Trigirl Swim AdviceSpring forward – into blind panic!

As the clocks went forward I felt a slight panic, as not only did that mean the kids were losing an hour of sleep, it was also the starting gun on the countdown to race day. It is not winter any more. We are not just running. We are now training. And it’s just 10 weeks until the Blenheim Triathlon. This slight panic quickly escalated, through all my rational thoughts, from slight; hurtling past deep concern; and headlong into full-on breakdown in a matter of one, hour-deprived, day! OH YES. NOW THIS REALLY IS PANIC.

I had big plans for this post. It was going to be helpful and inspirational. I was going to talk about the importance of rest in your routine. I was going to talk about believing in yourself and a positive mental attitude. But the wave of nausea is tidal and promises to consume me and all the good work I have already done. Instead, all I have for you is panic…

I can’t focus on the fact that I can now confidently run 10k. I can run it under an hour and it actually feels good. I can cycle. No Victoria Pendleton, granted, but I know I can get around a 20k course. Taken individually, these facts should inspire and encourage me and fellow Trigirl readers, those who might also be in the same stages of training, for a same first triathlon. I could do none of these 6 months ago. Look how far we’ve come! We should be digitally high-fiving each other and saying, “Yeah girlfriend, we are SO all over this! Whoop! Whoop!” (etc)

The truth is: I can’t continue with any attempt at chirpy upbeat writing. The truth is: all the time I have been holding the SWIMMING THING in the back of my mind, out of view and definitely not panicking about it. The truth is: they warned me. The men (the very same that got me into this fine mess) have been banging on about it for months (and rudely suggesting swimming lessons). The thing is, last week I took the plunge (groan!) and went in at the deep end (groan again! – sorry, the panic is killing me). I went swimming. I managed a truly, truly, (cannot emphasize just how much) truly exhausting 10 lengths, with many rests, repositioning of goggles, fake clock-watching and general huffing and puffing. 50 paltry metres in about 40 minutes. Hated every minute of it.

Went back again this week for round two. Still hated it. Managed a whopping 15 lengths. On a stop to re-arrange my locker key (fake – a desperate attempt to get air into my exploding lungs) I made the mistake of talking to the friendly Duty Manager. He offered some swim aids and floats to help me. Bless him. My husband (a gifted, superb, trained swimmer) decided to coach me, only to give up in fits of laughter at his wife, adrift in the middle of the pool, holding onto a float, kicking and going nowhere. How could I be kicking and going nowhere?

“Kick!” he implored, trying to hold back the laughter. His best friend swam up, “Why isn’t she moving?” he laughed loudly. I could hear the lifeguard and Duty Manager chuckling from the side. Husband and Best Friend by now uncontrollable. Oh wait… yes, the two ladies I hadn’t noticed in the fast lane joined in the chortling, too. What to do? Tantrum, like the child inside? Drown? Or make a rubbish joke, such as: “Breaststroke is totally fine at Blenheim, you know. They hire people to swim with slow people, to help them feel better… I am actually one of them. A swimming ringer, that’s me. The Ginger Ringer. ” Everyone laughs out loud, in blessed relief. Oh, you’re funny. Yes I am. But seriously, did I know I shouldn’t do breaststroke after attempting front crawl, because after breathing alternate strokes, regular breaststroke breathing might make me hyperventilate? Do I feel dizzy? Yes, I do. But I can’t tell if its humiliation, or the pain from kicking, going nowhere. Do I also know they do swimming lessons for adults? Yes, yes, yes.

I could cry. I could cry with panic. And, truth be known, had Trigirl not given me the push and the reason and the support to do this, I would have quit before I even got in the pool, let alone after Comedy Night In The Pool. So, I’m very grateful to Trigirl. But also, gutted. Because quitting would be so easy. Because when the panic and the anger and the exhaustion hits you together, you can’t remember the 10k you can run, or the bike you can ride. All you can see is a wall of pain. And a cold lake. And back to the panic. I think you will agree that it is well justified. So the truth is: I’m going to need every single, wretched, panic-filled week of the next 10 if I am going to complete my first triathlon.

I also know the truth that I am not alone. It just feels that way. Other women are no doubt feeling the panic and wondering what on earth they are doing. I urge you – send them my number – or pass them this post. If nothing else, perhaps I can swim next to them in the triathlon. Just to help them feel better, you understand.



  1. I totally understand where you are coming from, I had not done any serious swimming until about a year ago for hmmm 20yrs or so..always thought I wasn’t good at it and that in fact I would hate it.
    When I finally decided to take the plunge I was struggling same as you, a good friend of mine (and lifelong swimmer) tried to coach me for a while…very nice of him but didn’t get me very far…I finally gave in and took swimming lessons…after the 4th out of 5 it finally clicked…I started feeling comfortable, my speed picked up (slightly;) but most importantly I really love swimming now, I look forward to getting my 2 sessions in per week….You should definitely think about taking some 1:1 or very small group lessons and you’ll be surprised at the results…
    And good luck at Blenheim!!

  2. Dear Natalie, I read your post and felt it necessary to answer and give support (or mutual panic!). I signed up to my first Sprint Triathlon (in fact first race of any kind ever) last weekend and went from euphoric joy at having set such a goal, to feeling sick that I’d done it.

    I too can get through the cycle although not at great speed, I know I can just get round the run, but the swim… I am off to the pool this afternoon for my first attempt at the distance and I know I’ll be in full on panic mode this evening when I’ve seen how my doggy paddle / struggling breaststroke combined with school lesson memories of front crawl leaves me gasping and drowning!

    The inspiration I gain from your post is that not every other competitor will be supreme athletes accomplished in every sport laughing at me from the sides. In fact just perhaps it will be a group of normal people like you and me, trying our very best and maybe having a little laugh along the way 🙂

    Good luck!

    Paula x

  3. Hey Natalie,

    same as Paula, I felt a rush to leave a comment to at least comfort you a bit. I think we´ve all been there, given that only very few of us have a competitive swimming background. Slap your husband and his best friend for making fun of you. Buggers. You will do fine if you hit the pool the next 10 weeks, and make sure someone (probably NOT your hubby) is giving you a little advice. Before my first sprint tri back in 2011, I hadn´t been swimming in years. Felt the same pain as you did. Got a 10-week training plan for beginners, in which the last workout was to swim 500m in one piece. Scheduled that to match comp date. Wasn´t such a bright idea in the lookback 😉 But I survived, swimming half crawl, half breaststroke, and I was not the last one to exit the water.

    So rest assured: you will be fine. And you will get over the anxiety and all other water-related issues with a little patience and a proper swim coach 🙂

  4. ditto…. not entered triathlon yet due to the swim prob…’i can’t really do front crawl’l!! I thought it was just me…good luck all and for me i will be ready in 2014…’great south run’ in october!

  5. Hi Natalie,

    Robin (@ Cedar) sent me the link to your blog. I’m in my second season of triathlon and I have my first one of the season in 3 weeks and I am nervous about it – it’s just par for the course. The good thing is now I know that I can do it and I can assure all of you first timers that YOU CAN DO IT TOO!

    The first one is a learning experience and you won’t be alone – there will be many men and women of all ages taking part in their first tri and many of them will have done very little training compared to you, so I cam confident that you will do well. The most important aspects of the tri are the bike and run (as long as you can swim well enough not to drown the swim matters the least – I promise!).

    Having said that about the swim I have found 2 things that really help. The first is which generates free daily drill training sessions for you in the pool – after all, when it comes to swimming it’s all about technique (as I’m sure your husband will tell you) the second is find your local swim club and see if they do Masters sessions. Masters is the polite description for swimming veterans and a good club will offer these coached sessions. My swimming has come on so much since joining our local Masters classes – I can thoroughly recommend it.

    Oh – and breaststroke is fine too (in fact a confident breaststroke is better than a panicky front crawl and you will be able to sight easily too).

    I’m here if you want to chat, panick, natter about transitions, etc, etc.

  6. Natalie Johnson

    Thank you Beatrice, really appreciate your reply. I think you are right – proper lessons seem to be the best idea. I look forward to it clicking on the 4th, fingers crossed!
    Thanks for reading!

  7. Natalie Johnson

    Paula – thank you so much! I hoped that in reading my comedy of errors another novice might feel better. I’m so glad it helped! I shall tweet the results of this week’s swim lesson – my 8 year old daughter has given me some pointers! Hope your practice went better than expected!

  8. Natalie Johnson

    Hi Jasmin, thank you for your brilliant comment. It is amazing what a bit of shared experience can do for you. I take great strength from your comment about not being the last one out of the water!

  9. Natalie Johnson

    Thanks Claire – and good luck in the run! I’m doing Great North in Sept – let me know how you get on!

  10. Natalie Johnson

    Hi Alice – thank you very much for finding the blog and taking the time to write! I’d like to say I am embellishing for comic effect, but I am not. I really cannot swim very well at all – although I admit it is quite funny!

    I have just signed up to a 17 week course, which is for those people who can (technically) swim, but have signed up for a triathlon to avoid middle age and don’t want to drown. It wasn’t labelled as such, but I’m pretty sure that’s the case!

    I’ve also signed up for an Eton Dorney Super Sprint in May to give me an ‘easier’ first tri… swim ‘just’ 400 metres!

    Keep in touch – and please do feel free to share this blog. I have aspirations of it being like a mini outreach for troubled novice triathletes!

  11. Hi Paula

    I completed my first sprint triathlon last April and I felt all the same feelings that you and Natalie describe! It’s natural!

    In my swimming training (I had done a lot of swimming training as a child and been a synchronised swimmer so I expected it to be straightforward!) I couldn’t put my face in the water without spluttering, I couldn’t breathe properly and even breathing every single stroke didn’t seem enough! The water going in my mouth every time I lifted my arm made me splutter even more! I found it really uncomfortable!

    I carried on like this for a few weeks, but I then started having nightmares about drowning!!!! I’d had enough!

    So I swam the triathlon breaststroke with my head firmly out of the water the whole way!!! I thought I was going to look like an idiot and people would laugh at me, but by this point I was not going to give up just over a little swim!

    On the day … I wasn’t the only one! I did it and the best part?! The swim is always the first part, so nice it’s over you can relax a little into the bike and run.

    WELL DONE for doing the triathlon, it’s so amazing and you’ll feel brilliant for achieving it, just aim to finish. The people cheering you on will really help on the day! THEY’RE ALL LOOKING THINKING “I COULDN’T DO THAT!”


  12. Natalie, on reading your article I was immediately appalled at the lack of decorum from your husband, friend and the lifeguards, they really ought to know that laughing and poking fun isn’t going to help at all.
    I know how it feels having to learn how to front crawl properly and luckily a good friend of mine used to compete in swimming races and was an assistant coach so I had fgood (and free) instruction! Going back to basics is a good idea, ideally 1:1 as you will benefit much quicker, and don’t worry if you feel you are floundering around with a kick board and going nowhere, you will, it will all come together and you will soon worry why you were ever anxious about the swim leg. You may even find you enjoy the swim leg above the others, I know it’s now my favourite part of training even if it is still the hardest.