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by Laura Goodwin

December 27, 2021

Distance swimming can be a great place to find your happy pace, but it needs to be fun

More and more swimmers are interested in testing themselves against longer distances and open water swims. It can be difficult to determine how to take your swims to the next level, whether it’s your first open water race or you’re stepping up to a 10K. The logistics will vary based on your goal, but there are also some general principles that may help you out along the way.

And even if you have no plans to tackle a long swim, it’s always helpful to continue to evaluate your training philosophy. For the majority, swim workouts qualify as distance swimming, and who doesn’t want to have better, more effective workouts? Every swimmer can take advantage of the benefits of learning to swim distance well.

Training Can and Should be Fun

There’s no point in doing any of this if it isn’t fun, so it’s important to find ways to make even the grueling parts enjoyable. Swimmers don’t all find the same things enjoyable, but everyone can adopt the attitude that the hours they spend in training should be rewarding.

With a bit of thought and creativity, you can make your training fun. Whether you compete or not, long distance training can be part of adding fun and variety to your swimming experience. Develop your talents in all directions. Try a new event, try swimming distance even if you prefer sprints, try mastering that stroke you hate—you never know what you’ll come to love.

Don’t Do Long, Boring, Solitary Distance Sets—Unless You Want To

It takes time and practice to develop your ability to swim long distances comfortably. But that doesn’t mean that you need to spend your days in the pool holding 1:25s on a set of 100 x 100s on 1:30. It does mean that it’s a good idea to find your comfortable pace and be able to replicate it in open water.

If you’re unable to train out in the open for your long swim, you might have to do some long, solitary pool swims to prepare. These can be grueling, but they’re a valuable training tool and can help you feel mentally ready to tackle the distance. But you can find ways to make it more fun. Invite a friend to join you or try swimming alongside the age-group program at your pool, if the coach allows.

Open water training needn’t be boring either and shouldn’t be solitary for your own safety. Fantastic swim partners will turn what could be tedium into fun. The open water swimming and marathon swimming communities are full of amazing, generous, and interesting people. Considering the ever-increasing popularity of the sport and the number of groups on Facebook, Meetup, etc., it’s increasingly likely that wherever you are you can find someone else swimming in your area.

Train Smarter and Harder

It’s very common for swimmers to judge their workouts by yardage. And if you’re going to swim long distances, there’s no question that paying attention to your yardage can be useful. But there’s a fine line between using yards logged as a training tool and having it be the yardstick by which you judge yourself. It was a very freeing day when I stopped tracking my pool workouts on a watch.

Some swimmers sacrifice everything for yardage, believing workouts with a lot of kick or drill must be less valuable because the total distance is less. But the opposite is true for many swimmers. Sometimes letting go of the numbers will allow you to focus on making each set or swim great, no matter the length.

Self-talk is Important

What you tell yourself is important, especially when your face is going to be in the water for three hours; it can make you feel good and powerful instead of weak and painful. Remember the phrase: “If you can make it halfway, you can make it all the way.” Even though it may not be literally true, the thought that if you can do it once, you can do it again can be comforting. Find and use phrases that are calming for you in new and unfamiliar situations.

In addition, think about and prepare for whatever may come your way, so that on the day of your event you can say to yourself, “I’ll be fine.” Be sure you’ve swum in similar conditions so that your positive self-talk about potential issues is realistic. Stung by a jellyfish? “I’ll be fine.” Took it out too fast before I found my pace? “I’ll be fine.” Gigantic waves? “I’ll be fine.” It’s unpredictable out there, but the flexibility and resilience that you develop in facing that lack of predictability is invaluable—and not just in swimming.

It’s Not That It’s Never Hard or Unpleasant

Long-distance open water swimming will be filled with bites, scrapes, claw hands, the shakes, and jellyfish. But I look for ways to make sure that, on the whole, I’m having a really good time. Maybe it’s having something to look forward to (meeting up for a gigantic breakfast, anyone?). Maybe it’s the peace and calm of cutting through the surface of a lake in the early morning. Maybe it’s the satisfaction of accomplishing a long distance. Whatever it is for you, figure it out, and find the joy.


  • Technique and Training


  • Training