Courtesy of Claire Forrest. Featured image: Ous Mellouli, Olympic Champion in the mile and open water.
I personally believe that no one decides to be a distance swimmer. We didn’t choose the distance life, the distance life chose us; by which I mean you probably became a distance swimmer when you finished a long set, your coach looked at you funny, and the next thing you knew, you were entered in the 500 at your next meet. It’s nowhere near an easy life, but we distance swimmers persevere. Here are just ten of our struggles:
10) Losing count during sets.
And also all the exceptionally strange recesses your mind retreats to during a long distance workout. Weird, I haven’t heard this song in over 10 years, why did my brain suddenly surface it right now, during these 400s? And I can’t remember the chorus at all! This is going to bug me. Wait, what one are we on?
9) People who don’t pay attention to your race.
Those people in the pool are swimming a mile, folks! A whole mile! You could look up from your text messages. The worst are the people who pretended they watched every moment, but you know they only watched the last 50. The distance events are when everyone goes to look at the grab bag suits.
8) When NBC cuts to commercial in the middle of the 800.
Another legacy of Katie Ledecky’s already incredible distance career is that she swims so fast, her whole race fits in before the break. But she is the exception. Your one chance to see your sport on TV, and you don’t even get to see the whole thing.
7) When you’re in the outside lane where your coach can see you the whole time.
There’s one person who will watch every second of your race, not to mention jump up and down, run the length of the pool, and wave their arms at you like mad…your coach. Yes, I see you. Yes, I know I’m off pace. When you look at your coach going wild, it’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry, so you just swim on.
6) When your taper workout is a challenging day for a sprinter.
And you roll your eyes when any sprinter tries to call the 200 a distance event. We know better.
5) Fastest to slowest seeding.
There is nothing like being at an all-day meet only to realize you are in the last heat of the 400, and have to wait another hour to swim your last race. To all the officials who let me swim with the 14 and under boys just so I could leave a meet 30 minutes early, I thank you.
4) Finding a counter.
There is that momentary burst of fear when the one person who always counts for you isn’t available. They already know your goal time and to when you most need them to shake or flip the counter. So you go from teammate to teammate like a lost puppy. “Please, will you count for me? Please?!” Someone always comes through for you, and it goes just fine. What are teammates for, after all?
3) When you can feel your cap or goggles slipping during a race.
I’ve had nightmares about this. You adjust and fidget until the last possible second, and then it’s all up to fate.
2) When the thought of seeing the orange square is the only thing getting you through.
We’ve all been there. Just keep swimming. Wait for the orange. You’re almost there. You can do it!
1) The adrenaline you feel after a great race.
It felt like flying! That was really it? It felt like it went by so fast. You’ll feel it later, when cooling down, but for now, embrace the high. Yes, there are struggles, but it’s conquering the challenge of distance swimming that keeps you coming back, yard after yard, set after set.