6 Common Worst Case Scenarios for Open Water Swimmers and How to Avoid Them

Photo: John Segesta

Every athlete ever to skid, stumble, or crawl across a finish line has a race-day horror story to share.

Triathletes and cyclists recall getting a flat or going down on the road. Runners compare notes on excruciating cramps, blisters and shin splints. But perhaps the most anxiety-inducing tales come from swimmers, who live in constant fear of experiencing their worst open water moments again and again.

Lots can go wrong in the water; after all, we evolved to live comfortably on land. From losing a pair of goggles at the start of a race to experiencing a debilitating cramp in deep water, swimmers have it rough.

Below is a list of the most common open water Worst Case Scenarios, and how you can prevent them from occurring—or at least cope with them should they come up in competition.

Ways to Avoid Having a Worst Case Scenario Become Your Worst Race Scenario

1. Losing Your Goggles

Nothing is more dispiriting than rushing into the water at the sound of a starting gun only to have your goggles snap off. It's happened to the best of us, and although it's rare, it can be the death-knell for one's racing goals (not to mention one's contact lenses if you wear them).

Always make sure to inspect your goggles the night before your race. Pull the straps gently and look for small tears and ripples that indicate wear and tear, especially at the clips where the straps are secured.

Often, you will find that straps can look shiny and new while showing signs of deterioration at the seams and buckles near the eyepiece. If so, get another pair of goggles and adjust them before you go to sleep; the following race-day morning will be hectic and nerve-wracking, so you won't want to think about preparing a new pair of goggles to fit just right.

Remember that sun, chlorine, and moisture all add to the elements that can cause a strap to break, so take care to keep your goggles dry and wrapped in a towel when not in use.

It is not uncommon to see extra-paranoid swimmers bringing a spare pair of goggles with them during a race (around their neck, wedged into their swimsuits, or even tied around their ankles!). While this is a surefire way to add insurance to your race experience, it is highly unnecessary and cumbersome. Goggles around your neck are dangerous (choking hazard), and all other options are nothing more than dead weight.

One is much better off anticipating a Worst Case Scenario and being prepared for it: Try swimming without your goggles, and accustom yourself to opening your eyes under water. Such drills are invaluable to your confidence should the unexpected occur, and you will be able to cope with such an unforeseen circumstance without sacrificing your entire event.

2. Getting a Cramp

Leg cramps while swimming are very common among triathletes, most often striking the calves. This is because triathletes are predominantly lower-body athletes whose legs by virtue of their defined musculature and overall training fatigue are more prone to muscle spasms in the water as their less-flexible legs flay stiffly back and forth.

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