Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Bangor Daily News: Does panic cause death in triathlete swimmers?

Panic is an overly harsh emotion to say the least. Panic is synonymous with either "life or death moments" or in it's milder forms: "Employed or fired." Thus, no swimmer or triathlete has any business trying to emulate a prepared athlete on race day if there is a potential for panic. Nerves are one thing, abject panic is another.

The writer investigates the cause of triathlon deaths. Should this person have ever been racing in the first place? - From The Bangor Daily News

"... In my first triathlon about 15 years ago, I was in a huddle of wet-suited men about to wade into a lake in Maryland when an acquaintance next to me offered a singularly useful piece of information.

He said it was common for people to have panic attacks in the swim leg of triathlons, which are races that consist of swimming, cycling and running various distances, in that order. He’d done a few. We knew each other from training three mornings a week in a bright, clear Olympic-size pool.

“You’ll see. Within the first hundred yards or so, a couple people will swim right to the shore. They’ll be freaked out. The race will be over for them.”

In a minute, we were standing in water so dark you couldn’t see anything a foot below the surface. The bottom was squishy underfoot. It was not yet 8 o’clock in the morning. The wet suit, which I’d put on only a few times before, was tight around my chest and cold as the water seeped in.

The starting horn screeched.

Fifty or 60 of us, all wearing identical swim caps whose color denoted the age and sex of our starting group, began to swim. We collided and had our faces bumped and kicked as we made our way into open water. Within a few minutes my heart was racing, I was breathing fast and I was scared to death, although I wasn’t exactly sure why.

I rolled onto my back to calm down and let the pack move on. As I sculled slowly, I looked to the shore. Two men were climbing out on all fours.

I think of that day each time I hear that someone has died in a triathlon. ..."

If the first time you ever swim in the ocean or a lake is on race day; you are not properly prepared. Racing add lots of random issues that you can't practice for like colliding bodies, choppy water from all the thrashing, and of course race day adrenaline. To add complete inexperience to the mix is a recipe for a very bad day.

Some Tips: Try being a moderately strong pool swimmer which means being able to swim a mile in under 35-minutes while holding a 2-minutes-per-100-yard pace or better. If that is hard, you may be over your head - join a masters swimming team and get swim-technique instruction. I do not endorse those "swim fast plans" that suggest by just doing swim drills alone you will be a great swimmer. Drills are tools for practice but you need to swim laps with good coaching.

Swim at least 6-times in the ocean or a lake as a "dress rehearsal" weeks before your race. Even do a warm-up swim on race day to prepare yourself for the cold water and reduce the nervous feelings you may have. It really helps. (Yes, I do that sometimes and it reduces nervousness by 50% - your experience may vary.)

When I do the Alcatraz Sharkfest, I swim a day or two before at Aquatic Park to get acclimatized so to speak. When I jump off the boat into the water on race day, I am prepared for how much it is going to hurt. I also know how long it will take for the pain to go away and for my body to get use to the water. This includes hyperventilating and/or a fast heartbeat. (I try to be one of the first people in so when the race starts, I am nearly use to the water.

If you are slow, go towards the back. Trust me, it is easier to follow than to lead.

Every great athlete knows when to quit. Failing only makes you better. Why suffer a lifelong injury or death when you can learn by just avoiding it. Even the great Julie Moss took herself out the 1983 Ironman mere miles from the finish to protect her body. Use that "failure" to inspire you to train better.

If any friend or athlete encourages you not to wear a wetsuit by insulting you for wearing one, remember that this is a recreation and don't let anyone bully you into how you should participate in it. Those people have the compensation issues not you. I myself will only swim in an open water race without a wetsuit if the water temp is over 65-degrees and the sun will be out. I am there to have fun not to prove anything.

The Alcatraz Sharkfest swim has about 800-competitors who swim the race each year. 120-swimmers choose not to wear a wetsuit. Without the wetsuit division and with only 120-swimmers able to compete, the race would be too expensive to put on and most likely would be canceled. Wetsuits are good for swimming and allow for lots of open water races to occur. Don't be ashamed to wear one.

Caveat: I am not a coach nor am I a champion - all of the above advice comes from personal experience alone. These tips are simply bits of information I have learned throughout the years.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

well put. you nailed it from the start, so to speak. the writer was not prepared, and so are many other triathletes who think they can phone-in the swim (and i speak as an occasional triathlete.) maybe there is a wave of panic attacks out there, but they may have less to do with the conditions of the race than the epidemic of shoddy swimming preparation