Fearing the ironman swim


Fearing the ironman swim is not unusual for the novice Ironman and here are the five most common reasons why.

I have come across dozens of people over the years who claim they could never consider taking on the challenge of an Ironman because they have no idea how to swim, or like I was when I was first Ironstruck, they are deathly afraid of the water.

Even many of the brave and adventurous souls who manage to push aside their fears and doubts and learn how to swim well enough to take on the challenge, still dread the swim leg of their upcoming first Ironman.

Even though my first Ironman was over a quarter of a century ago in 1984, I can still remember the fear that gripped me as I waited for the starting cannon to sound.

Like it was yesterday, I recall with distinct clarity the swim start of Ironman Hawaii over 25 years ago.

There I was standing knee-deep in the warm waters of Kona harbor and looking up and watching the ABC helicopters circle over-head and wondering what had possessed me to think that I could learn how to swim well enough in just over a year to take on my first ever 2.4-mile open water swim in an event of this magnitude.

“What on earth have I gotten myself into,” I remember thinking. Yet despite my misgivings I had an Ironman Hawaii finisher medal around my neck some 14 hours later.

So if you are one of those who have this same fear and doubt, then perhaps I can enlighten you and possibly calm your fears by expressing five of the main reasons I feel the swim is such a physical, mental, and emotional stumbling block for so many.

Fearing the Ironman swim

Kona Harbor on Ironman morning.

I managed to over-come my fears and doubts and became an Ironman that day, and you will have your moment in the sun as well.

Your misgivings about the Ironman swim are not insurmountable and they can be overcome and the Ironman finish line is within your reach.


As kids most of us probably had the opportunity to go to the beach at some point in our lives.

We have memories of hot Summer days, building sand-castles, playing and splashing in knee-deep water and that terrifying moment when we took that one extra step out from shore and were suddenly in over our heads.

There is a reasonable explanation why it can be so frightening. When we are in the water we are out of our element. We are land dwellers and are really ill-equipped genetically to feel “natural” in the water.

In order to learn how to swim, it’s necessary to learn the essential skills that will enable us to stay afloat and survive in a foreign environment.

Regardless of how much time many novice Ironman will commit to learning how to swim, they still remain uncomfortable with the idea of being out in the open water that is over their head.

So the number one reason why it’s quite normal for the novice Ironman to dread the Ironman swim is because they are simply out of their natural element.

However you can take solace in the fact that this fear is blown all out of proportion in our minds and can and will be overcome on race morning.


It seems challenging enough just to learn how to swim, but the thought of being in the water with all those other swimmers can be particularly unnerving.

Most likely you have heard all about the banging and crashing that goes on in the Ironman swim and the thought is unsettling for you.

It’s quite possible to avoid the potential mayhem by having a workable plan in place. You might benefit from the Ironman Swim Strategy I devised several years ago that seems to have worked for many first time Ironmen who found the 2.4 mile open-water swim a challenge.

It will calm any fear you might feel and help you on your way to an enjoyable and worry-free swim.


You might think you will be out of place on Ironman morning. You will be joined by hundreds or possibly a couple of thousand others waiting for the starting gun and in your mind you might think they are all great swimmers and you don’t belong.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Sure, there are Olympic world class swimmers, pro triathletes, water-polo players, synchronized swimmers and many others who appear to be gifted, natural swimmers.

In reality, they spent years and years and hundreds of hours in the water learning those skills and they make up a very small proportion of the population in the big scheme of things.

When you come right down to it, most likely around 55%-60% of the starters in your first Ironman race will be feeling much as you do.

You will not be alone and yes, “you do belong!” You have earned the right to be there and as your Ironman day progresses you will feel the power and uplifting spirit of so many of you striving for the same goal and conquering the same fears. It is that spirit that is the very essence of the Ironman.


It’s not unusual to have the feeling that once you get out in that water, there will be no escape and no recourse should something go wrong. Even with all those other swimmers around you, you imagine yourself being entirely alone.

It’s very true that the other swimmers will be of little help and will not even realize that you might be in trouble. You have fears of swallowing water, goggles filling with water or fogging up, or perhaps getting clobbered on the back of the head by a wayward arm.

Keep in mind that there will be dozens of lifeguards in canoes and kayaks in the water watching over you. They will be trained over the course of their pre-race meetings to look for swimmers who are in trouble.

Chances are that at any point in the swim you will be able to stop swimming and look around and there will be a canoe or kayak close to you.

Simply put your arm up until you get there attention. They will be looking for this and will come to you. Yes, you are allowed to hang on to a canoe or kayak without being disqualified.

They will give you time to fix your goggles etc. but will not propel you forward. Do what you have to do then let go and carry on swimming. Remember to always take hold of the stern(back)of a canoe and not the side as you may tip it.


As you make your way to the swim start you may begin to have your doubts about your preparation for this day. You may not “feel” like you are capable of finishing the swim and then taking on the bike and the run.

Much of how you feel mentally, physically, and emotionally on Ironman morning will be brought on by self-induced stress.

It is only natural to begin to doubt yourself. After all, this is the Ironman and you are looking straight into the eye of the tiger. Nobody ever said it would be easy. That’s exactly what makes the Ironman such an accomplishment of body, mind and spirit.

You will be amazed how you will feel a few hundred meters into the swim. If you go into the swim with a relaxed, long, and smooth stroke and have a swim-plan in mind long before you ever get to the Ironman venue, you will soon wonder what all the worry and fear was all about.

Shortly after the gun sounds you will feel the euphoria of being in the most energy-charged spot on earth at that moment. You will be lifted by the realization that so many of you have a common goal.

The energy you thought you never had will be there for you and it will be super-charged by the adrenaline coursing through your body.

If you are just beginning your triathlon career, TOTAL IMMERSION is the perfect system to incorporate into your swim training as your career develops.

If you are completely new to swimming, then you have the advantage of developing a great stroke from the very beginning without having to break bad swimming habits.

TOTAL IMMERSION… Simply one of the best swimming techniques in the world today for triathletes of any level.



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Simply click on TOTAL IMMERSION go to their store page. Use the Coupon Code “ironstruck” (all small case letters) into the shopping cart coupon box and you will automatically receive your 10% discount!


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