Overcoming Triathlon Race Anxiety
by Chris Hague
It’s race day morning, and the sun is just peaking over the horizon.
The conditions are perfect with cool temperatures, a cloudless sky, and calm waters as far as the eye can see. Right after the cannon fires, marking the start of the pro wave, you wade into the water with your fellow competitors. Everything seems alright and fine. Then the horn goes off, and chaos descends. The water turns into a churning washer machine.
Bodies are everywhere, kicking you in the face and poking you in the ribs. You choke down water and panic. You flail and flap your arms but to no avail, and everything you learned in the pool goes out the window. You feel like your body is sinking, and with it your hopes of a good race…
Racing anxiety (especially before open water swims) is a common problem that everyone faces at some point. Fortunately, it can be easily overcome with some pre race and race day preparation.
Here is what I have found works really well:
• If you can preview the course the day before, definitely take advantage of that opportunity. You don’t even have to swim; just play around, splash overly serious triathletes, sit in the water and relax. Try to get a good feeling for the water and realize this is exactly like the pool but better!
• On race morning, see if you can warm up in the water. This is not allowed at some races but if you can hop in for a quick 5 minutes easy. If you cannot get in, spend some extra time visualizing the course and planning out your race day plan.
• Breath easy: Take a few deep breathes from the diaphragm to lower the heart rate before you get in the water
• Ease into the swim: unless you are gunning for the podium, take your time getting out of the starting gate. Let the speed demons go first and then go. Also start out to the side of the start line to avoid the washer machine chaos of the middle
• If the water gets choppy while you are swimming just go with the flow. Float for a little bit on your back. Think to yourself “you are going to be fine. There are safety crews ready to help me if I need to and every one else is dealing with the same conditions.
• Focus on one part of your swim: To keep your concentration pick one part of your stroke and focus just on that. I like to make focus on the pull or high elbow or the roll of the hips. This will help you take your mind off the conditions as well.
• Visualize! In the week leading up to the race, visualize the race and every possible situation then deal with them in this fantasy. “If “x” happens then I will do “y”"
The more you practice and get into the open water and into racing conditions, the better you will be and easier facing the open water will be.
Just relax and have fun!
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