It starts as a whisper, easily obscured by the slap of hand entering water.

Stroke. Stroke. Stroke.

A constant mumble now, getting harder to ignore.

Stroke. Stroke. Stroke.

A nagging voice. I’m trying not to listen.

Stroke. Stroke. Stroke.

Suddenly it’s shouting directly down my ear-hole through a layer of silicone swimming cap.

“STOP SWIMMING YOU LUNATIC. WE ARE GOING TO DROWN.”

 

It is my inner monologue, and it’s in a bit of panic.

I am just 800m in to a proposed 2000m open water swim session and the voices in my head have taken over control. These are uncharted waters for me – but metaphorically not physically: This the first time I have ever felt anxious in the water. I’ve swum thousands of lengths in the pool, splashed around in numerous lakes (including this one), jumped off boats in the middle of the ocean, surfed in waves around the World, and scuba-dived off-shore. But now as I embark on my first bit of open water training my mind starts racing, I tense up, my technique falls apart, and before I know it I’m standing on the bank panting and wondering where it all went wrong.

Am I just not cut out to be an open water swimmer? I need answers. So like every enthusiastic athlete with a problem I get straight online searching for comfort in the tales of other amateurs. Thankfully it seems other swimmers have also experienced this issue whilst making the move from the pool to open water. It seems this fear of ‘The Deep’ can be triggered by many things: Not knowing what is beneath you; fear of isolation; dislike of being surrounded by nature; the brush of weed or fish against leg; or loss of visibility.

This last one rang truest for me. In the crystal clear waters of the pool it is easy to see that you are swimming in a straight line and not heading for danger. But with visibility in the murky lake at less than 50cm it was as if my world was closing in. Even in the most open setting imaginable, I was feeling claustrophobic.

 

Of course there is no quick fix, but blogs and forum posts from experienced swimmers helped me steel myself for another trip to the lake, and hopefully I’ll soon start to feel more relaxed. I’m using the following five points as my future guide. Taken from swimmers of all abilities who posted their experiences online, hopefully they will be useful for you too.

 

See you in the water.

5 Techniques for Feeling More Relaxed in Open Water

 

1. Set Your Sights

The technique of sighting is to briefly lift your eyes above the waterline mid-stroke in order to catch a glimpse of where you are going. An essential tool for murky waters but easier said than done - practice in the pool makes perfect here.

2. Buddy Up

Finding a training partner, especially one with open water experience. Get on their heels and swim together to beat that sense of isolation.

3. Breathe Easy

One way to block out all the surrounding noise is to focus intently on your breathing. Count strokes whilst constantly exhaling underwater. Holding breath in keeps carbon dioxide in the blood and actually increases the urge to breathe in again. Full lungs also elevate the torso in the water and push the legs down creating drag.

4. Start slow

You aren’t going to immediately match your prowess in the pool on your first open water swim, so start with something easy and then build it up.

5. Eye on the Sky

If things start closing in, incorporate a bit more rotation in to your stroke and really get your eyes and mouth clear of the water when you breathe. Just a glimpse of the sky or a tree going by in the distance may help ground you and release the feeling of claustrophobia.

Email_ mattwalters02 (at) gmail.com