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.
Head Coach & Chief Executive Optimist
May your laps be as happy as mine.
My TI Story