March 2016

How I Overcame My Fear of Swimming

Recently, I was asked by Sport Relief to be a part of the blog squad for the Swimathon. I probably swim about one month a year (or less), so really when I say I’m not a swimmer, I’m really not!

Swimming is a great form of exercise. Whenever I tweet about my post-workout muscle soreness, I often get replies from people recommending swimming as a form of recovery. When I was training for the swimathon, I found it complimented my marathon training well on the days I didn’t run. But let’s be honest bout swimming, the whole making-sure-my-legs-are-waxed also plays a part in whether I swim! But let me tell you a story about swimming. Maybe you’ll click away from this page. Maybe you won’t. Hopefully it may have a positive impact on just one person.  

Many a year ago, I used to be a very good swimmer. At school, the swimming class was divided into different groups based on competency. I was in the top group. Then, one day, it all came crashing down. Much of what happened is a blur, and it happened so long ago, it doesn’t seem real anymore. During one swimming class, I was pushed into the deep end of the pool and nearly drowned. I remember falling into the water, and struggling to get out. I don’t remember much after that, but that event did scar me for life.  

As I grew up, when I went to swimming lessons at school, I was terrified of the deep end. None of the swimming teachers really understood my fear and the only thing they could do was to put me in the shallow end of the pool, whilst the rest of the class spent the class in the deep end. When I discovered puberty, I would try to avoid swimming lessons as much as possible. “It’s that time of the month again” was an excuse I’d stretch for as long as I could. That, and “I have a headache”. Boy, I used every excuse in and out of the textbook.  

Fast-forward a few years, and somehow, I have managed to overcome this fear of deep water to a large extent. I can’t swim in open water, because I can’t see the bottom of the seabed. It terrifies me, even thinking about it. But swimming in a pool is so much better. I’ll admit that the first few lengths can be daunting for me as I build up my confidence and acquaint myself with the pool, but afterwards I feel terrific.  

My relationship with swimming and the swimming pool is fairly complicated and so taking on the swimathon for charity was a real challenge, in more ways than one for me. I successfully swam 2.5km, which felt harder than running, and completing that challenge was a great feeling for me. With that in mind, I wanted to write a post about ways you can overcome your fear of swimming and the deep end of the pool. It’s taken me a long time to build up my confidence, and if I were to swim regularly then this relationship would probably be rock solid.  


This might sound obvious, but wear a swimming costume or trunks/shorts that you are comfortable in. Shorts that won’t make you feel that they’re going to fall down whilst you’re swimming. A swimming costume that won’t make you wonder if your boobies are falling out (a high neck swimming costume is worth looking at). Basically, if you dress comfortably for swimming, then it shouldn’t give you any distractions.  


Swimming pools are often 50 metres or 25 metres in length. The length of the pool can be really daunting and if the fear is really strong, then there’s no point in going in a 50m pool, especially if it’s for lane swimming. 

I know what it’s like to see a deep-end of a pool and feel your heart suddenly beating faster, feeling very hot and slightly struggling to breathe.  

Instead of starting off on lane swimming, go swimming when the pool is open to everyone. That way if you are swimming in the middle of the pool and find that you really need to breathe in slowly and take a break, you can swim over to the side, without falling foul of lane swimming etiquette. For a long time, swimming next to the side of the pool worked for me, because I could get out of the pool very quickly whenever I needed.  


If you’re fear is mostly due to competency, have lessons. You might think that swimming lesson are only for children, but you’d be surprised to know there’s a lot of adults who have lessons and there are plenty of leisure centres that offer them for adults.  


Bring a friend or two to boost your confidence. The fun you are having will take away the distractions of the fear.  


Once your confidence in the pool has built up, instead of going to swim-for-all sessions, move up to the swim-for-fitness sessions. For these sessions, the pool is divided into a number of lanes. Each lane is designated for slow, moderate and fast swimmers. Ask the life guards if you’re unsure and they will let you know. Take your time with lane swimming and follow the etiquette. You’ve built up your confidence, and you don’t want to knock it down. Start in the slow lane and see how you feel; it can be intimidating when swimming in faster lanes and a swimmer overtakes you. You want to feel as comfortable as you can, so working on speed isn’t important yet.  


It was during one training session for the swimathon that I actually came up with the idea for this post. If you think about other things whilst swimming, I found that it put my mind at ease, and often time flew by before I even realised.    

In the words of Mohammed Ali, “He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.” My next challenge is to be able to overcome the fear of swimming in open water as I do want to complete IronMan 70.3 and the swimming part is what is really putting me off.

Have you overcome a swimming fear, or any other fears? How did you overcome them?    

Mara xxx