Last time I shared a typical swim anxiety (who doesn’t get nervous before a big race?), and perhaps a more atypical one (will the pool be open/will there be lanes/will there be enough time to complete my workout as written.)
Today, in the “don’t just point out problems, be a part of the solution” spirit, I thought I’d share some of the tips that I use to combat both types of swim anxiety.
Calming Down before Racing
Feeling prepared: This is a classic “soother” among distance swimmers. Knowing that I’ve done the training (challenging sets, the yards & meters, weights, good nutrition, rest, etc.) to best support the race ahead gives me confidence behind the block. Obviously, this one isn’t a “quick fix” for pre-race anxiety.
Warming up right before I race: Of course, I always do a main warm up (usually 2500) on race day, but I if I can swim for about ten minutes before heading to the block, that mini warm up clears a lot of the physical jitters from my system.
Having a race goal beyond “PR”: Do I want to do a best time every time I swim? Heck yeah! Obviously, that’s not going to happen though. So, I always pick at least one other element per race to check for improvement. This takes a little pressure off from the “time performance as only measure of success” mono-vision. Examples here include holding a streamline off block/walls past the flags, successfully executing a new race plan per pacing, maintaining a new-to-me technique through entire race, and more.
Hang out in my bubble: I’m one of those swimmers who doesn’t like a lot of information about my event and age group while heats before mine occur because I want to focus on my swim preparation and plan. Therefore, while I wait for my heat, I don’t listen to competitor conversations. I don’t check times from prior heats, or even watch them because I don’t want to see someone blast a PR from heat two that’s faster than the top seed time or worse, barely stay legal in an event I’m about to do. Once behind the blocks, I zone out a bit—just admire how pretty the pool waves look and enjoy the sounds of splashing.
Quelling Day-to-Day Swim Anxiety
Plan in advance: This includes everything from checking the pool schedule for the umpteenth time for last minute changes to having workout written, bag packed, with post-swim snack in bag and follow up meal mapped out the night before.
Have a backup: Since so much of what stresses me is out of my control (pool scheduling/condition, weather, traffic, how many in pool) I’ve learned to have a planned back up for each day. Thus, I’ve developed the following tier:
1) Is another pool available, and can I make that time?
2) If no pools are available and/or in bad weather, are the roads clear enough to drive to the gym for cardio and weights?
3) If I am very short on time and/or the roads are not drivable, I jump rope at home and stretch, or see if anything (bike, treadmill, universal machine) is available at the on-site mini-gym.
Look for the bright side: Cultivating this attitude seems so much healthier than seething in frustration, so I’m working on it. Especially when there are, and will be, many days when the plan falls apart, for whatever reason. Now, when faced with unpredictable, perceived “roadblock,” I try to flip it mentally. Such as telling myself “this will allow you to work on a major weakness, turns, more” when facing a SCY set up instead of the expected LCM. Or, “an extra day of rest means you’ll come back more rested, both physically and mentally,” when I can’t find any workout alternative. Or, “cross-training is good for your body and you’ll have fun learning something new” when switching from pool to dryland.
I can’t prepare for everything, but it’s still stressful for me to deal with issues that interfere with my training. I’m learning to go with flow more, which I think (hopefully) that makes me a better person. Despite going through pre-race stress every time, I wouldn’t trade it because nerves show I care and I want to do my best.
Next week: Shingles: Tip of the Iceberg