Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Getting Lost In The Open Water

Do you ever find your mind wandering during an open water swim? If you remain focused or are one of the swimmers who can maintain a disciplined stroke count up to tens of thousands, then major kudos to you.

However, if you answered yes and occasionally - or frequently - get lost in your thoughts or literally daydream while out in the open water, then you are among the vast majority of open water swimmers.

As you swim, whether the water is calm or rough, warm or cold, do you sometimes find that something startles you out of your aquatic slumber? Perhaps you find yourself suddenly way off-course or wondering how in the world you veered so far left of your swim buddies. Do you sometimes emerge from the water wondering how does time pass by so quickly during your swims? If so, it is highly likely, your mind is wandering in the water.

And that is a good thing. It is refreshing, relaxing, and rejuvenating.

For a competitive type, it would be ideal to be able to be focused intensely on your pace, positioning, and stroke 100% of the time in an open water training session, solo swim or race. But this level of concentration is really not realistic for most people - or even desirable. Our minds need to wander – and so do our bodies. This is one of the wonders and magical allures of open water swimming - getting lost in your thoughts. Settling into automatic pilot mode is quite soothing and relaxing for many swimmers. Like riding a bike, the repetitive motions of swimming need no special focus or attention Swimmers can just simply repeat their same arm strokes and same breathing pattern over and over and over again. It is, frankly, a highly effective means of marine hypnotism.

Especially during training swims and longer swims, there are plenty of opportunities for your mind to go off in all different directions. This mindless world of automated progress can be between a long stretch of buoys. It can be while you are in the middle of a pack during a race while you are swimming comfortably with the crowd. It can be experienced as you swim alone in a tranquil lake where the only disturbance are your arm strokes calmly piercing the placid surface of the water.

While this is more common in practice or leisurely swims or as we age, even the younger, more competitive elite athletes will also admit that this “spacing out” sometimes occurs in races, at least briefly. And, sometimes, their hyper-intensive coaches will swear to this fact.

Here are some of the things athletes have admitted that has gone through their minds during a competition:

• The next meal they are going to have while they are imagining it in their mouth as well
• One song, on hyper-repeat in their minds over and over again, quite possibly just one or two stanzas, or the chorus
• Homework or a paper due in class
• Upcoming plans for the day
• What TV shows are on that night
• What feed they have coming up next - and either looking forward to it or dreading it
• How warm or cold the water is

If you find yourself thinking any of these above things, and you are not the competitive type...then great. Conversely, if you are spacing out a little too often and you have competitive goals, then it is probably beneficial to try to switch gears and snap yourself out of the mental doldrums. You can try to focus on something more directly related to your swim. Here are some potential ideas of more beneficial thoughts:

• Your competition
• Feel for the water
• Stroke rate
• Breathing pattern
• The course

But, for most swimmers, getting mentally lost on the course is not a bad thing. It is frankly sort of cool and it helps keep bringing you back for more.

Photo shows marathon swimmer Antonio Arg├╝elles who has thought deeply for many, many hours in the water. The Mexican swimming dynamo and successful entrepreneur says, "We all have one ‘channel’ to cross: be it the English Channel, thirty minutes of daily exercise, or just not quitting school."

Copyright © 2013 by World Open Water Swimming Association