When Dr. Steven White competed in his first triathlon in 2007, the swim was his worst experience and biggest fear. "I panicked upon plunging into the 56-degree water, unable to keep my face in, switched to breaststroke and subsequently tore my MCL during the swim," he recalls. White completed the race that day, despite his unstable knee, and finished with an even stronger determination to conquer the swim.
And conquer it he did. Today White is a triple-IRONMAN finisher and long-distance swimmer, having recently completed the FKCC Swim Around Key West. Below are three of the steps he took before his last IRONMAN race (IRONMAN Maryland) to overcome his swim-related obstacles. If open-water swimming is your weakness, try incorporating these steps into your next training phase.
Develop your stroke technique
Many triathletes who are less familiar with swimming believe that their main focus in preparing for the swim should be to increase endurance. Thus, they often minimize any emphasis on stroke technique. Strapping on their favorite fitness device, these athletes relish the challenge of logging mileage or yardage and delight in comparing their distance to their online peers.
Unfortunately, churning out laps does not equal a strong swim on race day. These same athletes sometimes find that they are not as prepared for the conditions they face in the open water. Add in murky water, strong chop and currents, or flailing arms and legs of hundreds of other swimmers, and all that pool training suddenly seems less useful.
Although increasing endurance is indeed a significant factor in racing successfully, it's only part of the story. Developing a strong technique should be your primary emphasis if you are a beginner swimmer, or if you are not as strong in the swim. This will allow you to gain efficiency, which is a key factor to making the water's resistance work in your favor and not against you.
Developing efficient technique will also diminish some of the anxiety that accompanies the open water swim. You will be able to maneuver around other swimmers more efficiently, swim straighter and stay relaxed and balanced in the water. Focusing on efficient swimming will also help keep your heart rate lower, lessening your chances of a panic attack.