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Tri Challenge: Breathe deeply to conquer wet suit anxiety
July 25th, 2011
03:10 PM ET

Tri Challenge: Breathe deeply to conquer wet suit anxiety

Since January, six iReporters have been training in the Fit Nation Triathlon Challenge. We’re following along as they prepare to compete alongside Dr. Sanjay Gupta in the August 7 Nautica NYC Triathlon.

Well here we are, staring down less than two weeks until we jump into the Hudson River! Wet suits are allowed for this race as long as the water temp is below 78°F, and because the water temp has not reached this level in the history of the NYC Tri, we 6-Packers have all included wet suit swims in our training.

We swam in them several times while in Hawaii in April, including the mini-tri we did on our last day there. That swim did not go well for me, and I have come to decide that it was due to “wet suit anxiety.” Frankly, I have more anxiety about the swim than I have admitted to myself and others.

The first time I put on my wet suit in Hawaii (actually it was the second time; the first time we all put them on backwards and had to start over), I was comfortable swimming in it in the ocean. But on the day we did our mini-tri, something changed, and I found myself hyperventilating on the swim. I think I had started out swimming too fast, got winded, and then blamed the tight fit of the wet suit for not being able to catch my breath when actually I couldn’t catch it because I was hyperventilating.

Memories of that Hawaii swim drove me to practice a real-life river swim in my wet suit, just so that I would know that I had done it when the time came to take the Hudson plunge. So this past Sunday, after I had celebrated a 50-mile-ride milestone earlier in the day, I rested a few hours and then hit the river with friends Gena and David, to do a wet suit swim in the Etowah river.

I donned mine about a mile upstream from where I would exit, but because I was tired from the morning’s ride, we paddled a little farther downstream before I jumped in. My greatest concern was that the river was quite shallow in spots, and I didn’t want to scuff against any rocks or logs that might tear it. Gena and David paddled along about 20 feet to each side of me to make sure I stayed in mid-channel. As usual, I started off swimming smoothly, rolling, stretching and breathing bilaterally as I have been doing for miles all summer in the pool. Maybe this time it would be OK.

I practiced abdominal breathing to lessen my feeling of chest constriction, but no such luck; here came that familiar shortness-of-breath feeling that pulled my attention to the fit of the wet suit on my chest. I wish I could say that I worked it out, that I got my mind over matter, slowed my strokes, breathed abdominally and finally hit a stride, but I really never did. What I did accomplish was good practice of my resting strokes (side and back), and of my self-talk that enabled me to go on downstream.

I’m not gonna lie: I was very glad to get out of that water last Sunday. I had righteously earned that long bubble-bath that was waiting at home! Three lessons came out of the water with me: (1) Do not take comfort with any sport for granted– things may (and will) change when you least expect it.(2) Know your resting plan and practice that too; and (3) Friends that help you train add fun and blessings.

So… will we or won’t we be wearing our wet suits into the Hudson? That decision is out of my hands, so I plan to succeed under either scenario. If we do, I will enjoy the extra flotation, and if we don’t, I will probably not hyperventilate. One thing is certain: When I take that leap into the Hudson with all of my new best friends, it will be a moment that I will never ever forget.

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.