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Swim a Straight Line in the Midst of Chaos

By Deanna Pomfret | Aug. 25, 2015, 4:29 p.m. (ET)

swimFor those of you with kids, you know how someone else’s baby can be crying or their child can be saying “mom, mom, mom, mom, mom” and it doesn’t bother you because it is not yours. OK, I’ll be honest, I can even tune my own kids out. I guess that might be why I’m so good at keeping focused when I head into the first leg of a triathlon.

Even at USA Triathlon Olympic-Distance Nationals in 2014, I plopped myself in the middle front position, knowing there could be a lot of distractions and swam as hard as I could. I knew where I usually start at my races at home and I didn’t want to change anything on race day, even if it was Nationals. The outcome was a very strong swim split.

That swim was tough. It required me to pull out every tool I had in me to keep calm and focused. It was a tread water start and we all went out fast. I never found any space to spread out and had very little room to breathe. I felt like I was in the popular crowd out there though I doubt any of the swimmers had much space the way the course is laid out.

Maybe some of these tools I use to keep calm and swim a straight line in the midst of all that chaos can help you too. 

  • Keep mindful of your body, but a very general sense. Rather than thinking specifically about arms and legs, think long and tight. Just that thought can help lengthen your body which decreases your profile in the water. This makes you more efficient and literally smaller so hopefully you’ll have less contact with other swimmers.
  • Let go of control. You don’t have any control over anyone but yourself in the swim. Let the water, the wind and the people move you. Try not to fight it. This is a waste of energy.
  • Sometimes I see fear and nervousness written all over people’s faces. Rather than let your emotions take over, think about how beautiful the scenery is or how the water feels.
  • Mentally review what brought you to the start. What swim obstacle did you overcome or what swim goal did you meet to be there? You can prepare this ahead of time.
  • If you can somehow remember to hit start on your watch, you can remember to smile. This releases endorphins and these are good for your performance. So remember start button on watch equals smile.
  • Anything but that buoy is noise.  If you are focused on an external object, one that you are moving toward, your performance will benefit. Give yourself an external cue. The next orange buoy. You might not even notice some of the unpleasantness in your immediate surroundings!
  • If you feel so low in confidence that you cannot pull yourself out of that mental spiral, fake it — just as I have to do on the run when I’m dying and can’t breathe and there are a lot of women with 40-44 written in sharpie marker on their calves passing me. Get tall in the water, find your strength and make pretend you love this just as it is — chaotic, rough, challenging, choppy, windy, whatever that swim leg brings. Just as I made pretend I was in the popular crowd when I just couldn’t get any space in my swim.  It even made me laugh a little which goes back to those endorphins.

Keep safe and strong on the waves, roads and trails and keep smiling.

Deanna Pomfret has coached fitness enthusiasts, runners, swimmers and triathletes since 2005. She is a USA Triathlon Level I Certified Coach, Road Runners Club of America Certified Running Coach, Certified Functional Strength Coach and Owner and Swim Technique Analyst with Athletic Pursuits LLC. Deanna presents at clubs and symposiums on various fitness and motivational topics.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.