Overcoming Fear In Open Water Swimming

Part 8 of 9 – Familiarity With Your Self

Along this sub-theme of increasing Familiarity as part of the strategy for overcoming fear in OW, I would like to point you inward. As in the previous sections this also is not an exhaustive list of things to examine, but it’s a good start. In summary at the beginning I will boil Familiarity With Self down to these two points:

  1. Get to know your physical body: its capabilities and limits under different environmental situations and challenges- bit by bit, then gradually expand.
  2. Get to know your mind, how you think, how you respond emotionally, and what internally motivates you. Work with it, not against it.

Here are some examples of what to get familiar with in your physical body…

  • How your body feels in different temperatures and where the edges of ‘comfort’ are and beyond, even up to where the warning signs of danger begin (carefully study the first aid warning signs of over-exposure to heat and cold first!). Carefully, but intentionally approach these points and get to know how it feels, how your body will react and adapt in the first few seconds… minutes… and hours.
  • Get to know the range of your fuel tank (i.e. energy supply) how far your body can go on various levels of energy and hydration, and with different kinds of food. Search for how long you can swim without refueling before you ‘bonk’ and cannot maintain form or pace. Follow the same eating plan before a series of swims so you can evaluate when to eat and what foods work best for you.
  • The range of your ability to hold good technique – when stroke quality diminishes, energy consumption sky-rockets and can put you into danger quickly. Learn to sense the relationship between neuro-muscular control of your stroke quality and energy supply and expand it.
  • Your injury-prone points, what you need to do to avoid them, and how to relieve them mid-swim if they flare up, or self-rescue without causing further injury.

And some examples of what to get familiar with in your mind…

  • Your source of motivation- why are you doing this? Make sure you are working more from your intrinsic motivations (those reasons that immediately reward your heart and mind for the effort) rather than against them. Having external pressures push you to new levels is helpful in carefully calculated amounts but it is not a superior form of motivation for training or living over the long-haul.
  • The duration or limits of your motivation- know why but also how long those motivations will serve you before forms of exhaustion take over and deplete your will. Another way of putting this is, “What price are you eagerly willing to pay to pursue this swim, or this lifestyle as an OW swimmer?” And decide beforehand to be ok with backing off before you cross that line.
  • Your fears and which combinations of conditions would push you too near your stress limits.
  • What your mind tends to do under open-water swimming stress of different kinds, where you would need to practice emotional management and decision-making when it is not easy to do so.
  • Swim with friends who will encourage you and point out things you may not notice on your own, and learn collectively. What your swimming companions fear and what they have no fear of will be helpful reflections for you in recognizing and dealing with your own.
  • Swim alone so that you will more readily discover those things that only solitude can expose so well (in yourself and in your environment) that you would be distracted from noticing when swimming with others.

This is just an introduction to the ideas of Familiarity. It will set the stage though for what I’d like to present in the next and final essay in Overcoming Fear in Open Water Swimming- The Mindset of An Open Water Swimmer. How do we approach open-water swimming so that we embrace the challenges we face, outside and inside ourselves, and actually enjoy the process of overcoming and adapting? Let’s see…

Here are the topics covered in this series:

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