Conquering your fear of open water swimming
“Dear God. Thank you for a great life. But I’m bummed it has to end this way.”
I had trained at my gym pool, sort of, for the 800 meter swim (about 26 laps at Deep Eddy Pool) but hadn’t bothered to train in open water. Phsss! Who needs it, right?! Water is water. Well, that lack of open water training and surplus of cockiness sent this non-swimmer into panic mode during the race. Thank goodness for the Danskin “swim angels” who let me hang on to the edge of their lifeboats as I caught my breath and conjured up the tiny bit of confidence I had to finish the swim portion of the race.
Looking back, it’s hard to believe I was so terrified. Today I can jump into a lake with ease and swim for what seems like forever. Putting in more time at the pool helped, but I attribute most of this newfound confidence to spending lots of time in the open.
The journey to swimming confidence lead me to some fantastic swimming spots that all swimmers, especially those training for triathlons, should consider visiting.
Emma Long Metropolitan Park was my first discovery. For $5-$10, depending on when you go, you can swim along the shores of Lake Austin. The swimming area is narrow so you can quickly dog paddle your way toward shallow water if you start to freak out. There’s almost always someone there, so if you scream loud enough someone is bound to hear you. That said, I advise you never swim alone.
I would have never left Emma Long except, for some reason, there was this massive increase in families deciding to have picnics there and it was becoming increasingly difficult to swim without running into some kid in a tube. I began my search for a not-so-kid friendly spot that lead me to Hippie Hollow.
If you don’t mind looking at an occasional wang, Hippie Hollow is the perfect place to get some mileage under your belt. With the exception of weekend afternoons and major summer holidays, Hippie Hollow is clear of traffic. That said, boat traffic near the designated swimming area is pretty high so the water can be choppy and lead to some serious motion sickness if you’re not used to it.
I never thought I’d become a Hippie Hollow regular (by the way, my swimsuit always stayed on… okay, almost always). I'm still a huge advocate for that space, but at $12 a workout (the fee to enter the park), I needed a cheaper option. With a price tag of zero, Pflugerville Lake became that option.
Disclaimer: I live up north so a trip to Pflugerville is not insane but for some of you reading this (especially those who’ve never heard of Parmer Lane) this may sound like a ridiculous option. All I can say is it’s worth at least one trip. The lake is calm and free of motorized boats. The best part is you can guestimate the distance of your swim. It's 100 meters to the first buoy, another 100 to the second and 800 meters from shore to shore.
All of this open water practice should leave you feeling pretty confident. Well, allow me to burst your bubble.
The thing about the swim portion of triathlons is that you don’t really get to do it on your own terms, or alone. Once the gun goes off, you’re required to swim your way through dozens of other swimmers flapping and kicking. There’s really no way for you to practice this underwater dance unless you sign up for race after race and let’s face it, races are expensive.
That’s why my recent discovery, Pure Austin’s Splash and Dash at Quarry Lake, was a big one. For $10 you can experience exactly what it’s like to take off and swim with others in a race setting once a month. The water is calm, there are tons of lifeguards around and at any given moment you can swim to shallow waters. You also get a sneak peak at what’s it’s like to add another sport to the mix with a 3K run following the swim. It’s the perfect place for a nervous swimmer to test the waters — pun intended. The next one on the calendar is on August 18th.
I have to admit, even with all this open water experience I still feel a tiny hint of anxiety every time I’m about to tackle a triathlon. It’s a fear that I think is totally valid. Unlike the bike or run portion of a triathlon, if you stop swimming you could potentially die! But let’s face it – that rarely happens and it’s silly to let that fear stand in your way of enjoying one of the best forms of exercises. So give it a shot and if you find yourself in a middle of a race freaking out it doesn’t hurt to tap into your spirituality and thank God for a great life.