Just when you think you're tough enough

Tough Takes

Never give up in conquering your fear of open water at the Kapas Marang Swimathon 6.5km

Writer Debbie Tan(right) faced her fears to complete the Kapas Marang 6.5km Swimathon on her first try.

The most challenging sporting event in my life is swimming, always feeling unsecured and scared when my feet did not touch the ground. But as they always say, conquer your fears head on, and that inspired me to participate in the Kapas Marang Swimathon 6.5km recently.

Every time in an open water event, my heart beats faster than normal and have to keep telling myself stay calm, relax and not to panic.

It took many years and four tries in the IRONMAN Triathlon race before I overcame my fear in the 3.8km swim, which was the deal breaker of the race for me. I finally found my calm in 2016 and it was the most relaxed 3.8km swim, and it gave me confidence to go on to completed the race and be declared an ‘IRONMAN’.

Subsequently, I never thought of doing any other open water or long distance swim much less a 6.5km swimathon from the Kapas island to Marang in Terengganu on peninsular Malaysia.

Filled with fear and nerves, I only started training one and a half months prior to the competition. The question kept ringing through my mind, “Would I be able to make the cut off time of 4 hours?”

Come race day, in the boat towards Kapas Island while looking back at the main land, said to myself: “It is so damn far! Too late, there is no turning back now”. At the start while mingling around with fellow swimmers, I was soaking in some tips and advise to keep focus on a hill that look like “Mount Fuji” for sighting purposes.

All my focus and attention were on “Mount Fuji” and hopefully I won’t be swim too far off track. I kept telling myself: “I CAN DO IT! and STAY FOCUSED”.

At the beginning of the race, I started off with breaststroke to make myself comfortable and switched over to freestyle for the rest of the way. On every three to five strokes, I continued sighting just to make sure that “Mount Fuji” view is in front of me.

Half way into the swim, I realized that I was all alone in the middle of the sea and there wasn’t a single soul around me.

It became scary to me and I realised that I cannot see anything below accept darkness, which made me tense up. With the kayaks and rescue boats in a far distance, I started telling myself:

“Keep swimming, left arm, right arm, kick the legs, don’t worry, keep swimming; again and again until Bing!! Bing!! Why the negative feeling?…. I’ve got a (compulsory) safety buoy on my waist. Just keep swimming”.

As “Mount Fuji” disappeared from my sight, I gushed with relief as the red coloured “Finishing Arch” greeted me and grew closer in my sight. The feeling of accomplishment and conquering another fear factor really made my day filled with joy, happiness and gratefulness.

Victoriously, I raised myself out of the water to cross the finish line 3.39.28 well within the cut-off time, to complete the Kapas Marang 6.5KM swimathon on my very first try. It takes a village to raise a child, and in similar fashion, many people have helped me in training and encouraged me along the way.


More about the author

Debbie Tan loves outdoor adventures like mountaineering, rock climbing, mountain biking, trail running and triathlon. She challenges herself to the limit, never gives up and loves endurance challenges like conquering G10 mountains (above 7000 ft) in Peninsula Malaysia, IRONMAN, Ultra Trail Running and now swimathon.