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Is Becoming a Better Swimmer One of Your Goals?

...and what does that really mean


· Coaching,Triathlon,Swimming

Looking Back to Look Ahead

Yesterday one of my swimmers said to me, "my goal this year is not to be as unprepared for Peaks to Portland as I was this year."

This is a good start, but she needs a game plan.

As race season comes to a close for many of us, it strikes me that it is a useful exercise to reflect on where we have been and where we are going. What worked, what didn't? What realistic expectations can we set for the future? What other factors must we consider -- family, career, injuries, whatever?

It's unrealistic to set goals like, "Podium at xxxxx" or "PR the swim at xxxxx". Variables in competition, course set up, and conditions take these kinds of goals out of your control. It is better to set measurable goals or feel-good goals.

Personally, I find it hard to keep the same focus and intensity for the same races, year after year. Changing things up has helped me to shift my energies and keep things from getting stale. For instance, I used to be super jazzed about pool meets but that has waned over the past six years. Instead, my open water distances have been slowly building, with two 10Ks swum in 2015. But the total swim yardage goal that I set for myself this year (250 miles) is 32% lower than the one I set in 2015-- and I am OK with that (deep breath). I am doing new things.

I read this blog by Chloe Sutton a while back and it has stuck with me:

As a coach (and a swimmer) I am keenly aware that consciously working toward some sort of progress is a motivator.  But first I have to ask myself, "what does progress mean?" "What does success mean?"  I think it means something different to each person.

I hope this exercise helps you to formulate some intentions and goals for this coming year.

Cutting things into bite-sized pieces is one of my favorite things.  I cut my 100s, 200s, 500s, 1650s, whatever, into quarters.  Chloe suggests cutting your goals up too: micro, short-term, long-term, and dream.

Credit: Chloe Sutton

Dream Goal

For me personally, this is a tough one. I am not sure I have one of these. I have a lot of friends swimming The English Channel and doing other epic swims like that but I have never had that yearning. To me, my dream is to sustain this swim adventure I am on -- to enjoy the day-to-day workouts with friends, stay healthy, and find open water swims and destinations that suit my penchant for racing and having fun too. Yes, staying healthy and keeping it fun is a lofty enough dream goal for me. Oh and I like going fast sometimes too.

Long-Term Goals - Stepping Stones

I usually have at least a couple of focus races planned each year. This year was Peaks to Portland 2.4 mile swim and the Casco Bay SwimRun. The latter was a big challenge for me because I had never really run before, and honestly am not built for it, and this was to be 10-11 miles of running (in a wetsuit -- with equipment -- and a partner), plus 4 miles of swimming, between and over six islands in Maine.

I find that logging my workouts is quite helpful and motivational. If you are a USMS member there is a free fitness log included on the site. Here is a sample month of training for the swimrun (that is a prone board not a SUP -- also something new):

Fitness Log June 2016

Short-Term Goals - Time & Technique

I devised a plan to get in some running shape by summer: beginning in March, I started running 3 days per week. The objective was to start at 2-mile runs and build up to 5-mile runs by July. Goal one was to not get injured. Goal two was to get to aforementioned distances. Goal three was to run at 9-minute pace. I was pretty consistent about stretching a bit before I went out.

Micro Goals - Daily Intentions

To me, this connotes consistency of focus -- showing up most of the time. Eating well most of the time. Focusing most of the time. Doing the work most of the time. If you decide you are going to exercise for an hour per day, 6 days per week, for example, then plan to keep a log, have your clothes put out, make plans with a buddy, set your alarm. When your alarm rings, just brush your teeth. That will be the small step towards waking up, getting the running clothes on, meeting your friend at the corner, and taking that run. You will never regret following through with the workout. If you want to eat better, have healthy foods stocked in the kitchen. As a masters swimmer, If you really want to work on your swimming, commit to 3 - 4 times per week in the pool (and don't beat yourself up if you only make it 2). And trust your coach -- she has your best interest at heart -- commit to the concepts and be mindful when you practice. Set up weekly swim times with friends and/or a coach so you are accountable.


Learning how to run (from square one) this year informed my swim coaching. I realized that distance and speed aren't the only barometers of progress. I began compiling a list in my mind of other ways to assess growth.

Did you experience any of the following improvements this year ? Do you see any that seem reasonable in the year ahead? What micro steps might get you there?



Easier Breathing
Faster Recovery Between Swims
More Relaxed Technique
More Efficient Stroke

More Balanced & Graceful

Same Speed but Less Fatigue for Bike & Run Legs
More Stability in Rough Open Water
Better Cardio Conditioning
Less Shoulder Pain
More Enjoyment
More Self-Awareness
More Able to Self-Correct stroke Flaws
More Fit/Healthy
Less Anxiety
Stopped Crossing Over or < > (fill in the bad habit blank here)

I think any of these could be short-term, long-term goals or dream goals -- this is your unique plan. I would love to hear your thoughts. What else could we add here?

So when thinking about goals for the next year -- and how you will take steps to achieve them -- think about where you have been and what has given you the most satisfaction. Perhaps consider fresh new kinds of challenges and new twists on the same old.

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