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by Elaine K Howley

August 16, 2020

With the novel coronavirus causing widespread event cancellations, start refining your goals for next year

For most open water swimmers, the 2020 season has been anything but ordinary. Nearly all of us got tossed out of our usual pools and training routines in mid-March because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, just as we were building up to longer distances to get ready for events we had planned for the summer of 2020.

Since then, we’ve had to improvise and adapt to maintain fitness while watching with resigned sadness as event after event was canceled or postponed until next summer in an attempt to keep the coronavirus from spreading. It seems petty to shed a tear over such issues when so many others are suffering so greatly, but if you’re grieving the loss of the swim, please know that you’re in very good company.

It’s not the best state of affairs to be sure, but if you’re like me, then you’re already anxiously looking forward to the 2021 open water season. I find myself thinking daily about what I can salvage from 2020 and what new events I might be able to sneak in instead, assuming that we’re more or less back to normal by next May.

It can feel a little gloomy sometimes, but thinking about what’s been lost versus what I still want to achieve provides some very necessary daydream material as I contemplate the future. I always try to look for the opportunity rather than fixate on the obstacle or disappointment.

Next Season

Regardless of what happens with the virus over the next nine or 10 months, now is very definitely the time to start thinking about what you hope to achieve next summer. Even if we can’t get back to business as usual during the 2021 open water season, laying the groundwork now will only pay dividends in fitness and preparation in the future. Time is never wasted when you’re training in good faith. It’s only wasteful to not plan properly for what you hope to achieve.

With that, here are some thoughts on what to consider when thinking about your next open water season. And this advice applies whether there’s a pandemic happening or not, because to amend Ben Franklin’s famous quip, there are only three things in life that are certain: death, taxes, and change.

Keep the Faith

Summer 2020 underscored just how uncertain life can be and how susceptible we are to the vagaries of external forces. This is true all the time but was just a lot more obvious this year.

My heart especially goes out to folks who were planning to undertake big solo swim challenges, such as an English Channel solo or other ultramarathon events that got postponed because of the virus. It’s hard to keep that level of training going for another year, especially when it’s still not guaranteed that summer 2021 will be any better than 2020.

But with this, too, I think you’re in good company, given that Olympic athletes are similarly coping with a massive change of plans. The good news is that whatever water you were hoping to swim this year is probably still going to be there next year or the year after. Hang in there. Your swim can—and likely will—still happen in the future.

Reevaluate Your Priorities

Now is also probably an excellent time to take a good, hard look at your plans for next summer and determine what really matters. If you’d signed up for something in summer 2020 just because it was there or because you thought you should, maybe reexamine those motivations and determine whether that desire to complete a specific swim will still be true in our changed world come next summer.

Does completing that swim still mesh with your overall hopes, dreams, and worldview? This pandemic and its associated events have shifted a lot of the ground over which many of us have walked for a very long time. And that’s OK. It’s also OK to reassess and decide there’s something you no longer need to do or something you no longer need to prove. It’s also OK to say that another pursuit is more important and needs your attention. Things change. Listen to that inner voice, and you’ll be happier for it in the long run.

Assess Your Training Options

If you’ve decided that you really do still want to go after that big swim you had planned—or that other one you’ve had your eye on is the one for 2021—then determine whether you’re able to adequately train for it over the winter. We don’t know what we’re heading into as the “normal” flu season gets rolling on top of an ever-evolving COVID-19 situation, so give some thought to expected restrictions and complications you may face in pursuit of maintaining and advancing your training.

For some folks, finding a new training routine or resurrecting an old one will be no issue. For others, pool space and other training opportunities will be severely limited. In any event, this is a wholly personal assessment, and this is a time when honesty—and perhaps a frank conversation with your coach if you have one—would be very helpful.

Adapt Your Training

Depending on the outcome of those evaluations, adapt your training to meet the challenges. Open water swimming is all about adjusting to changing conditions. Little did we know that we’d have to do this so often outside of the water as well as in it. But the mindset you have of being able to cope with whatever nature or life throws at you—in the water and out—will serve you well as you move forward through your fall and winter training as you prepare for 2021.

Keep an Eye to the Future

Remember always: This too shall pass. We’re in a strange place and planning for the future can feel antithetical to events around us. But maintaining fitness and good mental health through swimming and ongoing training can only be a good thing. If tying such to a big goal is important to you, then forge ahead as though 2021 will be a normal year. If it’s not, reassess and try again next year. That’s called going with the flow. It isn’t always pretty, but if it keeps your head above water, then that’s a win.

In the end, no matter what you decide to do, please just make sure that you’re keeping yourself and those around you safe. We don’t know how long this virus will be with us or what’s going to happen, but the one thing we can control is how we react to it. Take the necessary precautions and be smart about it. And if the swim you want to do in 2021 gets pushed into 2022, fall back on your open water experience to know that you can roll with this punch, too, just like you do with incoming waves every time you’re out in the open.


  • Open Water


  • Goal Setting