Friday, October 25, 2013

Can Jellyfish Hear Your Scream?

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If you are learning to swim freestyle you will be coming to terms with having your face down in the water, finding air to breathe and often doing that whilst being out of your depth. Well done to you, that's not easy at all!

When you're going through these challenges it is important to keep your moral high and not get down about how hard it can be. It can and will get easier with perseverance and working on the right things in your stroke technique. e.g.

Learning freestyle is often a challenge in overcoming anxiety and one thing to realise is that there's no magic wand here, as you confidence grows it will get easier but nearly every swimmer (even elite swimmers) have some level of anxiety in the water - even if they don't openly admit it. So don't feel bad about that!

To back up that point, here's a funny extract from Coach Annie's journal from her recent trip from the UK to sunny Perth. Annie's an experienced open water swimmer but even she had a little setback she needed to overcome during a training swim:

That morning I accepted the gracious offer of a swim in the Swan River's Freshwater Bay with Swim Smooth's Adam Young. It was a crisp sunny Sunday morning and the blue shark-free waters shimmered in the early morning sunlight.

We met Paul who was half way through his 20km swim building up to his Manhattan Island win a few weeks later. He and the rest of the marathon swimmer squad were putting in regular 10-30km swims in the river:
Feeding from a pole is a skill marathon swimmers need to develop.
Paul started on his second 10km lap (!) and then Adam jumped in the water and headed out after Paul shouting back "There might be a few jellyfish but they don't sting!". He must be joking right, we're in a RIVER, does he think I'm that easily fooled? Please no jellyfish, I don't do jellyfish.

So he swims off into the distance and I get stuck into thinking "please if there are any jellyfish, just don't come near me" coupled with "you can do this, just don't freak out now!".

OMG, it turns out Matilda Bay is actually like a Japanese Jellyfish soup:

(Ed: It's bad but not quite that bad!!)

Every 5 seconds the jellies were slithering over my wetsuit past my body, touching the skin on my feet and neck. Hold it together - hold it together! I did pretty well for about 30 minutes until I head-butted straight into one which then slid down my face:


The guys tell me that if you listen carefully you can still hear that scream echoing around Freshwater Bay and although I didn't know it at the time it caused some alarm to the good people of Perth having a peaceful breakfast on their verandas overlooking the river.

Annie safely back in the pool and
no worse for wear.
Our wetsuit free marathon swimming group (think big burly bronzed manly men) had just finished their own long swim and also heard the scream. They rushed to locate the source and help this damsel in distress!

Frankly I wouldn't have minded being rescued at this point (Ed: especially by big burly bronzed men...) but they were nearly 1km away down the river - I guess I do scream loud! - and I was only 100m from the shore. So I managed to do a sort of backwards breast stroke keeping my head as far out of the water as possible until I could wade onto the safety of dry land and walk back tail between my legs.

The marathon swimmers rushed up and asked if I knew who had screamed. As they were about to dive in and conduct a search and rescue operation I had to swallow my pride and sheepishly admit it was me...

I felt pretty down about myself for a few hours afterwards until I realised that actually, I was taking on my fears - swimming with thousands of jellyfish - and doing a pretty good job of it for quite a time. That was really hard and swimming anywhere else now feels easy in comparison! Onwards and upwards!


Like Annie, give yourself a little credit for taking things on and pushing your limits, a few setbacks along the way are inevitable but try not to get down about them. The satisfaction you gain from overcoming them will be all the greater for it.

Our best advice is to push yourself a little further every session, try not to get in a comfort zone where you just do what you know you can do and nothing more. Move things forwards a little every time you swim and your confidence will grow and those fears gradually subside. You'll be glad to hear that swimming with jellyfish is entirely optional!

Swim Smooth!

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