Ironman swim panic

Are you dealing with Ironman swim panic

If there is one thing that scares many people new to the Ironman it’s the 2.4-mile swim. In the moments before the starting gun sounds there will be many, many people in Ironman swim panic mode.

Being terrified of the Ironman swim goes back to the early years of the event and has been especially hard on those taking on the Ironman Triathlon challenge for the first time.

In one of the early Ironman races in Kona in the 1980’s there was the case of the missing swimmer. Even though there were no timing chips back then, organizers made sure that every swimmer who checked in the morning of the race was accounted for when the last swimmer arrived.

Ironman swim panic

Ironman Hawaii. The swim can get pretty crowded. Staying calm is the key.

On this day there was a missing swimmer. They searched the entire course with boats and scuba divers but could not find the missing swimmer. In the meantime this guy showed up at the dock and asked what the commotion was all about. It turns out he was the one they were looking for.

He was in a blind panic in the moments before the gun sounded and decided he was not doing the race. He went across the street from the swim start area and had breakfast and never told anyone.

So what is it that causes Ironman swim panic in some form or other in every single Ironman race in the world? Here are a few possibilities.

  • It’s amazing how many people learn how to swim for the first time just for the Ironman. Inexperience is probably the number one cause of Ironman swim panic.
  • Even if a person can swim they could be new to swimming so far in the open water. There’s a big difference between laps in the pool and 2.4-miles with very little to hang on to.
  • Even if they have done some swimming in the open water, they have never been in such close proximity to so many other swimmers at any time in their lives.


For those who are inexperienced it certainly does take some getting used to. The Ironman mass swim start was a hallmark of the race for a very long time. It was part of the challenge. It’s a bit easier now since the WTC introduced rolling starts.

It was done partly to prevent serious problems at the race start, but mostly because they wanted more people to become involved in the Ironman. You would be amazed how many people gave up on their Ironman dream because they feared the swim start.

The best way to conquer Ironman swim panic is to have a swim plan in place long before race day. By far the less stressful line to take is an outside line that keeps you on the edge of the major mass of swimmers.

Following the buoy line or waiting a minute or two really isn’t the best plan. Even if you wait, there will be 500 other people waiting with you.


The Ironman swim will test you on many levels. It goes far beyond swimming ability. There are the emotions of fear, excitement, and anger to deal with. It’s in your best interest to keep these in check and maintain a sense of calm in the water.

Each of these emotions will cause a serious drain of your energy. You are going to need all your energy for later in the race when you take on a 112-mile bike and 26.2-mile run.
[bctt tweet=”Once I survived the swim, I knew I’d be an Ironman that day.
via Ironstruck”]
You almost have to swim like you’re in your own protective bubble. It you bump into someone, just bounce off and continue with a long, smooth energy-saving stroke. If someone keeps hitting the back of your legs simply adjust your line and let them pass.

Everything you do in the water and for the rest of the race for that matter should center around staying completely calm and focused.

If you can get your hands on a copy of my book IronStruck…The Ironman Triathlon Journey, the few pages I wrote called the IRONMAN BUBBLE could change the way you look at not only the swim, but the entire race. It could be the edge you need.

Yes of course you have to train and build your endurance for the Ironman, but it’s winning the mental and emotional battles that will see you through to the finish line.

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About Ray

Ray hasn’t stopped since his first Ironman in Kona, 1984. He has since run 14 more Ironman races, authored 5 Triathlon books, and is now bringing together a passionate community of triathletes. Contact Ray at

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