jenschumacherjenschumacher Los Angeles, CAMember
edited March 2012 in General Discussion
Inspired by @loneswimmer's #2 response to a question about boredom during a 24-hour pool swim:

Asking about boredom is a red flag for me. Most marathon swimmers have strategies for this and don't think about too much.

I believe I may be one of those few marathon swimmers who does encounter boredom, at least in training. The actual swims themselves are never boring to me, but a 4-8 hour training swim can be a mental strain. It's not exactly boredom I suppose, but more of a struggle to resign to spending such a long duration swimming, if that makes sense. I use a lot of strategies (mental 'games' like counting, working on stroke, music, etc.) and those often work, but I find myself encountering the problem frequently. I try not to allow my mind to drift to non-swimming things or zone out too much (called disassociation in the sport psychology literature, and known to decrease performance, although only has been studied in endurance events as long as a running marathon, so could be different for ultra endurance activities). However, sometimes I wonder if this disassociation is a strategy used by marathon swimmers to get through some of the mental struggles I'm describing and I'd be better off using that strategy as well.

Either way, I'd like this thread to be about people's experiences dealing with boredom and/or struggling with duration/time in marathon swims. Any suggestions or comments would be appreciated!


  • Kate_AlexanderKate_Alexander Spring Lake, MichiganMember
    Boredom has never been a problem for me – OWS is so stimulating, I’ve never experienced sensory deprivation. My mind is always busy, in a good way, noticing temperature, light, color, texture, sound, shape, body sensations, body rhythms, water rhythms, plus whatever there is to see on land or underwater. Occasionally I lapse into a ‘sleepy’ phase where my mind wanders – I lose track of ‘the now’ and drift off onto some thought thread – my swimming slows and gets lazy, then I ‘wake up’ and get back to swimming.

    My longest swim to date was 8:25. At around 7:45 I got an antsy feeling that was more about “am I done yet? When is this going to be over?” than about boredom. So I did some sprint sets and that feeling went away. Is it possible that a lifetime of 8-hour workdays had my internal clock set for an 8:00 quitting time?

    In the pool, I have trouble keeping track of laps. I hate pool swimming and I hate laps. I used to think that I got bored in the pool but when I drilled down to what the real feeling/thought was, it turned out to be a feeling of not having enough time. For some reason, I don’t get that feeling nearly as often in OW. So when that bored/antsy feeling comes up in the pool, I tell myself that I have all day if I want, there’s no rush, nobody’s waiting for me at home, I can swim for as long as I want, etc.

    The other struggle I experience on longer swims is frustration or anger. It usually shows up after 4 hours. Anything can trigger it – e.g., the kayaker is looking the other way, I’m afraid I’m getting sunburned, there’s too much chop, the sun is right in my eye, etc. It’s not really related to the swim conditions, even when it’s about chop or the angle of the sun, b/c I can get frustrated with really silly things – the Gatorade is too cold., or not cold enough. It’s just an emotion cycling through. So I just swim through it and it passes.

    I also smile a lot on long swims. I get serenely giddy after hours of deep breathing and strong stroking in my favorite environment, even when conditions are rough. Even when there’s problems like chafing, hunger, soreness – at some point the sense of accomplishment overshadows the physical pain. Is it possible that long distance swimming gets us down to our essential feelings – joy, anger, will to survive?
  • WaterGirlWaterGirl Scottsdale, AZCharter Member
    I don't get bored swimming, even on long swims in the pool. I experience negative emotions, but never boredom.

    I'm relieved to hear other people say the same thing. I'm used to hearing my triathlete buddies gleefully report throwing up on the run. In the next breath, they express horror at the thought of staring at the black line in the pool for 2 hours. That makes me feel like there's something wrong with me. Like I must be a boring person if I'm not bored with something universally considered to be boring.
    Occasionally I lapse into a ‘sleepy’ phase where my mind wanders – I lose track of ‘the now’ and drift off onto some thought thread – my swimming slows and gets lazy, then I ‘wake up’ and get back to swimming.
    I have the same problem (minus the "occasionally"), but I couldn't have expressed it so well.

