Here is a message I received recently from a swimmer I have been corresponding with. He describes something I am eager to disclose to my new-to-open water swimmers: swim on mindfully until you come to the magic moment!
Here is his comment:
Another thing I want to share with you, and the rest of the TI world, is I had a magic moment swimming last week and I’m seriously excited about! Whilst swimming around my local lake, following another swimmer (sighting kills my stroke!) after about an hour (concentrating on technique – not times or distance) I suddenly started to feel strong pressure against my forearms and my swimming suddenly became effortless! Rather than my arm pulling back, I suddenly felt as though I was pushing against something nearly solid which resulted in serious increased forward motion and I went past this guy without trying to speed up and did so stroking at least 25% less than he was! He commented later how good I looked, happy was an understatement! I’ve had similar experiences like this in the last two years and know it could be months before it happens again, but now I know what it FEELS like I’ll be trying everything to re create it!
– Steve (UK)
I admit that this is an extremely elusive moment to find in the swimming pool, even (if not especially) for those who are highly trained pool swimmers. Those walls break concentration and rhythm in ways you cannot completely comprehend until you spend some good portion of time swimming without them. Since I know open-water swimming – the opportunity to swim with thousands of uninterrupted strokes – is accessible to most people only in certain seasons or at infrequent times I don’t rub this point in – I merely point it out.
When you swim mindlessly (focused only on quantity and intensity) for an hour your stroke quality will most likely deteriorate – a fact of what happens to us physiologically when the brain is not engaged or gets exhausted. When you swim mindfully it gives you by far the best chance of falling into this magic moment where the stroke actually improves dramatically – where the separate pieces of the stroke you’ve been working on start to slip into place and sync up with one another and things start flowing better than you’ve ever felt them before.
It takes time to warm up to allow all your internal systems to come online and get into rhythm with one another.
It takes concentration – not strained concentration, just quality-oriented, prioritized concentration on one thing at a time (pick a few and switch between them periodically).
It takes patience. You can’t force the body into rhythm and synchronization – it has to be stimulated, but then allowed to come into it on the body’s own timing. It will come when ready. It often comes easier the less you try to make it happen and the more you just let it happen while observing and making minor adjustments to increase relaxation and fine timing and touch.
Just for reference sake here is the general pattern I experience in my open-water training:
0 to 12 minutes – warm-up, gentle swimming. I need time to get loose in my joints, feel my swimming-specific flexibility expand, and feel my internal systems wake up and get aligned. This includes the mental and emotional aspect of swimming – sometimes I don’t feel like going to swim, but once I do this gentle warm-up the excitement usually returns.
12 to 25 minutes – finding tempo and stroke timing for what I intend to do that day. But I don’t always feel ‘great’ yet in this first segment of time.
25 to 45 – I find the rhythm for the day, and set intensity level according to the duration or distance I intend to swim. Note: tempo and rhythm are two different ideas. Tempo is just the timing of the stroke cycle. Rhythm is how you distribute those micro-seconds through the stroke cycle to get the best return for the effort.
45 minute (roughly) – if all conditions are good (water is conducive, energy is good, mind is focused, etc) my stroke starts feeling so good I want to swim on and on and on.