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Helping Ordinary People Become Extraordinary Athletes

How I Succeeded by Failing

Have you ever wondered how people say things like “I ran 10 miles by accident”? In reality they are saying it wasn’t their goal. Trust me, nobody runs 10 miles by accident. 

I did not set a goal to swim 200 open water miles in 2023 and it definitely wasn’t an accident. One key tactic to reach my goal of completing a 15 mile swim was to do as many long swims as possible outside to avoid long hours in a pool. I knew I would log a lot of open water swim miles, but didn’t want to put pressure on myself to hit a target number.

Breakdown your goal into milestones 

When you set a lofty goal you need a roadmap to get there. Identify key tactics that drive your training plan and break down the large goal into smaller goals or milestones. The idea of driving hundreds of miles to a specific destination is daunting, yet it feels good to pass each milestone. It breaks the long ride into manageable parts. During your long drive you may see a special number on your odometer. It wasn’t your intention but it’s still fun to celebrate. That’s how these “accidental” achievements occur.

Approaching 200 open water swim miles 

At the end of November I noticed I was 2 miles away from 200. It may seem like a no-brainer. 2 miles is a regular day in the ocean during warmer months. Mild fall temps allowed me to complete about 11 open water miles in November. Water and air temps were dropping steadily. My swims were getting shorter. Last year I logged just shy of 2 miles in ALL of December. It appeared to be an achievable milestone, but weather is always unpredictable and getting your body into water in the low 40s is always a challenge.

I took a chance taking the photo above in advance. With real feel air temps of 31F/-5C I knew stopping for a picture after the swim wasn’t a smart option. My feet stung once submerged and I waded in quickly. The water was warmer than the air so I dove right in. The wind chilled my arms with each pull and my hands felt tight from the cold almost immediately. I swam fast so I could get out as quickly as possible. I peeked at my watch and saw the water temp: 42F / 5.5C. 

After about 350 yards I turned to go back and noticed the current giving me a little push. I focused on my long smooth stroke and for a moment I forgot about my freezing toes. I felt strong and unstoppable. Reaching my starting point I was about 100 yards short. Everything was cold, but not tingling. I can go 2 more minutes. I swam a little further and forgot that turning around meant going back into the current (oops).

Never sacrifice safety to reach your goal 

For safety, I advise newer cold water swimmers to avoid setting distance or pace objectives. Instead, monitor the time you can stay in based on the weather conditions and how your body reacts each swim.  The accountant in me always suggests a conservative approach. Keep in mind that you will likely swim slower as you get colder. After 3 winters of cold water experience I know my limits in a variety of temperatures and conditions. I kept checking in on myself and knew I hadn’t reached my limit. My swim partner knew my plan and my dry robe was waiting for me on the beach.

I made it! 778 yards in 16 minutes and I didn’t have to delete the picture. 

To keep things REAL, the strong winds on the day I attempted my 15 mile swim kept me from reaching that goal. I was disappointed and still had so much to celebrate. 

Success is found in the process 

The process of chasing a goal is where the REAL success is. It starts with a commitment to yourself. You show up and put in the work. The small goals act as milestones, mini celebrations on the road to your main goal that keep you motivated. You rely on your mental strength and persevere through roadblocks. Achieving the final goal becomes irrelevant. You can work towards big goals, but you don’t need to stress yourself out about it. Celebrate what happens naturally. In the end, success is what you learn about yourself and how you grow along the way. 

What big goal have you set for yourself? How did you break it down into milestones? What did you learn about yourself chasing prior goals?

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