  • SharkoSharko Tomales BayGuest
    I don't get bored in the pool since I only use it for very targeted interval training to build speed and swim laps in a pool is inherently boring to me as I do so many interesting open water swim in the Pacific Ocean mainly. For a long training swim in open water I try to select a swim that is unique and probably has not been done before....I am always piloted with a pilot or kayaker who is feeding me and counting my strokes.... so I can go into my zen state...going into this state is what enables me to endure these longer swims....I start out solving the worlds problems and then laps into this state only to awaken at feeding time and the back to where I want to be....only if my stroke rate declines from the pre-discussed rate am I disturbed.

    "I never met a shark I didn't like"

  • I would get bored sometimes in training. I would try and get people to join me on my long training swims in the pool or in open water to help with it. If there is someone your speed, that's perfect, but you can be creative for swimmers of different speed. Sometimes in the pool, I would have a friend join half-way through. If they were just a little slower, I would have them swim fast with me, keep up as long as they could, then they would swim a 50 easy and wait, then repeat. Friends can wear paddles and fins too to increase their speed. If they were faster, they could wear a "band" around their feet to slow them to my speed. Or sometimes I would "band" which would slow me down. A band is just an innertube cut into strips and then you put one foot in, twist it into an "8" and put your other foot in the other hole. In open water a training partner can wear a wetsuit to speed them up as well.
  • It's not exactly boredom I suppose, but more of a struggle to resign to spending such a long duration swimming
    Oh my gosh, exactly this! Especially for the first couple minutes of a long swim in the pool. And I am really impressed that some of y'all are able to focus on things like stroke/technique/ect. because I can't do that for the life of me! I can't swim for more than maybe an hour or so without spending most of my time thinking about other unrelated things (school, the weekend, the meaning of life, ect.) Either that or I get to this place where I'm basically asleep but my eyes are open (ish) and my arms and legs are still moving.

    Also @KBREEDER or anyone else, I like the idea of getting company for part of long swims but I am terrible at recruiting people - any tips? My teammates usually respond with "why on earth would you want to swim that far"/"are you joking?!" or something to that effect...
  • KarenTKarenT Charter Member
    I usually start a long training swim by thinking to myself "I have nothing to do today except swim". I love the luxury of it - a chance not to think about work, or my to-do list. I try to make it like a big present to myself, rather than worrying about spending all that time in the water. I give myself complete permission not to think about anything I'd like a break from thinking about. I don't really play games / count etc unless I'm really struggling physically; sometimes just counting to 4 over and over is enough, or I lift my mood by repeating a single word that makes me laugh (my two current favourites: 'discombobulation' and 'defenestration'...). Or there's always the big green jelly baby (
    So, I'm lucky in that I very rarely get bored in the water, but at the same time, I'm nowhere near as attentive to my swimming as I probably should be, so there's definitely a trade-off there that I am trying to work on too.
  • evmoevmo San FranciscoAdmin
    edited March 2012
    Like @jenschumacher and @swimmergirl23, I find long solo training swims to be... I think the word I'd use is "tedious." So, I generally try to avoid them. Like Jen, I find actual swims/races to be quite engrossing. Indeed, only rarely in life do I feel as focused and engaged as I do during a channel swim or OW race.

    To me, the main problem with long solo training swims is the "solo" aspect of them. So, I try to swim in group settings as much as possible. It makes the time pass more quickly, and I can train harder with other people around to push me. (As a sports psychologist, Jen is probably aware of Triplett's studies of social facilitation.) On just group workouts alone, I can usually get in 30-35km/week.

    If I must do a long solo training swim, I find OW mentally easier than the pool, and long-course easier than short-course. The problem with OW is finding a paddler or an appropriate training partner (I'm unwilling to swim alone in the ocean). I also find it harder to sustain high quality in OW without being motivated by a pace clock. I grew up doing intervals so that's what I know.

    So, even when I have comfortably warm OW nearby, I end up doing most of my training in the pool anyway (with some OW for cold & rough acclimation, as necessary). In the pool it's easier to quantify and hold oneself accountable.
  • IronMikeIronMike BostonCharter Member
    So looking forward to joining a group when I get back to the states. Swimming alone in a 15m pool kills me.

