Mike's Mailbag: Chasing New Personal Records

Mike's Mailbag: Chasing New Personal Records

By Mike Gustafson//Contributor  | Monday, March 6, 2017

Every Monday, I answer questions from swimmers around the country. If you have a question, please email me at swimmingstories@gmail.com

Hi Mike!

I loved reading your story on the most important part of practice.. It was very interesting! One part particularly stood out to me: "My advice to younger swimmers who are feeling burned out, tired, exhausted, and craving an escape from the pool…? (Which usually happens during Februarys…)”. Now this is where I kind of stand right now. I just wrapped up my District meet and I managed to not break any of my PRs that I set in the middle of the season. Though I was somewhat proud of myself, I’m not quite satisfied. It has become quite frustrating that I cannot swim a personal best in February going into March that I did in December and January. Do you have any advice for me to prevent this? Thanks for reading!
- Chasing New Personal Records (16)


Hi Chasing,

I’m guessing, until this point in your swimming career, you’ve had regular, consistent time drops. Each meetbetter than before. Each championship meet better than the season before. 

The older you will get, though, the less and less you’ll experience these consistent time drops. 

I can relate: From age 12 to age 15, I dropped time every other meet. It was like clockwork. I assumed I was going to be Michael Phelps. The harder I trained, the more time I dropped. Every month, I set new personal records. Each season was better than the season before. I charted out my time progression and determined I’d break world records by age 16. 

That didn’t happen. Not exactly. 

When I turned the age you are now (16), those time drops were more difficult to come by. Gone were the days I would drop time each week. Instead of a consistent, season-long time drop, I experienced end-of-season time drops. In other words, instead of setting a new personal record each week, I set new personal bests each season. 

As you get faster, stronger, older, and more technically refined, time drops will become harder to come by. You’re faster. You’re becoming a better swimmer. You’re more technically sound than you were at age 13, 14, 15. When you were 14, you may have dropped time every month. Maybe even every week. Now, at age 16, you might only drop time each season. 

Or each year… 

This can be discouraging. This note is not meant to discourage you. Rather, I want to tell you my experiences so you can say to yourself, “Okay, maybe I need to recalibrate my expectations. Maybe I shouldn’t expect to drop time every week.”

It can be frustrating to swim slower than several months ago. But this happens. This is part of swimming. You will train hard, swim hard, think positively, then, at the next swim meet, swim slower. It happens without reason. It can be confusing. You will feel like throwing your cap against the wall, stomping on your goggles, and quitting. 

Don’t quit. Remember that swimming — not only this season, but all seasons (your entire career) — is a marathon. You will have bad weeks, bad months, bad seasons. You might even have bad years. Just because you swam slower now doesn’t mean you can’t hop in the pool a few weeks from now and swim faster. Maybe your body is building muscle. Maybe you need more sleep. Maybe you’re experimenting with a new training technique in your freestyle. While that technique doesn’t equate to time drops now, as your body adjusts, maybe in a few seasons you’ll morph into that ultra-fast freestyler. Swimming is a marathon. It’s not about the near-future jumping points, but about the long-term destination. 

In swimming, there are lots of maybes. Don’t focus on those maybes. Focus on certainties, wherever you find them. Focus on what you can do, and what you can control: Your attitude. That’s one certainty. Your work ethic is another. Your dedication. 

These are certainties. These are things you can control. 

I once knew a swimmer who didn’t drop time in his best event for five years. For five years, he toiled. Churned. Trained harder than ever. For five years, he kept doing everything right in practice, and for five years, he swam slower in meets. No one understood it. Not coaches. Not teammates. Sometimes he swam faster in practice than he swam in meets. Everyone felt for him. Everyone could see him struggling.

Then, one day, suddenly and unexpectedly, he dropped three seconds.

Stay the course. Don’t get frustrated. Time drops will become more challenging as you age and get stronger. But if you focus on the things you can control—like working hard, focusing on little improvements every single day, and keeping a good attitude—by the end of the season, the time drops will happen.

I hope this helps. 



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