one end to the other. I think about the book I’m writing or my race plan or whatever pops into my mind.
For open water swims, my rhythm and thoughts go something like this: “One, two, and one, two, and sight. One, two, and OMG. Where is the freakin’ bouy? One, two, and Am I really that slow? One, two, and What if I have another panic attack? One, two, and OMG. The buoys are so far away. I can’t do it.”
It’s no wonder with all that anxiety that I don’t have a panic attack each time. Eventually, I calm down and find a rhythm,. When I do find a rhythm, then my thoughts are present and calm and filled with gratitude. Sounds pretty good? It takes half of my swim to get to that place.
My goal this year is to enjoy open water swimming without the anxiety or crazy thoughts. I will have to take it in steps or buoy by buoy.
One, two, and one, two, and I got this swim.