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Here's a common scenario: You completed your race prep, your transition area looks perfect, you even did a little warm up run- and a bike for you overachievers. You put on your wetsuit, walked down to the swim start, and the nerves kicked in. All of a sudden, you start to doubt your ability to finish this little ole swim, even though you've gone 3x as far in the pool.
You wade in up to your waist, fight off the urge to wade back out, take a deep breath, and start swimming- as fast as you can because it's SOOOO COOOLD! You hightail it back to shore and line up for the start, shivering with either cold, nerves, or anticipation. Maybe it's a little of each.
The race starts and you go- a little on the fast side because it's so COLD. Halfway to the first buoy, you can't catch your breath. You try treading water, you try swimming on your back, but nothing works. You end up doing a kind of vertical breaststroke interspersed with attempts to put your face back in the water and swim freestyle, which leave you panting for air again and again.
Try this instead:
As with all things Triathlon, practice makes perfect. It may take 3-4 races to get this right, so practice your warm-up in the pool and open water until it becomes part of your pre-race routine.