Choking in open water

I completely choked today at the mini tri clinic put together by Rogue for both the Ironchicks & CapTex Tri group. The CapTex tri group is fairly advanced and they got to go into swim earlier. We had a short talk by a professional triathlete, Tenille (don’t know last name) about pre-race day and race day to-dos etc. And then we went out to the lake (this was at Lake Pflugerville).

It was the foggiest morning I’ve seen in Austin. As the CapTex group jumped into the water and swam out, Tenille continued to talk to us about our fears of the swim etc. Slowly we saw the fog settle in on top of the lake and I could barely see the swimmers out in the distance. That fog already put a chill into my heart.

I’d hardly slept well in the stress of the swim today. When I woke up at 5.30 am, all I could think about was I really do not want to do this. I’m not talking about butterflies in my stomach. I’m talking morbid fear. I kicked myself for jumping the gun and signing up for the race this week. Earlier I’d thought, let me survive the triathlon clinic and then I’ll sign up based on how I did on it. I probably would have never signed up after today. So now that I am, I have to give it a good faith attempt if not everything I got.

The fear of open water is something I’ve struggled with for a long time. I’ve never swum out in open water but I’ve always had nightmares about being out near open water or trying to run away from a large ocean or just being in the water and nothing else but water around. I’ve woken up gasping and I just can’t seem to get over that morbid fear. These aren’t just niggling doubts or performance anxiety – I really feel worried for my life. And really why? There are tons of lifeguards, kayaks and swimmers out on wake boards with noodles you can hold onto. And besides that I can really swim. I swim fairly well in my opinion – I don’t have tremendous endurance to swim continuously but I am pretty fast getting across the pool.

I still don’t know why I choked today. And why today was different from that first day out at Decker Lake. That day too I was a nervous wreck as soon as I stepped into the water. I couldn’t put my head in and breathe out, which meant that I was trying to breathe out and in when I had my head out. I would stop swimming and just fiercely tread water, getting tired, out of breath and even more panicked. I don’t know whether it was my talking to myself or Stacey who made it happen but Stacey wasn’t there today. Holly, the swim coach swam alongside me and I even grabbed a noodle. Then she said ok, let’s the a # of strokes at a time. So I did 3 strokes and then a bit of breast stroke. Then I did 5 strokes and then a bit of breast stroke again. A lot of people try back stroke or side swimming. I feel like all those drills I learned just evaporate when the panic sets in. I’ve got to stop fighting the water. I cannot possibly be in it and fight it.

To be fair, I got the distance in that everyone did and back. But really, it felt like not having done anything. I could barely do freestyle for a few strokes every time before I panicked again. Head in water, breathing out, I couldn’t get out all the air because with the panic I felt like my chest cavity was closing in. All I could think of at that time was that I cannot do this.

My mother almost drowned in open water when she was a kid. Which is why she didn’t ever let me swim or enroll in swimming classes as a child (counter-intuitive, but that is my mom for you). So I learned how to swim when I was about 23 in grad school at Purdue. I learned quickly but my repertoire stopped at breast stroke. And some really bad freestyle. The swim clinic at UT really helped to improve the freestyle and I was good about getting practice on it. Ironchicks sealed those improvements and now I’m quite proud of my freestyle (there are still many chinks) but it feels easy and natural now. What doesn’t feel natural is that damn open water. I feel like its going to swallow me whole and I keep fighting that fear and forgetting to swim.

Writing it all down probably helps. But this is something I need to figure out and do it fast. After, on the bike ride and the run I just wasn’t in it anymore. I felt so let down about the swim that none of it mattered anymore. So we’ll see – if I don’t get out and get enough swimming in open water in the next 2 weeks I probably will have to forfeit this race. So much for wanting to be a triathlete!


5 responses to “Choking in open water

  1. Noooo…you can do it Cheech…the only thing to fear is fear itself. Cliched but true 😦
    And hey…you did swim the entire thing today na? So chin up!! Am pretty sure you’ll be able to do it again on Race-Day!
    Lots of love and triathlon-dust!

  2. Cheech, I have exactly the opposite problem 🙂 I LOVE open water but cant swim too well. So I just end up floating and drifting. May be you should try that first – Just lie on your back and drift, enjoy the openness and then slowly learn to just put ur head under water for a few minutes at a time.

  3. You did awesome today! Dont be so hard on yourself. Brenda and I would love for you to come swim with us. I will let you know our schedule for next week.

    Remember….. when you train for anything I feel like 10% is finish and 90% is facing your fears. You are on the right track!

    • Thanks ladies! I just feel like i should try to touch the ground with my feet or be able to see the depth when i put my head in. Not knowing how deep it is freaks me out. Dont know why. In the pool i have been fine in a 16 ft deep pool but thats it, i know that depth! Gotta work on it. Have sent a message out to everyone i know that can help!

  4. I feel your fear! Swimming is general is big BLACK cloud! 😦 One thing is for sure, in a couple of weeks you will become a TRIATHLETE. And that will feel great. Yaay to you.

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