Open Water Marathon Swimming a Moving Meditation
Recently Terry sent me an email regarding the need for a mental as well as physical aspect to tackling marathon swims. Some of the things he pointed out are ones that I have incorporated into my swimming before the email exchange began.
Terry describes how TI swimming had long been viewed by coaches and students as a "moving meditation." Terry explained the moving meditation further,
"How does one turn swimming into a moving meditation? First you need a
mantra. Your mantras start with Stroke Thoughts. Then move to Stroke Counts. Then to Tempo. You can train all three in the pool. From there the emphasis in open water returns to thoughts and sensations. Your Stroke Thought categories include Balance Thoughts, Streamlining Thoughts, Propulsion Thoughts. The first two are the most important in completing a marathon because they keep you relaxed and your stroke economical."
For me, one of the key points was not looking at a 16, 17, 21, 40 mile swim as a whole but rather to break it down into parts. For example, one might concentrate on getting to the next feed - which are usually 30 mins apart. I also identified with concentrating on two aspects of ones TI stroke; for myself I usually think about an anchored lead hand and my hand entering back into the water just beyond my goggles. Usually when I focus on these two aspects I find that my stroke count is more efficient, body more streamlined, and my disposition more calming.
Terry also recommended Zendurance by TI Coach Shane Eversfield and "Effortless Endurance" by TI Coach Grant Molyneux
As i continue to prepare for The Cook Strait, i feel more and more confident that I can make this swim. I am just under way with my mental and physical prep, but with the idea of a moving meditation as my base, who knows what amazing discoveries lie ahead. I'd be interested in hearing what others think of this theme of moving meditation and how you incorporate it into your practice.
Keep Swimming Mindfully!
There is an odd thing that happens sometime during a long swim and though it would seem like the exact opposite of what one should perceive but... time disappears. I try to feed at 20 minute intervals, and at sometime after 8 hours, it seem that my crew members are always tossing me bottles, thus "swimming feed to feed" becomes an easy way to cope with what might otherwise be a very difficult time.
There are other times when I feel completely removed from myself and it seems like I am watching my swim from some eye in the sky vantage point. Its a strange thing to bounce back and forth between an intentionally hyper-focused state and one that feels so distant.
I've had the same experiences as Dave. My mind was occupied in different ways, but the key thing is that it was always occupied in a particular way. During our English Channel relay, I suffered from what Zen monks call the "monkey mind." I was distracted by a wide range of thoughts, most of which were lacking a purpose. It was no fun, and the 2-hours took far too long. In retrospect, a possible reason for that was I let myself be struck by the enormity of the undertaking. Not just that we were starting a swim from England to France, but that the success of the enterprise lay on my shoulders during that first leg. "If I get a cramp, Dave and Willie won't get to complete this relay. After the three of us flew across the Atlantic then waited patiently for 11 days for this moment." Etc.
The 2nd leg was enjoyable and quick because I had a clear focus for every stroke I took. The various focuses included
1) Breathing cycles. I was breathing more frequently to the left - toward the boat. For a time I forced myself to stay focused by progressing through changing sequences of left vs right breaths.(5 left, 5 right, 10 left, 5 right, 15 left, 5 right, 20 left, 5 right - and then back down to 5/5 and up again, etc.)
2) Spearing Focus. When I breathed left I focused on spearing the left side with a bit more energy after the breath. And vice versa. This gave a nice feeling of effortless power combined with feeling like the best way to deal with chop.
3) Racing the Boat. There was a small metal plate about halfway between deck and waterline. I kept my eye on it and concentrated on keeping pace with it. Not always easy since Mike Oram was far more able to vary speeds than I was. Still, if it got a bit ahead, I would strive to catch up.
4) Swimming for Willie. A big difference tween 1st and 2nd leg was that Willie was sitting on the foredeck where I could see him. I felt a strong personal connection to him. The first leg everyone was in the cabin and I spent a lot off energy wondering where people were, what they were doing. Having experienced the value of a personal connection I sat in the same spot for much of the next two legs.
Best of all of course is the sitch we had in Maui Channel, where for nearly 5 hours I swam with Dave on my right and Willie on my left, and for long stretches was synchronized to Dave's stroke. During the entire time I segued through a range of Focal Points, many of them prompted by observations of Dave and Willie's strokes.
The Mantras approach is perhaps most useful because it's a dependable way to turn a long swim into a Moving Meditation, and it also serves as a reminder of technique points that improve or maintain form.
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