    Just here troubling deaf heaven with my bootless cries...

  • njoynjoy Member
    I have used a tempo trainer stuffed in my cap in open water to keep me honest. I haven't used it in any races, don't think I would, but I sometimes like it for training.
  • EileenBEileenB New York, NYGuest
    I have experienced many similar emotions and states throughout my long swims (blissful, so happy to be alive and swimming, cranky and tired, angry at odd, little things, just wanting to be finished) and it seems to be cyclical, thank goodness, so when I am having a rough period (as in "who the f's idea was this anyway" and "I don't think I can lift my arm even one more f'ing time") I do my best to tough it out with the knowledge that one of the totally blissful states awaits me some time in the near future. And they are so worth it.
  • ssthomasssthomas DenverCharter Member
    I don't typically get bored during open water swims- I'm usually just too happy to be outside and doing what I love to feel bored. I run the range of emotions, both negative and positive, but not usually bored.

    Pool swimming is another story though. I train 80% alone, and am bored most of the time. It's important that I mix up the practices- sometimes I just swim for an hour and a half, other times I do short sprint sets. I write a lot of practices, and let others write practices for me. Swimming with friends is good. I also make myself do a few 5 hour/20k pool swims each year. I hate them so much, but I know if I can get through those, then I can get through anything in a race. When I'm fighting through the pure boredom of a solo 20k in a pool, I've found the best way to get through it is to simply focus on the now. I have the hardest time at the beginning and the end- at first, I'm thinking, "Holy crap, why am I doing this?" And at the end, I'm thinking, "Ugh, I'm so tired, I can't wait for a long shower!" I have to force myself to relax, and just go with it. I'm a huge clock watcher, which I know drives most people crazy, but for me it helps me keep a pace and focus on one 100 at a time. When I'm staying 'present' I'm a lot less bored than if I'm busy planning my post workout meal.
  • jenschumacherjenschumacher Los Angeles, CAMember
    Thanks guys, all great responses and suggestions. I'll play around with some and hopefully this can continue to be a thread to discuss mental struggles and people's solutions or ways of coping with them.

    @KarenT thank you so much especially for the first part you wrote. I remember writing that down after we talked about it when you were out here but had somehow gotten off track of using it when I'm struggling, but that's a great one, reminding yourself you get to do "nothing today but swim."
  • loneswimmerloneswimmer IrelandCharter Member
    @KarenT @jenschumacher I've been using Karen's motto for every long pool swims since I first read it, it's one of my favourite swimming quotes...and thus someone should start a swimming quotes thread.

  • jenschumacherjenschumacher Los Angeles, CAMember
    edited March 2012
    Great idea @loneswimmer, done! It includes quotes, but is a bit broader so as not to rehash the aphorism thread:
  • I sing symphonies to myself.
  • heartheart San Francisco, CACharter Member
    In the pool, my brain is mostly focused on my stroke. It's a scientific experience, actually - tweak this, change that, see what works better. In open water, so much information about the environment floods me that I'm less focused on my technique. I have a mental playlist of songs that I use to keep in rhythm. I never get bored, and it's actually a relief to be in fish-brain mode a couple of hours a day when the rest of my day is very verbal and involves a lot of people and a lot of ideas.
  • sharkbaitzasharkbaitza LondonMember
    I really struggle with boredom... It's my biggest concern as I try swim longer... I wish I could zone out but I can't... When I did my EC relay I actually counted every stroke on my 2 hourly sessions.. (3123 and 3209 in case anyone is interested lol). I wish there was a solution as it's my biggest potential stumbling block as I attempt to get up to 10km.
  • Kevin_in_MDKevin_in_MD Senior Member
    I know this is an old thread, sorry I missed it the first time around. Jenschumacher stated that dissociating is shown to decrease performance. However, I think the latest information on the topic is that it is a bit more nuanced than simply associating = fast and dissociating = slower.

    In fact, for events over 4 hours, I have been working on associating and dissociating at different times. We actually practice intentionally using one strategy or another at different times.

