Two core values of TI Swimming are Improvement and Enjoyment. We believe you should begin every swim with a conscious goal to improve your swimming–ideally in specific and measurable ways. We also believe that your prospects for improvement are best when practice produces a state of such intense Happiness that it’s the best part of your day. Even better that a residual glow of positivity energizes you for the rest of your day.
A critical choice I’ve made about where to focus my energy this summer has been influenced by my conviction that Enjoyment and Improvement are not just compatible, but inseparable. And that merging them will benefit everything I find meaningful.
Virtually every summer for the past 10 years I’ve been an avid open water (OW) competitor–usually swimming 5 to 6 OW races over the course of two to three months. I enjoy winning my age group and, more often than not, I do. But my motivation for racing has more to do with process than outcome.
The Lure of the Lake
Between mid-June and early September I swim in Lake Minnewaska as often as possible. What lures me there is a combination of stunning natural beauty and the Flow States I experience during practice.
Flow comes from doing meaningful activities that involve a level of skill that requires immersive focus. I’ve long gotten that from practice sets that test my ability to tease a bit more Stroke Length from a constant Tempo or, conversely, push Tempo higher while maintaining Stroke Length.
One attraction of Lake Minnewaska is how its 200-yard rope line facilitates these Flow-producing sets. On any swim I can either count strokes along the line—my SPL ranges from the high 140s at Tempos of 1.2 (sec/stroke) or slower to the low 170s at Tempos around .95 or faster. Or I time myself and divide Time by Tempo to calculate stroke count.
I do these practices mainly for the Enjoyment produced by doing exacting tasks and the immediate gratification—because having such concrete metrics lets me know precisely how well I met the challenge.
But there’s an extra frisson of satisfaction that comes from knowing that my practice tasks also develop skills and instincts that will be invaluable in a race.
Punching Above My Weight
At 62, I’m usually among the oldest swimmers in the field; in a typical race field of 100+ there are seldom more than a handful older than me. And, among the relatively small number who are fairly serious about competing, my training volume is quite modest. So I gain some satisfaction from knowing that my exacting practice helps me ‘punch above my weight’ as boxers say.
I’m confident my stroke will be among the most efficient and economical in any race field. Then there’s the knowledge that few in any field have as much experience in OW–this year marks the 40th anniversary of my first OW race at an ocean lifeguard tournament in 1973.
But perhaps the most valuable mental strength I bring is the knowledge that I’m neurally programmed to respond to nearly any situation in a way that will probably bring some advantage. My Stroke Length + Tempo tasks—which I do primarily to experience Flow States—also hardwire stroking patterns proven to make the difference between winning and losing.
So what’s noteworthy about my choices this summer? Mainly that I’m planning to considerably scale back my summer racing schedule. Where I usually swim at least four races during July and August, this year I’ll swim only one: the Betsy Owens 2-Mile Cable Swim in Mirror Lake, in the Adirondack village of Lake Placid, on Aug 17. The photo below gives you some sense of why I never miss this race.
I’m racing so sparingly because this summer I’m more excited about writing than racing and want to conserve physical, mental and emotional energy—as well as time–for the creative process.
Writing Fueled by Purposeful Practice
On July 1, I started the clock on a period of 10 weeks during which I intend to spend my most productive hours–6 am to noon—writing a series of ebooks which will ‘update the public record’ on TI Methodology. (We’ll announce release dates on www.totalimmersion.net.)
But while racing takes a back seat, my practice will be as focused and purposeful as always. That’s because I know the anticipation of an enormously satisfying swim later in the day will renew me for the hours I’ll spend at my desk. And my swims will generate energy and enthusiasm—plus insight and inspiration–that I’ll pour into my next writing session.
I’ve modified aspects of my practice plans for the summer according to the Pull vs Push principle of generating energy. In my next post I’ll describe this principle and explain why I feel I’ll not only write better, but race better as a result.
This short video features both the natural beauty of Lake Minnewaska and my Stroke Length and Tempo practice plan for the day.