Chosen By the Distance Swimming Life


By Kelsey Lynch, Swimming World College Intern

Originally posted January 22, 2015

I have been training and racing distance events for most of my 15-year competitive swimming career. Most distance swimmers can vouch for this, but I can’t remember a time when I ever said, “Wow I love swimming the 500, the 1000 and 1650. I think I’ll do it again and again.”

I remember thinking my first mile that I swam as a 10-year-old was the most painful race I’d ever swum. I had wasted all my energy in the first 1,000 yards. The next 650 yards I had to check into another realm of my mind and push past the nearly unbearable physical discomfort.

Here’s the thing: Sprinters will admit that they like performing their races. They don’t last very long, but they’re just as agonizing as a distance race. However, sprint races are over before you have time to over-think the race. Racing is fun. Any competitive person can say that. Channeling your adrenaline and using it to beat out your opponent gives you a great feeling—a sense of accomplishment and pride in yourself.

But few distance swimmers will admit that they enjoy racing 20, 40 or 66 laps, essentially sprinting the whole way. It may not be an all-out sprint, but racing is racing. Don’t get me wrong here, I cannot sprint. My lack of fast-twitch muscle is evident in my start, as I am most likely seen entering the water last.

A 100 freestyle for me is especially challenging because I either use up all my energy in the first 50, or I finish the race and want to keep going for a few more 100s. Each distance and stroke in swimming is difficult in its own way. But you’re born into the distance life. You learn to get a good song in your head and work the beat into your strokes. Next thing you know, the race is over.

lap counting

Photo Courtesy: City of Thunder Bay

Here’s how your fate is chosen: You swim one of the distance events at a young age. Your coach most likely said that you did really well and you should consider trying it again at your next meet. You think, “OK, another time won’t hurt, it wasn’t that bad.” So you swim a distance event at the next meet and do even better, because you knew how to pace yourself more appropriately. This gives you confidence, and the process of figuring out how you want to pace your distance evolves throughout your career.

Once you compete in distance events for several meets, the distance life has chosen you. Good luck turning back now. You may have chosen to be entered in the event, but most likely few people on your team competed in the distance freestyle events, so it seemed like a good way to stand out and find your place in your swimming community. But you did not choose to survive your first mile. Since you did not cry to your coach after to NEVER make you do that again, you became a distance swimmer.

I bet you had no idea what was coming at a mere 10 or 15 years old. The distance yardage that was ahead in college would have given me nightmares if I had known beforehand. But I continued throughout high school as a distance swimmer, even though every single 1000 or 1650 would push my body both physically and mentally.

Why did I continue with the distance swimming life? Why does any distance swimmer continue? May be you really love getting into your zone during your distance events. But for me, it’s the pride for my hard work that I feel during training and after these races. Knowing that so few people do what I do and race as long as I do makes me very proud.

It’s important in any sport to be able to congratulate yourself along the way. Taking a moment to recognize how hard you work is essential, but also acknowledging that you can always push harder to succeed. That’s what distance swimming has done for me. And sprinters have the same feeling.

As I approach the close of my college swimming career in less than a month, I wonder if I my fate would have been different had I never done that 1650 freestyle at my home meet. But I am sure, at some point, I would have discovered that endurance is my strength. The distance life was going to choose me no matter what.

So if you’re a young swimmer reading this, and you’ve recently discovered your talent for the long-distance events, accept your fate as a chosen one. There is nothing more rewarding than being a part of that small percentage of athletes on your team who can survive the distance swimmer life.


  1. avatar
    Heath regennitter

    Thank you for this wonderful article. I’m a triathlete. I have done several sprint and Olympic distance triatholons and 3 half iron mans as well as three mile swims in scouting growing up. Currently I’m training for this years wisconsin ironman which includes a 3 and half mile swim. The longest open water swim I have completed thus far is a 1.2 mile swim. I have a lot of training to go before I reach the endurance level needed to reach my target distance. This was an inspiring paper thank you for giving me hope!

  2. avatar

    Distance swimmers do enjoy swimming their events. They love the race plan and thinking that goes into it. They love coming from behind to crush someone’s spirit. They love going put hard and putting people away. Good distance swimmers love their events and what it takes to love them.

    • Tish Landrum

      Oh my. I so agree. I don’t think I ever chose it but it chose me.

  3. Justin Gaynor

    I’m 15 and I LOVE the 500. Still need to work on the 3rd 100 a lot and my underwaters, but it is fun. I’ve only swam it 2 times 5:53 time, but I know what I need to work on, and that is the important part.

  4. Melvyn Wong

    Marina Biasutto

  5. Kim Dabney

    Daughter loved the 500

  6. Lynn Titchener

    I am 62 years old and still love swimming my 500’s and my mile(s) whenever and wherever.

    • Jan Chris

      Diese Distance Swimmer

  7. Robyne Chabant

    I LOVE long distance, I am going fo my 6th Midmar Mile in Feburary 2016, love love love swimming my 2km a day. I have a waterproof MP3 player that keeps me company, and I totally destress in the pool. I an 57 years young and will keep swimming forever. Good luck to the yopunger swimmers!!!

  8. Nick Zorn

    Bryce Anderson Nathaniel Sawicki Makis Jörgensen Jacob Poole

    • Bryce Anderson

      Needs more depression as you age.

  9. Jayson Hansen

    Kaylee Dolinski Morgan Kollen Skyler Muzichuk

  10. Dani James

    Kelly Offutt