Mental mindset for open water swimming by #TeamSelkie Nick Murch
Posted on Monday, October 14 2019 01:10:00 PM in News by Karen Lee
I am an open water swimmer with many successful swims under my belt – but no DNF (Did not finish) to my name yet – although I have come close on a couple of occasions. In my ‘spare time’ I work in a hospital and help teach ‘non technical’ skills such as communication, teamwork and mental biases. This combination has led to me mentoring some other marathon swimmers.
My successful major solo marathon swims include:
- Windermere One Way (10 miles) 2015
- English Channel (21 miles) 2016
- Lake Geneva (42 miles) 2016
- North Channel (21 miles, 10 degree Celsius water) 2018
- Lake Annecy (10 miles) 2019
- The Wash (14 miles, Skegness to Hunstanton, Norfolk) 2019
- Catalina Channel (21 miles, Catalina Island to Los Angeles) 2019
I thought I might share some of the secrets to my success. As marathon swimming is 80 percent mental, this preparation is key but may be underestimated by swimmers and crew.
Go into a swim as well prepared as possible, both physically and mentally. When training for my English Channel (EC) swim I was training at Dover Beach with the excellent Dover Channel Training crew (led by Emma France). My mantra was FILO, First In (the water) Last Out). I also aimed to hit the ferry wall first in each swim so pushing myself to be the best-prepared individual on the beach for that season.
Be aware of biases such as fixed beliefs e.g. you must feed using CNP at this regularity, as ‘that’s what we have always done’. Absorb knowledge but do things your own way. There is no one size fits all marathon swimming plan.
MAKE IT MEANINGFUL
The EC (yearned to do for over a year) was much easier mentally than the Catalina Channel (no emotional relevance to myself) or the Wash (when I wanted out at 2 hours). With the North Channel, I didn’t actually ‘want’ to do it until about a month before. Then as everyone told me not a good idea to do or go so early, I really wanted it!
Either to go early or when called – have a grab bag ready to go in case of ‘emergency’, rather like at the end of pregnancy
The language used can be positive or negative. Don’t say ‘How cold is the water?’ but ‘How warm is the water?’ A negative mentality may allow a way out. When training for EC I remember co-aspirants saying ‘I am hopefully attempting the Channel in August’. My response was different: ‘I AM swimming the Channel in July’. This may have appeared arrogant but positive metal attitude goes a long way. Often I am asked if swimmers should publicize their swims or ‘go under radar’. My advice is it depends on the individual. Publicizing my swims puts me under the pressure I thrive upon. Be careful to not create a Social Media circus though. Others like to go without a fanfare, but in my mind may provide a ‘get out’ if doesn’t go to plan.
Train your mind regularly – create a movie of success in your mind you will even end up with this in your dreams, picking up a pebble in France, feeling the warmth of the Sun on your back, telling friends family and colleagues of your success etc.
If you cannot accommodate an element of change in your training or plan on the big day, then you are less likely to succeed. Trust your crew.
CREATE AN ALTER EGO
There was an inspirational quote that stuck with me and I’ve adapted to be my alter ego. When things get tough I pull out “The Storm” who can swim through anything and helps to pacify Mother Nature and all she can throw.
BREAK THE SWIM DOWN IN TO MANAGEABLE PARTS
Swimming the EC is usually between 10 and 15 hours. It may be 20 plus, but that’s an hour’s swim, twenty times. An hour’s swim is doable. Geneva was meant to take 24 to 26 hours in my mind, so that is only an hour’s swim 24 times to 26 times. I broke the swim down in to the alphabet – one letter per hour to keep my mind occupied – I can’t remember past ‘n’ to be honest. When at 24 hours I was told 8 hours more, well that was only a third of what I’d already achieved. I’d come too far to stop now. You truly do swim from feed to feed in these swims – that is all you should look to achieve.
SMASH THROUGH DOORS THAT MAY HOLD YOU BACK
This is a line by the legend Cliff Golding – there are imaginary barriers to your success, mental and physical demons will try to block your path. Smashing through these barriers reveals an unobstructed path – until the next imaginary door appears.
MENTAL REPAIR MECHANISMS
For pain, I realise that it is ‘just one day’. Friends and relatives have chronic pain. Mine will stop. Theirs won’t. I know fellow swimmers who dispatch mental Minions around their body to repair it. Pain is temporary but Glory lasts forever.
Please read my blog on learning from failure >>> Here
MAKE YOUR OWN LUCK
Putting yourself on start line is only chance you have of success – make your own luck.
SURROUND YOURSELF WITH OTHERS WITH A SHARED VISION
For example, Dover Channel Training and Durley Channel training. It’s amazing to surround yourselves with people who make the extraordinary seem everyday, making you realise you can go beyond your expectations.
I hope these tools can be of some help in your future swims.
Photo Credits : Kevin Mullarkey, Ray Mears, Stuart Munday