There is definitely a discomfort element to racing at night. Your mind can and will play tricks on you and innocent shadows take on new forms. Keeping your mind quiet and in check is definitely part of night racing and these are amplified when the first element of that race is a 1.2 mile swim, at midnight, in Loch Morlich, in the Highlands of Scotland.
If the night swim does cause you concern then a good practice is to try and identify what element of it is most worrying then implement aspects in training to alleviate those fears on race day. Your reservations could be for example a fear of cold water, a fear of the darkness when swimming, fear of being unable to manage the distance or fear of things lurking below. Whatever your trepidation if you identify it you can start to work on it.
If you are uneasy about the cold water then you can acclimate to it by making sure that you do some of your swim training actually in the open water as opposed to a pool. This really is the principle of specificity, making your training as specific as possible to the event you are training for. So the ultimate specificity would be swimming in Loch Morlich at midnight but even just getting into a local lake where swimming is safely possible will really get you used to being in that environment and get you used to the temperature of the water compared to your local pool. You can get in and out multiple times over weeks and months to aid this acclimation. Making sure you have the right tools for the job is also important, you can wear neoprene swim vests under your wetsuit if you really suffer with the cold, also neoprene swim boots and gloves and a neoprene swim cap under your race cap and this will all help keep your extremities and core warm. Practice wearing all of this gear prior to race day to see how it feels when swimming though.
If your fear is dark water then you need to look for something that you can see. The Starman swim course is a multi-lap affair and really does not take you too far from the beach and the buoys are the best lit I have ever seen in any triathlon so you can sight on those. Focus on what you can see rather than what you can’t so this might be your hand entering the water; it might just be your forearm. You can practice this in the pool by swimming with dark goggles or even closing your eyes when your face goes in the water anything just to replicate the conditions. Even try swimming some lengths with your goggles partially full of water.
Managing the distance really comes down to training and with any training the principle of consistency is the second pillar of success and along with specificity will get you far. So practice building your ability to be able to swim the distance up to 1200m and beyond. You can do this with simple swim sets, no need to make things complicated so 24 x 50m building through 12 x 100m and 3 x 400m all work well. Remember that come race day you need to swim the distance comfortably as you have a bike and run to do afterwards.
For a fear of waterborne creatures just remember they are way more scared of you and your friends in neoprene suits splashing around. There is nothing in Loch Morlich that will cause you any harm.
The most important thing you can ever do with any Open Water swimming is to identify what causes you to worry in the first place and build a strategy to work through it, try to replicate it as much as you can, and train for the conditions you are going to be presented with.
Good luck with your training and I’ll see you all in August.
Neil Scholes has a long history with endurance sport and as the Head Coach at Performance Edge he has worked with those looking to finish their first ever sprint event, through Age Group medallists at World Championships, Ironman Age Group winners and the Elite Squad at University of Bath. He can be contacted through www.performance-edge.me