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I happened to see some triathletes link to this article on Facebook a couple months ago. The title caught my attention because, clearly, this was such a contrast to our approach to swimming. I would have just ignored an article like this, but was curious to see what these triathletes were digesting. And after reading it myself, I would have just forgotten it, letting this writer offer his advice for making an unpleasant practice a little more tolerable to those who swim with that kind of mindset. But he made a false statement when, after painting a discouraging but probably common picture of swim training for triathletes, he declared, “But this is triathlon”.

No, this is not. This is triathlon for those who don’t know there is another way, arguably a much better way, to train in the pool (or on land, for that matter).

It is not this individual writer that I am confronting really. Rather, the article represents the dominant swim and triathlon culture that not only ignores the alternatives, it attempts to shame those alternatives out of the pool. I wonder why.

The myth of miserable or just boring swim training needs to be confronted – because it is not the true nature of the sport, it a product of the dominant coaching/training paradigm. There are alternatives, they are very effective, and perhaps those who profit in the dominant culture feel threatened by them.

Let it be known that swim training for your triathlon absolutely does not have to be something miserable, something you must tolerate, despite what the dominant swim/tri culture says. You actually have powerful choices for shaping your perspective, your practice and therefore your experience of the swim, and in all of the triathlon disciplines. Your weakest sport could become your strongest and your favorite. And, it has nothing to do with whether you came from a swimming background or came with superior genes or not. It depends on using the standard equipment each humans has. It depends on the training you do in your mind. The body will follow.

First, I don’t want to suggest this way of training (as described by this athlete) is wrong for those of you who really like to do it this way, if you know of the other alternatives, have tried them earnestly, and still prefer this way. But, it is not true to state that this is the way it is, as if this is the only way it can be (except for the gifted ones).

Second, it may be that this was written with sarcasm, just to make it more dramatic and interesting. Perhaps that was necessary. Yet, with sarcasm aside, rather than providing solutions to the cause of the problem, he provided some solutions for the symptoms. Is that what you want from an expert? But that is what you get from many experts in the dominant paradigm.

I suppose one could go seek the guidance of a magazine which can offer you ‘tips, tricks and techniques to make pool time tolerable’… if you would like to continue in this form of practice which requires such tolerance to endure. Or you could seek out a coach and community who can offer you a mindset and a whole way of training that can make practice, especially difficult practice required for big achievements, deeply engaging and satisfying in the act of practice, not just after it is over.

I would point to this author’s own advice – “swim with a good coach”. It is just that I would define ‘good coach’ as one who would expose you to a better way to practice so that swimming was no longer something to endure and get over with each day, but something you eagerly anticipated, and experienced as an engaging practice of mastery under increasingly challenging conditions. Good coaches help you connect more deeply to your intrinsic satisfaction in the sport.

Just in case you are wondering if this way of swim training is compatible with developing serious swimming and triathlon capabilities:

This summer four of our Total Immersion Coaches have crossed the English channel solo. Each one was swimming continuously in the water more than 12 hours. While that is not fast as EC records go, because of the conditions the channel is about endurance, and one who swims 12+ hours is enduring a significant amount more than one who swims it in 9. What’s the longest time any serious triathlete you know of has spent in continuous swimming… in cold water… without a wetsuit? These TI swimmers have spent months and years preparing for this.

You might ask, “How did they mentally endure the training and the swim?” But it’s the wrong question. The better question is, “How did they master that skill?”

Conventional forms of training can burn you out of swimming, as it did for Wayne Souter when he did the English Channel in 2012, while mastery-minded training can invigorate, as it did for him when he came back from burnout to train and then do the first crossing of a new route across the Irish Channel – colder and arguably harder than the EC. (Read a brief description of Wayne’s Irish Channel crossing here and a video interview with him here.)

And two of our TI Coaches have won some notable triathlons this year…

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On September 15 in Cozumel, Kirsten Ingeborg Sass, became the new female amateur Olympic Distance World Champion. She’s an amatuer because she has a spouse, kids and a day job just like you. Read about her experience here.

Update: On October 9, Kirsten was the fastest female overall at IM Louisville KY USA.

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On September 18 in UK, Darbi Roberts won Ironman Wales. She is pro, but also happens to have a real job (a dean at Columbia University), and important stuff to do besides train. You may appreciate her approach to training and how she executed her plan in this race as described in this post.

I am probably preaching to the choir here, but if you were really looking for a coach to teach you not only how to achieve, but how to do it in a way that generates great satisfaction in the act of practice, you may consider finding a coach who teaches you how to practice and experience what these athletes do. If you like reading my blog regularly I bet you are already doing that.

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