A Christmas Day swim and some musings about goal setting

Yesterday I swam in the Pacific Ocean for the first time since leaving for school in August. Upon arriving at the beach, I was equal parts excited to be in open water again and nervous for how I would react to the cold water, which is sitting around 59 degrees right now. I met up with two fellow swimmers, Gino and Karl, at 7:45am for toes in at 8am and we agreed to aim for an hour swim, just to see how we would fare in the cold water. In the back of my mind was also the knowledge that around this time last year (on December 27th to be precise), I completed my 6 hour 60 degree English Channel qualifier.

For this swim, the water was the clearest I’ve ever seen in Santa Monica, with about 8 feet of visibility. We swam south towards the Venice Pier and I felt my hands and feet tingle in the cold water, but I was also feeling warmer than I expected and I was flying through the clear water. We swam for 30 minutes heading south and then turned back north to get back to our starting point. As we got close to the end of the hour, I did start to feel a little cold, but as long as I was moving I stayed warm enough. Around this time in a cold-water swim, I reach a point where my skin is cold but I am creating enough heat to keep my core warm and it is a really cool sensation to feel like my body is the same temperature as the surrounding water. At these moments, I feel like I could just disappear into the water. When the tower marking our starting point came into view, I was glad to be done and ready to get out of the cold water. This short one-hour swim felt a lot longer than I expected, probably because I am used to training for shorter distances in a pool right now.

The juxtaposition of this one-hour swim with the anniversary of my 6-hour qualifier brings forward the question of whether the goals we set can also sometimes become limiting factors for our performance. Said a different way, why is it that when I set the goal of swimming for one-hour does one hour feel like the longest I can do, but when I set the goal of swimming for multiple hours this arguably feels as long as the one-hour duration. Does this mean that psychological factors are telling me when I am “done” more so than physiological ones? For me at least, goal setting and goal sharing is a necessary part of achieving success in any athletic endeavor. I need concrete outcomes to hold myself to, and I like to share these with others so that positive peer pressure will also help hold me to my commitments; knowing my training buddies will be at the pool is sometimes the one thing that gets met to trek through the snow to the pool in the morning. What does it mean for goal setting if our goals also hold us back?

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