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Unsure About Open Water Swimming?

Does open water swimming worry you or make you nervous?

Read about the experience of Precision Coaching athlete, Huw Allanson. Novice triathlete and aspiring Ironman.


So to start with I will give some context about me. I’m someone that wants to be an Ironman. When I set this goal for myself 2 years ago, I would say that I was a terrible swimmer and pretty much a complete novice cyclist and runner. Now I would say that I’m ok at all 3.

open water swimming

Precision race team is a great team, full of some really inspirational people including many age group winners, I’m one of the less competitive athletes shall we say!

When I decided to start doing triathlon I went to the pool and managed 18 lengths in 23 minutes. I was out of breath, tired but also pleasantly surprised I had managed 18 lengths. From there I booked a 70.3 in 6 months time and started a training plan. I had some swim lessons and there was a big improvement but I was never really finishing all the sessions and I rarely did them in the times I was supposed to.

In the run up to the 70.3 I booked an Olympic triathlon as a practice to get ready for the big day. I managed about 50m of the swim before cold water shock set in, I panicked, grabbed onto a buoy and waited for the boat to save me. I tried once more but there was no use, I just couldn’t do it. I was fished out along with another person and in the boat back to the start I thought to myself this is just a set back, need to get straight back to it as I’ve only got 6 weeks to go.

The next week I went back to the lake to try again but the same thing happened - cold water shock. I was so scared, had no confidence in my swimming and I knew deep down I wasn’t where I needed to be. I had an open water swim lesson, tried going to the lake with a friend but it was no use, every time it happened and I was paralysed with fear, I just couldn’t push past it.

There was an option due to covid to do the 70.3 without the swim so reluctantly I took it but whenever I told anyone about the race I always said I didn’t do the swim even if I didn’t know them, I just felt like I wasn’t a triathlete (mainly because I wasn’t!)

Shortly after this I spoke to Raya. I explained what had happened and how I felt. I knew that Raya herself is an expert swimmer as well as a multiple ironman. We talked about how she could help me with this so she became my coach. This was in October and the goal was Staffs 70.3 the following June.

To start with Raya gave me sets in the pool that I could finish, 800m, 1km, to build my confidence. Then we ramped the distance up. Every week I got better in the water but still in the back of my mind there was the fear of doing it in the open water. We discussed it but Raya said not to think about it and to focus on what I was doing in the pool. I had read about coach/athlete relationships, or what makes good ones so I trusted what she said to me but all along I was worried as I knew I would have to face the fear.

When it came time for my first open water swim, Raya said she was coming with me. I had been hoping she would say this so I felt better but still when we got there I was shaking. Raya gave me a swim buoy (didn’t even know what that was - I did say I was a novice!) and we talked about how I could motivate myself on in the water. Next we acclimatised (not something I had done before) then we swam a 500m lap together. I did wobble a couple of times and we used the swim buoys for a rest but Raya was right next to me the whole way round which really reassured me. When we finished, Raya said ‘right, now do it on your own’. I wasn’t sure but I couldn’t let my coach down right in front of me so I did and it was the confidence I needed.

I went on to complete Staffs 70.3 and become a triathlete, amazingly the swim was the only part that went well! I’m now training for a full ironman this year and can honestly say that the swim is not the thing that is scaring me the most because I know I can do it.

I can honestly say that I would never have got over this if it wasn’t for Raya and it’s actually now one of my proudest achievements.