Mental Toughness of Swimming Over a Mile

DSCF1517If you have been reading my blog for the last couple of weeks, I recently completed some major swimming milestones.  First, I swam a solid mile freestyle in the ocean (albeit with some stops and starts but never touching the bottom).  Following that I swam 1600 meters at once completing the mile distance.  Then last week I reached a new milestone again completing 2000 meters of swimming in 50 minutes without stopping (40 laps in my pool roughly two and a quarter miles of swimming).  Lastly I have started to teach myself the backstroke and on Monday I was able to complete a few 50 meter laps without too much struggle. So things have been going really well for me in the water, both in the pool and in the open water.  In my recent Monday swimming drill session I could not help but reflect on the mental toughness and not just physical toughness 40 laps really takes.  It is an hour of swimming back and fourth non stop.

Looking back on this year, if you would have told me back in May when I started training for my first triathlon next year that I could swim over a mile I would have thought you were joking.  Heck, if you told me back  in August I i would have had thought the same.  When I first started my method of swimming consisted of lying on the water and propelling myself with my arms and legs.  With this method my upper body got sore fast and 100 meters was an extreme challenge.  Smartly, I took a month or two and used the Total Immersion swim book to relearn how to swim. I worked the routines and swim methods into my muscle memory.  This method relies more on hip rotation, pulling the shoulders out of the water and uses leg kicks minimally.  With this method I achieved 250 meters of swimming, but I realized that my overall endurance was very week.

images (56)What changed was the way I approached my swim workouts.  I realized that I needed work still on my form, but the basics were there.  My three swim workouts were focused with one day being drills and working on stroke counts while the other two were focused on drills and interval sets to increase my endurance.  Immediately I found a lap approach aimed at completing 1 mile within a month or two.  The basic approach was to do a big chunk like 500 meters then break all the remaining distances up into different length sets with different rest periods.  Each week the lengths increased and the rest decreased till finally I was able to do first 1500 meters then 2000 meters without stopping.

Now, I am back to multiple swim workout components again.  Once a week I work on stroke counts, bilateral breathing and drills to improve my abilities.  Currently I am able to do a 1:08 50 (25 meter pool) on average  with 42-44 strokes.  Also added to that workout is my work on adding additional strokes to my skills.  Lately I have been working on learning the backstroke.  The second workout of the week focuses on some for of interval: ladders, pyramids…. all done at 2000 –3000 meters with a simple 500 meter warm up.  The third workout is my endurance workout. I still want to be able to swim 2 -3 miles so I am working to increase it gradually.  So for now I will do 1 set of 2000 meters followed by 5-10 100 meter sets.

images (53)Last week I decided I was going to really try and push it and go for 2000 meters, a mile and a quarter roughly.  Just realizing that with a 25 meter pool (there is allot of debate in the club if this is meters or yards, but I used my gps watch and it was meters) this was going to take 40 laps to complete and doing 30 took me 40 minutes.  So I warmed up my arms and started swimming  (I always go slow for the first ten to warm up when doing endurance).  I usually count the laps down so I started from 40 and just started doing the laps.  Luckily I had found my waterproof case and earphones for my mp3 and this made the time pass by easier.  Before I knew it I had 20 laps left, I thought no problem I have done this distance before. Of course I never had done it with 1000 meters already behind me, sigh.  Then suddenly I hit 10 laps left and at this point, even with music, it feels like I have been swimming forever.  At this point the fatigue is noticeable and all I can do is keep focusing on proper form and the current lap number I am on.

Then suddenly I am at 5 laps remaining and my muscle memory has taken over. I believe my form is even better when this happens, but it is clearly a matter of will at this point. My body is doing the act necessary to complete the lap.  Then finally I am down to 4 laps and all of a sudden for the first time I realize that I am going to finish it, that I just have 200 meters to go and that’s a walk in the park.  When I finish I am elated and I shout for joy.  Unfortunately I am not the only one in the pool by this point and they all look at me like I am crazy. I just tell them I just finished an hour of non-stop swimming, 40 laps… over a mile and they just stare. Of course I do not care, I did exactly what I wanted to do and I grabbed it and finished it!

That is what goes through my head as I go back and forth for an hour as I continue to increase my endurance and abilities. Til next time.


  1. Great job brother!!!! That was an excellent blog too. You hit it out of the park on that one! Keep up the good work buddy.

  2. Really liked this post! You’re doing such a fantastic job! I just put up the backstroke rotation drill entry for you – but the caption was deleted while you were reading it for some reason and wordpress didn’t have a previous version saved. I just updated it and I want you to check it out again because you don’t have to limit yourself with a dixie cup. You can use your goggles or even change. The caption explains in better detail how to do this. More backstroke to come!

    1. I read the post and will include those drills in my drill session next week. Should be really fun and looks challenging. I am enjoying my work on my backstroke. Allot of the balance drills I learned for freestyle are similar to some of the backstroke work. Thanks for the drills and support.

      1. Yup! Almost every drill you do with freestyle can be done on your back too. Yes, they are different but they’re very similar. Backstroke is really important, I think, to triathletes because in an emergency situation you can always roll over on your back and breath continuously. I think it is a very important skill. Good luck!

  3. Chat .. you just keep pushing through your challenges and amaze me at your determination to meet your goals. Congrats!! You share a lot of great information for people coming after you on a similar journey.

    1. I just try to push through every week. I have had some adversity as is common, but I try to bounce back. I know I post allot of workout updates, but there are a number of things I have wanted to write for a while that has been bouncing around my brain. Thanks for the support.

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