My Worst Triathlon Swim Experience & How To Face Your Fears

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Fear. It’s one of the most common obstacles in life as well as for beginners who are training for their first triathlon. In a bit, I’m going to share a story about how I overcame my fear of open water swimming. I’m also going to share 5 tips to help you face your fears, but first I want to know if you saw last week’s episode of The Biggest Loser? The one where the contestants learn to face their fears by confronting them head on?

Watching that episode got me thinking about overcoming fears that come up in triathlon training. I’ll use one of my own experiences as an example in a minute, but the show, we got to see how the contestants faced and overcame personal fears, ultimately building personal resolve and making them stronger people. It was really cool to watch them overcome the fear of sharks, singing in public, closed spaces and heights…especially from the comfort of my own home!

Something that struck me was that it seemed like everyone’s fear was either unfounded or irrational. For example…

Joe was afraid of sharks, yet he dove right in the ocean water and swam 500 yards to shore. But they were off the coast of California in a bay where deadly sharks don’t live. Joe probably didn’t realize that fact and so his fear remained, but still he overcame.

Danni was deathly afraid of singing in front of an audience. But as it turns out, she has a beautiful voice and impressed everyone in the room (as well as TV viewers) by signing the National Anthem. Definitely nothing to be ashamed of.

By far, one of my favorite parts was when Jackson and Jeff left the group to go at it alone for the week. Obviously, most of the contestants on the history of Biggest Loser have a major fear that they will regain all the weight they’ve lost and fall back into old habits after leaving the safety of the Ranch and the guidance of the trainers.

For some, this fear has even become debilitating. For many, this fear has proved motivating.

How To Face Your Fears

Jackson and Jeff had the fear of setting out on their own in an at-home-on-your-own scenario. Perhaps they didn’t fully trust themselves with the disciplines of buying and preparing their own meals and sticking to the workout routine. After all, no one was there to hold them accountable and certainly no trainer forcing them to dig in when it starts to hurt and push even harder.

But they ended up motivating each other, ate healthy meals, and made up their own workouts with trashcan shuttle runs. At the weigh-in, they both lost impressive poundage, that shocked their trainers.

In the world of triathlon, many fears and doubts are brought to the surface. We hear things like, “Oh, I’m not a swimmer.” “I hate the water.” Or, “I can’t swim very well.” In my opinion the swim is the most common fear that stands in the way of people who want to do a triathlon

In fact, that was once my own fear…

Face Your Triathlon Fears | TwoTri.com

It wasn’t that I was terrified of the water or that I couldn’t swim, it was just that I believed that I was not a strong swimmer and I would always struggle with the swim in my triathlon training.

Even if you’re well prepared, a wrench can be tossed right into the gears of your self-confidence. For example, I remember back to my first triathlon. I knew that the swim would be my weakness, but I had trained pretty well for it.

Let me tell you about my worst triathlon swim experience.

It had been well over 90 degrees the day before, but standing in cold rain on the day of the triathlon made me shiver. I had I anticipated staying toward the shallow shoreline during the swim but the course went directly into the middle– the deepest pary of the river.

Under the influence of adrenaline, I started out way too fast and I gulped and drank in water from the choppy waves. Less than half way through, I got winded and panic set in. Backstroking it to a safety canoe, I grabbed onto the side gasping for air.

Face Your Triathlon Fears | TwoTri.com

Although I had a rough swim and felt defeated, I finished the rest of the race strong, learned valuable lessons gained from firsthand experience, and was totally fine (just a little embarrassed, I guess).

Sometimes fear pops back up, even after you think you’ve nailed it…

Fear is a belief, plain and simple. It’s a negative belief that often holds us back from opportunity, experience, breakthrough, and untold could-have-beens in life.

Overcoming fear, on the other hand, is like opening hidden doorways that lead to yellow brick roads in life. Know that there is so much to be gained in consistently overcoming fears.

If you’re avoiding something that you know you should – or could – be doing, it might be based in a fear or negative belief.

So whether it’s with your triathlon training, or in any other area, I want to share some tips to overcome and press forward to take new ground not only in your triathlon training, but also in your life.

5 things to help face and overcome fears:


  • Don’t wait – My fear usually worsens and grows with time. However, if I act on my instincts and don’t overanalyze my fear, I’m more likely to press through and less likely to let my fears paralyze me.
  • Seize every opportunity – Fear and nervousness are mere feelings. Sure, they are uncomfortable, but nothing more than you can handle. Try to take every opportunity you get to overcome your fear. Even little steps equal progress.
  • Positive reinforcement- Look into root belief systems that are not supportive to your progress. For example, the more I tell myself that “I’m just not a good swimmer,” the more it gets reinforced. Instead, reinforce what you’d like to have or what you want to be.
  • Strength in numbers- Find someone to join in. Would you rather be alone in the dark or with a friend? Plus, a third party can help encourage you to see that your fears may be irrational.


Face Your Fears | TwoTri.com

(Just like when the contestants were hanging from the top of the building. Others could see that they were attached to ropes and harnesses, so even if they did fall, they would be safe and sound. Nevertheless, it was nerve racking to stand on a small plank 70 feet in the air.)


  • Don’t be afraid to make a mistake – Mistakes can be embarrassing. For example, if I misspelled embarrassing on this blog post. Here’s what my mind does: Making such a mistake is so dumb. That must mean I’m dumb. Can’t I even see the spell checker highlighting that? Oh no, everyone that reads this post is going to think I’m an incompetent idiot. They will never listen to anything I have to say every again!

Can you see how if I don’t cut this off it can turn into a nasty beast, growing with every scrap I feed it? Can you see how it could be easy to make up a meaning behind it? Can you see how this can become a habit? Now, can you see how I can defuse the negativity by not assigning that meaning? “It was a simple mistake because I was typing too fast.”  The fact is, most people won’t even catch it and the rest won’t even care, right? If you’re afraid to make a mistake, you’ll never try anything new.

Living in fear can be just like having an invisible chain hold you down from your true potential. It can also prevent you from trying something new and finding out that you really love doing. (like your first triathlon!)

Human beings always act and feel and perform in accordance with what they imagine to be true about themselves and their environment. So, imagine yourself overcoming your fear and watch how your performance improves and your confidence soars. Facing fears head on is a good habit to practice, it’s something that you can get good at, similar to developing any other habit.

Face Your Triathlon Fears | TwoTri.com

Is there something that pops into your mind right now? Observe for a moment what would your life look like if that no longer held you back in any way.

The best part is, fear often keeps our dreams just our of reach, but when we are willing to step into the mix and wrestle with something that makes us uncomfortable, our dreams will be that much closer.

Have you wanted to do a triathlon but you have a fear that is holding you back? Why not face your fear, overcome it and gain a ton of confidence, experience and personal pride.  It can, and will, change your life. You’ve got what it takes. You’re Awesome!

We want to hear from you! Tell us about a time when you overcame a fear either in life, or in your triathlon training.

About Author

Trainer DaveyTrainer Davey is an Orange County personal trainer at heart, but has since moved to Nashville and taken on the new challenge of triathlon training. Of course, he misses his home of Surf City...but Music City ain't so bad either!View all posts by Trainer Davey →