    I wrote something up on this and have been sharing it with the folks I coach for a while now. I went ahead and published it where others can see it, in case a few folks find it helpful.

  • flystormsflystorms Memphis, TNMember
    edited March 2014
    I'm so thankful for this thread. I'm just starting the 3+ hour swims and realized I'm more bored than tired. Last time I really struggled to keep on track and focused. I did try to calculate the number of 1/2 inch tiles on some stripes at the bottom of the pool which distracted for about 1000 before gving up on that. And I loved a recent 12k I did because that number is cleanly divisible in so many ways it makes breaking things into chunks. And one can only see the same band aid floating in the next lane so much. Any distraction techniques are helpful.
  • @flystorms - 12 is a highly composite number as defined by

    Happy pi-day (3/14).

  • JBirrrdJBirrrd MarylandSenior Member
    Math, alphabet games, singing songs in my head, solving the problems of the world. That's how I spend my time on long swims. During my Tahoe crossing, my 18 yr old daughter texted Jamie (my pilot) mind assignments for him to give me on my feeds. My favorite was to spend the next 20 mins thinking about her future children/my grandchildren. :-)
  • ttriventtriven Senior Member
    edited March 2014
    What a great thread. Mmm yes I do get antsy. In the pool if someone else is in my lane (no, not those people described in the etiquette thread that drive you crazy - someone I know) then I can swim as long as they stay in. So hopefully someone jumps in halfway thru my workout, keeping me going. In the ocean, I like an out and back course, or point to point. Laps are dangerous. "Man this is boring, maybe I'll do 3 laps not 4."

    I liked the article on dissociation/association. I find I do it naturally, at opportune times, and not so opportune times. So I am excited to try to control it. I think in a sport where one is conserving energy, dissociation at the right time can be handy. Now, if you were racing your motorcycle in the Baja 500, not such a good idea. So I'm thinking to tune "out" when times are tougher, but not so much when concentration is needed. Like, when the ocean gets rough, and I tune out, I find my stroke rate goes down, and I get tossed about. For me, I need to stay focused on my stroke in those times, keeping the stroke count up, body more taught, not just a meditating jellyfish floating on the sea.

    My sister gave me a little jingle to sing and it makes me smile because she gave it to me. It's so silly I can't help but laugh. I also have been humming songs. Lately I have been singing "Unicorns I love them" from Despicable Me 2. I know. Those are all the words. Unicorns I love them. It's just stuck in my head. So maybe my next task should be finding a new song, with the right pace, that is maybe kind of a mantra, (why not choose a song that has a positive impact on the brain?) that keeps your arms going fast enough, but allows your mind to drift? That could solve the problem (for me) that dissociation causes.

    Such a good thread!
  • I have recently been marveling at how, after a career of pool swimming where time was so crucial, time has lost all importance. Being able to disassociate from the concept of time and even space makes it impossible to be new age-y as that sounds! After being able to accept that the day, and therefore the swim, does end, I've been able to focus and think about so many different things. I challenge myself to focus on the entire lyrics of a song, instead of just singing one part of the song over and over again, or to actually count to 500 or 1000 instead of counting between 20-30 constantly again and again. Being in my late 20s and a little bit ADD, each swim has been a little bit of growing more mature and learning how to focus a bit more...mental training just as much as it is physical training.
  • AnthonyMcCarleyAnthonyMcCarley Berwyn, PACharter Member
    Okay, so I am very envious of those of you who fight boredom. I have to constantly focus on my stroke or it rapidly gets worse than it is already. Plus I find it very hard to be bored when I am in pain.
    I do math, but that is more to keep me motivated than to keep me busy. "I've already done 10%. I can do another 10%."
  • fotisfotis Member
    edited March 2014
    If I have to do a distance trial, counting is the solution for me ( if I have for example a pool 5k distance I split it up to 1ks and take courage from this)The time trial in pool is killing me really but counting makes me feel good.The OW swimming never get me boored because a lot of other swimmers are around me and this helps me...its also more fascinating. ..
    Actually my problem is than doing someting else than swimming makes me bored.get me a solution for this.... :D
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