Swim Anxiety

If you swim competitively, chances are you’ve stared down all sorts of swim anxieties before at least one, if not every race. Some of my typical angsts include:

“Can I actually complete the distance, and legally, let alone at a decent pace?” This one tends to surface most prior to open water or crazy-to-me pool events such as anything breast.

“I don’t feel trained enough.” Lack of swimming, whether due to illness or pool closures freaks me out, especially when I signed up months ago for something like the 400 IM, which I now feel totally too deconditioned to do.

“I don’t want to embarrass myself,” meaning I don’t want to be so far behind the rest of my heat that I delay the meet.

“Who can count for me? And will they be accurate?” This stressor is even more pronounced if you’re math-challenged like me because I often get mentally lost during the mile, as in, “wait, was that 600 or 650? I just saw 23, where am I? Oh shoot, here’s another number already…”

“This is going to HURT.” Self explanatory and easily applied to any event.

The worst thing about race anxiety? The symptoms can be intense and mess with you physically—nightmares, tummy distress/diarrhea the week leading up to a big meet, hyperventilation behind the blocks, etc. Good thing there’s an upside to my race anxiety—it’s over as soon as I dive in.

Perhaps more insidious then, because it tends to wear on your mind and body constantly, are the “general” swim anxieties—the things that stress you out every day. Unlike race anxieties, I suspect that the range here is quite wide among swimmers as training conditions vary vastly, as do the “movies” (everyone’s unique view about themselves and world) that play in people’s heads.

For me, my top two general swim anxieties are dictated by training conditions and revolve around lane space. Most of the year (Sept.-April), I don’t swim regularly with a team that has a designated time slot with guaranteed lanes. (Yes, masters is social and fun, but as a distance swimmer, barely 60-minute practices consisting of broken 200s, kicking, and 25s totaling 2,500-3,000 don’t support me well.)

Most of the year, I swim during rec hours because I can get in at least 90 minutes to hit 4,000-5,000 and do those “icky to everyone but a distance swimmer” sets that are my bread and butter.

Therefore, I stress all the time about the various factors that might prevent me from swimming. The anxieties are always the same:

“Will the pool be open?” Surprising, I know, but one indoor pool I swim in three times/week is notorious for random closures sans announcements, and “surprises” such as being set up for SCY when LCM is on the schedule, or early random, unannounced closures, both regarding lanes and/or entire pool. And then there are the weather closures that plague outdoor pools…

“Will the drive over be OK?” Weather is wily here in the Colorado mountains, which means roads can be icy, snow-packed, rain-slicked (or just plain traffic-jammed), all of which can cause drive-delays that eat up half or more of available pool time.

“Can I get a lane?” Once I arrive at the pool, often a team practice is running beyond their scheduled time, or all lanes are somehow already magically filled even though I am on deck at least five minutes before the session’s start. Lane fill requires either asking someone to split (and many people don’t take kindly to this request) or worse, asking a lane to circle swim so I can at least warm up until more space opens up. Again, delays suck up precious training time within limited pool hours.

Once I’m in a lane, “will anyone join me?” For the most part, I’m fine with splitting a lane. But rec swimmers can be disruptive (i.e. push off the wall right as I’m about to flip on every turn, swim in the middle of the lane, physically grab and stop me during a turn to ask a question, put on tons of equipment then “race” me for a 25 during every one of my 100s, block the clock, and so much more…)

“Will anyone yell at me?” Yes, you read correctly. I’ve heard a lot from rec swimmers over the years. Common complaints include:

“I don’t want to swim with anyone who’s swimming fly!”

“You should join a team and give me more space!”

“Your splashing is getting my hair wet!”

“Why are you faster than me? I’m taller, I should be crushing you!”

While I don’t mind race anxiety (it motivates me, I like that it shows that I care about my racing, it’ll soon pass) reducing training-conditions anxieties would be beneficial. Except do to that currently, I need a “Rebecca’s world” situation – perfect weather, no traffic, empty pools with hours of lap lane swimming offered. A girl can dream…

Next week: Relieving Swim Anxiety

Swim Anxiety

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