By Athlete Ambassador, Ashley Spurling
The horn goes, you charge into the water…
Surrounded by a swarm of triathletes, you begin running / duck diving for as long as you can until the real swim begins. You get into a stroke, there are racers to your left and right, and you can feel someone’s feet just in front of you. Someone else is hitting your calves with their arms. You heart rate begins to spiral out of control, you can’t keep on top of your breathing, and you start to panic. I have got to get my head out of the water!
Most of us have had them at one stage, even professionals have them – the dreaded anxiety attack. Plenty of factors can contribute: heavy surf, no visibility under water, people swimming into you, or realizing what you thought was a person bumping against your heels is actually a Great White! I have even had issues on a training swims in open water where there is a current pushing me away from shore. One minute I’m totally comfortable. The next, I’m getting sucked into open water and cannot relax.
It is a fact that a build-up of carbon dioxide in your system will cause anxiety attacks. Often when something is particularly worrying you – that Great White, or finding out you ticked the 140.6 rather than the 5150 box on the race website – the first thing you do is stop breathing properly. This is normally what causes the problem. Particularly, not breathing out when your head is under water.
So, how can you learn to take these challenges in stride?
Try to be ‘swim comfortable’ when the race starts. I get into the zone by arriving before my wave starts and doing a decent warmup. It takes a couple of minutes for that change in metabolism to happen, for you to wrangle back control of your heart rate, and to get into manageable breathing pattern.
Once the ensuing carnage hits, I try to breathe every 2nd stroke initially. After the pack has finished swimming over each other (and settled into a stride), I make sure to breathe out when my head is underwater. Deliberately doing so when my head is submerged, despite what is happening all around, it keeps me relaxed.
Give this technique a try!