Enjoyment Meets Improvement
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on July 12th, 2013

Two core values of TI Swimming are Improvement and Enjoyment. We believe you should begin every swim with a conscious goal to improve your swimming–ideally in specific and measurable ways. We also believe that your prospects for improvement are best when practice produces a state of such intense Happiness that it’s the best part of your day. Even better that a residual glow of positivity energizes you for the rest of your day.

A critical choice I’ve made about where to focus my energy this summer has been influenced by my conviction that Enjoyment and Improvement are not just compatible, but inseparable.  And that merging them will benefit everything I find meaningful.

Virtually every summer for the past 10 years I’ve been an avid open water (OW) competitor–usually swimming 5 to 6 OW races over the course of two  to three months. I enjoy winning my age group and, more often than not, I do. But my motivation for racing has more to do with process than outcome.

The Lure of the Lake

Between mid-June and early September I swim in Lake Minnewaska as often as possible. What lures me there is a combination of stunning natural beauty and the Flow States I experience during practice.

Flow comes from doing meaningful activities that involve a level of skill that requires immersive focus. I’ve long gotten that from practice sets that test my ability to tease a bit more Stroke Length from a constant Tempo or, conversely, push Tempo higher while maintaining Stroke Length.

One attraction of Lake Minnewaska is how its 200-yard rope line facilitates these Flow-producing sets. On any swim I can either count strokes along the line—my SPL ranges from the high 140s at Tempos of 1.2 (sec/stroke) or slower to the low 170s at Tempos around .95 or faster. Or I time myself and divide Time by Tempo to calculate stroke count.

I do these practices mainly for the Enjoyment produced by doing exacting tasks and the immediate gratification—because having such concrete metrics lets me know precisely how well I met the challenge.

But there’s an extra frisson of satisfaction that comes from knowing that my practice tasks also develop skills and instincts that will be invaluable in a race.

Punching Above My Weight

At 62, I’m usually among the oldest swimmers in the field; in a typical race field of 100+ there are seldom more than a handful older than me. And, among the relatively small number who are fairly serious about competing, my training volume is quite modest. So I gain some satisfaction from knowing that my exacting practice helps me ‘punch above my weight’ as boxers say.

I’m confident my stroke will be among the most efficient and economical in any race field. Then there’s the knowledge that few in any field have as much experience in OW–this year marks the 40th anniversary of my first OW race at an ocean lifeguard tournament in 1973.

But perhaps the most valuable mental strength I bring is the knowledge that I’m neurally programmed to respond to nearly any situation in a way that will probably bring some advantage.  My Stroke Length + Tempo tasks—which I do primarily to experience Flow States—also hardwire stroking patterns proven to make the difference between winning and losing.

So what’s noteworthy about my choices this summer? Mainly that I’m planning to considerably scale back my summer racing schedule. Where I usually swim at least four races during July and August, this year I’ll swim only one: the Betsy Owens 2-Mile Cable Swim in Mirror Lake, in the Adirondack village of Lake Placid, on Aug 17. The photo below gives you some sense of why I never miss this race.

The Cable Course in Mirror Lake

The Cable Course in Mirror Lake

I’m racing so sparingly because this summer I’m more excited about writing than racing and want to conserve physical, mental and emotional energy—as well as time–for the creative process.

Writing Fueled by Purposeful Practice

On July 1, I started the clock on a period of 10 weeks during which I intend to spend my most productive hours–6 am to noon—writing a series of ebooks which will ‘update the public record’ on TI Methodology. (We’ll announce release dates on www.totalimmersion.net.)

But while racing takes a back seat, my practice will be as focused and purposeful as always. That’s because I know the anticipation of an enormously satisfying swim later in the day will renew me for the hours I’ll spend at my desk. And my swims will generate energy and enthusiasm—plus insight and inspiration–that I’ll pour into my next writing session.

I’ve modified aspects of my practice plans for the summer according to the Pull vs Push principle of generating energy. In my next post I’ll describe this principle and explain why I feel I’ll not only write better, but race better as a result.

This short video features both the natural beauty of Lake Minnewaska and my Stroke Length and Tempo practice plan for the day.

[youtuber youtube=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7MkEkzhtai0&feature=youtu.be’]


13 Responses to “Enjoyment Meets Improvement”

  1. Itamar Kutai says:

    Hello Terry,
    It seems that you are emphasizing Open Water Swim, at the expense of the basic business of pool swimming.
    There have been some changes in the Free Style technique (straight down pull Vs. the “S”
    pull) and I do not recall any coverage from you.
    I have been following TI swimming for a long time, and attribute much of my progress
    to your techniques.
    I am an MSDS member NEM club, and participate in few meets per year, incorporating all four strokes.
    Wish you you not forget us pool swimmers.
    If you have any “updating” clinics in the Boston area , I would be interested.

  2. Dennis Sheehan says:

    Looking forward to the new books!

  3. Gerry Forman says:

    Hi Terry,

    I always enjoy reading your notes and articles! Hope you and the family are well. Give me a call next time you are in San Diego…..Time for some tea together..


  4. patrick Quinn says:

    Hi Terry, I have been back in the water (three weeks now) after a long hiatus due to injury and illness. It took two weeks before I really started to enjoy the aftermath of outdoor ( not open water) workouts. I am now beginning a one-month build-up to the Betsy Owens race and will decidedly keep your advice in mind. See. you there.

  5. emily says:

    You are so inspiring Terry…..thank you…I am so glad you are writing what you have to say about your experience being YOU and being the swimmer you are and the man you are…….I look forward to reading your work….smiles, EMily

  6. Ben Lawrence says:

    Terry, Looking forward to enjoying your next round of ebooks. Thank you for continuing to pour your energies into projects that benefit us all!

  7. Bharat says:

    Hi i had started swimming from 1 month and the experience is best and i liked ur blog its gives me new way to look at swimming

  8. steph says:

    Hi Terry! I can’t believe you’re already 62. Swimming sure made you look some years younger.

    I can’t agree more with your article. It’s always best that you enjoy things that make you improve and I love just how you strive to find both enjoyment and improvement in swimming. I’m looking forward to more inspirational articles from you!

  9. […] Enjoyment Meets Improvement ‘Drafting Off’ My Inner Voice by Terry Laughlin Posted on July 29th, […]

  10. Paul Taylor says:

    Hi Terry! thanks for sharing this post,
    really when we enjoy our work, improvement will automatically come.

  11. […] The past month is a perfect example. From June thru August, while swimming at Lake Minnewaska, I took advantage of the 200y line there to focus on setting and achieving measurable goals in time, pace, Stroke Length and Stroke Rate. (See  blog and video Enjoyment Meets Improvement.) […]

  12. […] Minnewaska to pursue measurable improvements in time, pace, Stroke Length and Stroke Rate. (See Enjoyment Meets Improvement.)  All summer, my measurable improvement focus produced both a sense of mission and Flow […]

  13. […] Minnewaska to pursue measurable improvements in time, pace, Stroke Length and Stroke Rate. (See Enjoyment Meets Improvement.)  All summer, my measurable improvement focus produced both a sense of mission and Flow […]

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