This guest post is written by the swimmingly amazing Don Walsh, who is our partner in the Elemental Edge Training Open Water Swim Clinics. If you’re interested in learning more about the OWSC, just contact us to get on the mailing list.
I was fortunate enough to be able to spend every summer on the Jersey shore growing-up with the ocean only a few blocks away. I developed such a great love of the water, you couldn’t keep me out of the ocean. For many years now, I’ve been swimming in the ocean all year long. I started with once a month and as I became more comfortable in the cold water, I increased my swims to two the three times a month. I’m now at 196 months in a row swimming in the ocean every month.
As a young adult, I began competing in open water races all along the Jersey shore and I’m now in my 38th year. Of course, this required training and setting goals to prepare myself to compete in open water swims. My first swim in open water was a one-mile race at a local town and I really found my niche. What I liked most about open water was “no walls!” Not having to turn every 25 yards and go in the opposite direction.
As I became more comfortable competing in one-mile races, I wanted to find longer swims. First I set my sights on a 5K and found that the longer I swam, the more I enjoyed it. So after a number of 5K’s, I thought why not double the distance?! Now I was looking for 10K’s and to my surprise, there was a 10K swim in Atlantic City every summer.
Of course, as I increased the distances I was competing in, I had to find time to increase my training. As a former sailor, I knew what it took to be more efficient in the water. Every time I moved the tiller to change course, I knew that the rudder was no longer in a streamline position with the center of the hull but necessary to change course. I related that to swimming and everything I did outside the cylinder of my body would slow me down. So I switched my training focus from endless yardage to more technique training. The dividends I received, as a result, were huge. I set a goal of swimming 100 yards freestyle taking only 10 SPL (strokes per length) or 40 strokes total for the 100 yards.
Since I set that goal, I was able to cut the number if SPL in half and swim 100 yards freestyle in only 5 SPL or a total of 20 strokes.
Now with a more efficient stroke, I was able to move through the water with less effort. So guess what my first thought was?! I could swim further and I did! I found that I was able to swim for hours without the effort of my peers. So I set my sights on longer and longer swims such as … Key West (12.5 miles) … Mays Landing River (21 miles) … Manhattan Island (28.5 miles) … and the Isle of Jersey in England (41.5 miles).
It’s true that I have a greater love of the ocean than anyone you’ll ever meet, but by setting goals, I was able to reach distances that I was only able to dream about as a young adult. So find what you love to do and set goals and you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish.