The Morning Swim Show, August 16, 2011: Positive State of Mind Helped Allen Stark Achieve First Masters World Record

PHOENIX, Arizona, August 16. TODAY'S edition of The Morning Swim Show features Masters swimmer Allen Stark, who broke his first world record after decades in the sport.

Stark talks about breaking the world record in the 200 breast and who he emulates in his stroke technique. As a licensed psychiatrist, he talks about an ideal mental state when preparing for a race and what positive self-talk he gives himself. Watch the full show in the video player below and visit SwimmingWorld.TV for more video interviews.

Special Thanks to Finis for sponsoring the Morning Swim Show's interview segments in the Finis Monitor. Visit Finis to learn more about their innovative products for aquatic athletes.

Show Transcript: (Note: This is an automated service where some typos and grammatical errors may occur.)

Peter Busch: This is the Morning Swim Show for Tuesday, August 16th, 2011 and I'm your host Peter Bush. In the FINIS Monitor today we will talk to Allen Stark. He just broke his first Masters world record setting the 200-breast mark in the 60 to 64 age group. Allen joins us right now in the FINIS Monitor from his office in Lake Oswego, Oregon. Allen welcome to the show. How are you?

Allen: Hi I'm doing great. How are you doing?

Peter: Good. Well I would be doing great too if I was a world record holder.

Allen: Yeah. Yeah I'm still pretty excited about that I'm not sure my feet have touched the ground since the end of the race.

Peter: Well I know it was a long time coming.

Allen: Yes it was I started Masters as soon as I turned 25 in 1974. So it has been fun.

Peter: Well now at the ripe age of 62 it must feel pretty darn good.

Allen: Yes, it feels great. It was my best time in 15 years.

Peter: Is that right?

Allen: Yes.

Peter: How do you explain that?

Allen: Well you know I'm constantly working on my stroke. I got that velocity test with Dr. G about 18 months ago and worked on changing what I was doing my pool and that has really helped, and then you know I always tried to learn new things and always trying to train harder.

Peter: So you are definitely a student of this sport.

Allen: I try to be. I read everything I can find on swimming and breaststroke in particular.

Peter: And on technique. I know you are very much into technique.

Allen: Yes.

Peter: Who is— is there a current swimmer that you model your stroke after that you pick up some things from?

Allen: Well, Kitajima I think has got practically the perfect stroke. Although my pull is a little bit more like Rebecca Soni's on the pull part but my recovery is definitely more like Kitajima's and so I would say those two you know they are the best male and female breaststrokers in the world … probably so.

Peter: Yeah. Not too bad people to emulate in the water.

Allen: Exactly. Yes.

Peter: Breaststroke in general seems to have changed more than any other stroke in my opinion over the past decade or two. It seems like it has gone to a flatter more efficient less up and down motion.

Allen: Oh, absolutely I think that the rule change in ‘86 when you could have your head under water and recover over the surface led people to think you know recovering over the surface, that sounds like a really good idea, so let's go up and down so we can recover over the surface and get more body movement. Because now we can go down and I think it was too much and kind of led it down a bit of a blind alley, and now we are coming back to well, really looking more like butterfly, which is also really gotten flatter over the years.

Peter: Yeah, you are right butterfly as well both at similar type of recoveries. You know what I mean.

Allen: Yeah.

Peter: You are a psychiatrist by trade, right?

Allen: Yes I am. That is correct.

Peter: Well we always talk about the mental aspect of swimming, you know that part all too well as well.

Allen: Oh yes and I think that the main thing you know in terms of the middle part is I would say is swimming is just so wonderful for mental health. I tell my patients that best natural antidepressant, the best natural anti-anxiety thing and the best natural stress reliever is exercise and you don't really get a better exercise than swimming. It works every muscle in your body and it is low impact. It is ideal and so I think it is the important part of mental health.

Peter: At a meet before a big race, are you ever psyched out?

Allen: You know my sort of joke on that is you know, if you have raised kids nothing psyches you out. I mean you know this stress of a swim meet compared to what people go through as adults, you make the mortgage, make this and that. You know swimming is just fun. No, I don't get psyched out anymore. You know there was an issue maybe when I was in college because you know the other thing is I'm swimming against my best friends. You know, really, my top competitions are— they are all great guys. We know each other; we see each other all the time at Nationals. They are fun to be around. I get really psyched up as well and then the thing I would say you know sort of a truism is there is physiologically there is no difference between anxiety and excitement. It is just how you label it and so I choose to be excited.

Peter: Well there is a difference though in how each person perceived that whether it made some—

Allen: Right that is my point on how you label it. I mean if you label it.

Peter: Sure.

Allen: Oh I'm worried you know this is a big meet. I got to do well. If I don't terrible things are going to happen. Yeah, you can work yourself into a state that where you are so tight that you can't swim well, but if you just you know get into the … I have done the work; you know this is the fun part.

Peter: I asked because while you are absolutely corrected as an adult who has gone through you know, raising kids and working for a living. You know, you tend to have a broader perspective, but for a lot of kids that might be watching teenagers or college swimmers. What is one simple thing you would tell them to you know, make sure they are in the right frame of mind before a big race?

Allen: Okay well one thing I do is before a race, I take about 30 minutes and I visualize the race. Sometimes stroke for stroke, sometimes just really focusing on particular things, particular things about kick/pull, but the thing is while I'm visualizing it you know just like anybody else, my mind is always working and it is giving me negative thoughts you know I'm thinking, "Oh I didn't train hard enough, oh, I didn't taper long enough." You know all these negative things. Every time I get one of those negative thoughts. I literally erase it. I think in my mind of an eraser and I write it on the board and I take in my mind an eraser and I erase it. And then I add a positive thought of you know I feel strong I feel fast and I will have easy speed and I just give every time I have a negative thought and everybody has negative thoughts. Every time I have a negative thought I erase it and I add a positive thought and then you know by the time I get to the block, usually I'm feeling great. I have swam the race 5 or 6 times in my head. It is going to be easy.

Peter: Thank you for the advice Allen. You know there might be a swimmer who takes that to heart and maybe at the London Olympics. They are behind the blocks and they have erased all the negative thoughts and they have a great swim, so thank you very much for sharing that.

Allen: I hope so.

Peter: And congratulations on your world record.

Allen: Thank you so much.

Peter: Alright that is Allen Stark joining us from his office in Oregon. That is it for today's show. I'm Peter Bush reminding you to keep your head down at the finish.

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