17 Ways You Know You Are a Distance Swimmer

by Olivier Poirier-Leroy. Join his weekly motivational newsletter for competitive swimmers by clicking here.

Swimmers are a unique breed on their own, but for those in the sport, we know that there are various other subsets.

The breaststrokers with their weird knee flexibility. The masochistic butterfliers. The sprinters. And of course, the distance swimmers. The kids who put in the most hours and yardage on a daily basis, banging out an endless series of distance swim workouts without complaint (well…mostly).

They are the first ones in the water, last ones out, and are able to do it with grace and humility while also doing it for longer than the rest.

They love long course swimming (less turns!), have a much shorter swim taper than the sprint group, and are rarely seen without indentations on their faces from wearing prescription swim goggles for hours and hours on end.

Here are 17 ways that you know that you are a distance swimmer:

1. Zeroes don’t intimidate you much. Any time coach is writing up a workout, you don’t shiver and withdraw when you see repeats with ‘000’s going up on the white-board.

2. Flat-out sprinting feels, well, awkward. Although you highly value the opportunity to just hammer the throttle, you cannot help but feel slightly off. Like a car that has trouble getting out of second gear, you can never quite master the hyper-charged speed that some of your teammates possess. Oh well. Back to the distance lane!

3. You’re completely comfortable training on your own. Distance athletes have to be one with their thoughts, and be okay with spending countless hours with no one but the pace clock and whatever song it is they have stuck in their head that day. As a result, you’re a little easier to coax in the water than some of the more social-minded sprinters, and can handle long bouts of solo training.

4. Your logbook has more mileage in it than your car. With great distance workouts comes, well, great distance. The daily output makes up for some dizzying totals, so much so that it outpaces the mileage your trusty vehicle is putting down.

5. You come up with a myriad of different ways to count reps. When doing those sets of 30 x 200 you will experiment with different methods to keep track of how many you have left. Sometimes you count up, sometimes you count down, other days when you aren’t feeling that great you are counting to half or a third or simply to the next one. You’ve tried an assortment of lap counters, both the do-it-yourself kind and your trusty teammate in competition.

6. 5000 meters is a taper workout. While the sprinters have been out of the water and dried off for the better part of an hour, you’re dutifully completing your 5k taper swim workout, which honestly still feels like a taper workout given the distance discrepancy compared to what you are usually doing.

7. You’ve done some hilariously long workouts. There have been times where you have been in the pool, by yourself, while the nightly public swim rages around you, completing a set that was longer than the director’s cut of Saving Private Ryan.

8. You know what auto-pilot feels like. There have been those sessions where your arms and shoulders just took over. You don’t really remember how you finished the workout, but when you try to get out of the pool and you need to beach yourself on the pool deck you remember losing feeling in your upper body around the 6.7k mark.

9. While your fellow swimmers are impressed with the yardage you regularly dole out, your non-swimmer friends find it completely unfathomable. Telling a non-swimmer that you casually swam 70,000 meters that week is a great way to buy their silence for a few stupefied moments as they try to piece together just how far that is.

10. You experience pangs of jealousy when you see the sprinters out after 45 minutes. You cannot help but feel a little envious of their short twitch muscles, and ever shorter workouts that last a sliver longer than your warm-up. (Of course, those pangs could also be hunger. Maybe only partly hunger. No one knows for sure, really.)

11. You’ve mastered the clear-your-goggles-of-fog-tears-and-water-mid-stroke move. Those long repeats are tough enough, only makes it worse when sweat and fog have rolled into your goggles, making for a half-fogged up, half-water logged goggle. Learning the art of emptying while also wiping the inside of your goggle with your finger while mid-stroke is a skill essential in the distance swimmer toolbox.

12. Your calorie consumption has veered off into legendary status. Swimmers eat a lot. Distance swimmers eat even more. There have been times where you briefly considered eating your pull-buoy while still wearing a set of swim paddles on your hands. Mmm, soft.

13. You know your lane-mates by their equipment. While you know your lane-mates suit color, energy drink of choice, and can identify them by cap color and precisely how close they swim to the black line, you still have no idea what the kid’s name is that sits behind you in class.

14. More than most, you understand the struggle of being thirsty and not being able to drink the million gallons of water you are swimming in. Bless the teammate that sees your empty water bottle for you and refills it for you while you are mid-workout.

15. False starting a race simply isn’t an option. Swimming a 1500m freestyle, to the point that your arms nearly fall off, and then being told that you are disqualified for a false start just isn’t on the table. Nope. Not happening. It doesn’t matter if you leave the blocks half a second behind everybody else, you are not false starting.

16. You have a cramp prevention strategy. A banana after warm-up. Another after the pre-main set. 18 liters of water. Six Gatorades. And some toe stretching.

17. You’ve written the Great American Novel in your head. Twice. Those long sessions leave you lots of time to get lost in that neurotic mind of yours. From thinking endlessly, to thinking up the plot for an Academy Award-winning screenplay…until you promptly forgot it.


Olivier Poirier-Leroy is a former national-level swimmer. He’s the publisher of YourSwimBook, a ten-month logbook for competitive swimmers.

Conquer the Pool Mental Training Book for SwimmersHe’s also the author of the recently published mental training workbook for competitive swimmers, Conquer the Pool: The Swimmer’s Ultimate Guide to a High Performance Mindset.

It combines sport psychology research, worksheets, and anecdotes and examples of Olympians past and present to give swimmers everything they need to conquer the mental side of the sport.

Ready to take your mindset to the next level?

Click here to learn more about Conquer the Pool.

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3 years ago

I personally enjoy seeing old articles like this pop up and reading through antiquated comment sections. Oh, how the comments were so relevant to the article back then… simpler times.

Joe Mama
3 years ago

18. You have an incredibly good power index on collegeswimming.com and are ranked ahead of a lot of sprinters that you shouldn’t be ranked ahead since collegeswimming.com is a trash website; no one cares about your stupid mile and your thousand time which by the way isn’t even an ncaa event, so why is it even ranked on collegeswimming.com? So many distance kids who don’t even have winter juniors in the mile and thousand are ranked so high on that website and it’s total BS!

3 years ago

when the life guard yells at you get out of the pool, he wants to go home

3 years ago

14 of 17 for me and I am 50/100breastroker. My 50meter breastroke time is 27.8 in scm/28.4 in LCM.

4 years ago

This is so true! In fact, later today, I’m heading to go race with 14 yr old kids in the 1500meter today and I’m only 11!😂

5 years ago

18 – When you try to count the little tiles in the bottom of the pool

Patricia Essama
5 years ago

I would love to find a river distance swimmer. I know our county medical examiner on the first name basis.

Bon Jovi
5 years ago

half of these are just about any swimmer

About Olivier Poirier-Leroy

Olivier Poirier-Leroy

Olivier Poirier-Leroy has been involved in competitive swimming for most of his life. Starting off at the age of 6 he was thrown in the water at the local pool for swim lessons and since then has never wanted to get out. A nationally top ranked age grouper as both a …

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