How to Survive Your First Open-Water Swim: 8 Tips for The New Triathlete

Note: This is a post from No Meat Athlete Resident Triathlete and Triathlon Roadmap author Susan Lacke.

Runners often tell me they’d love to check out the triathlon scene, but they can’t (or won’t) swim.

They say swimming is hard, the mass start looks scary, and open water just gives ‘em the heebie-jeebies.  And I’ve got to admit, they have a point.

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Susan Lacke in the swim start of Ironman Wisconsin (she’s the one in the wetsuit).

Most of us log our swim training in the pool. When it comes to our first open-water swim start, we get a reality check when the starting gun goes off.

I wish someone had warned me of this — in the first 5 seconds of my open water swim, my mind rushed with a frenetic string of thoughts:

  • Why are these people so CLOSE to me?
  • Where’s the black stripe on the bottom?
  • Why can’t I see my hand in front of my face?
  • What is that thing floating up from the bottom? Is that a lake zombie?
  • I can’t breathe. Am I going to die?

In spite of all the pool hours I had put in, three minutes into my first open-water swim I was flipped over, doing the backstroke, and gasping for air.  I’m sure the spectathletes on the shoreline were thoroughly amused.

As for the zombie, turns out there was no creature of the undead in the lake — just a stick.

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