The Unrelenting Pursuit of Your “Personal Best”

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Photo Courtesy: Taylor Brien

By Giulia Filocca, Swimming World Magazine Intern.

Nothing is more rewarding than the sensation of improvement – a truly blissful moment that nurtures one’s passion for a sport. This satisfying quest to achieve a personal best, otherwise referred to as a PB, entices all athletes. It is the unwavering force that drives self-discipline, motivation and hard work. After all, how can a swimmer resist the buzz of attaining a best time, let alone conquering a once-insurmountable hurdle?

Swimming is a laborious task that demands the qualities of sheer grit, steadfast commitment, and meticulous time-management skills. It is a physically and mentally taxing sport, capable of sapping the life out of its participants. To the outsider, the prospect of a grueling lift or a lactic set at 5:30 a.m. seems absurd. To the swimmer, it is just a normal goal-chasing day.

Chasing the Clock

Time constitutes an indisputable benchmark for swimming success – so much so, that it has turned into a fixation. It drives individuals to make considerable sacrifices – from adhering to strict diets to forgoing unique social occasions – all for the sake of personal improvement.

A breed of their own, swimmers become hapless victims of the clock. This blunt, mechanical instrument torments them, dictating their mood both at practice and meets. Is it possible to free swimmers from the confines of time? Is the pursuit of your personal best time the unequivocal indicator of performance?

Attaining the Seemingly Unattainable

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Photo Courtesy:
Amber Arnold, Wisconsin State Journal

Swimming in high school provides the opportunity to witness high-energy, competitive racing. The most exhilarating races to watch are those with drastic time improvements, whether from a novice or the defending state champion. These moments are often characterized as the pinnacle of one’s athletic career, offering an inordinate amount of joy to the age-group swimmer. Above all, these PBs validate the old adage that hard work pays off and assures that those ungodly hours of intense effort actually translate into competitive success.

Breaking Point

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Photo Courtesy: SIPA USA

As swimmers age, time cuts become more difficult to achieve and narrow down to fractions of a second. Intrinsic motivation starts to wane; physical and mental burnout pervades; quitting becomes a conceivable path. Some cling to the glimmer of hope that one day, an elusive PB will materialize. These faithful swimmers abide by a rigorous training regimen, devoting hours on end to chlorinated waters and poorly-ventilated weight rooms. They relentlessly stare at a black line in an attempt to distract their minds from frigid temperatures and strenuous sets.

It is thrilling to push your body to its breaking-point. The ecstasy of conquering a challenging two-hour workout or overcoming self-doubt and physical exertion borderlines on addiction. Swimmers enjoy a sense of fulfillment upon completing practice, whether it be high-intensity interval training or a repetitive aerobic workout. For the hopefuls, working hard in practice cements their conviction that a personal best is, in fact, a foreseeable reality.

Fast-forward to championship season. They stand poised and proud, bound to execute the race with finesse. A shallow dive, a snappy flip-turn and a forceful finish later, the scoreboard flashes a sequence of numbers. Gasping for breath, the faithful swimmer takes the long-awaited look at the clock. Exuberance fades and a sense of disappointment beckons. Yet again, the personal best remains an illusion.

Redefining Individual Success

Madi Wilson showing the strain of another hard set of training. University of Auburn Aquatic Centre, Alabama USA. Australian Olympic Swimming Team are in their final training staging Camp before heading over to the Rio2016 Olympic Games. July 29 2016. Photo by Delly Carr. Pic credit mandatory for complimentary exclusive editorial usage. Thank You.

Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr / Swimming Australia Ltd.

Do not seek refuge in a sequence of numbers – they are unforgiving and give no constructive feedback. Instead, use an athletic setback as an opportunity to rejuvenate, re-calibrate, and revise your objectives. As the season winds down, why not take some time away from the water to reflect?

While time away can be perceived by outsiders as giving up, it can facilitate the critical phase of self-reflection. Step back from your results to see the bigger picture. Ask yourself: What is my intrinsic source of motivation? Am I defined by a single qualifying standard? Do I hold myself to impossible standards?

Rather than solely using time as your standard for improvement, focus on technical refinement or race strategy. Work on maintaining a consistent breathing pattern in butterfly or doing four underwater kicks off each wall. In the weight room, add a disc plate to your barbell; maintain a high GPA in the classroom; prioritize injury prevention. The list is endless! Ultimately, these minor improvements are what build self-confidence and a sense of purpose.

The Path Forward

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Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr / Swimming Australia Ltd.

The unrelenting quest for a personal best time is an endemic and sometimes harsh reality. It can devalue the true meaning of the sport when it becomes the sole focus, leaving swimmers in utter disillusionment with their efforts. It has driven countless victims toward the exit route – a truly harrowing experience for the most dedicated of athletes.

The road to success truly seems to be paved with failures. While this may sound cliché, swimmers must not allow their perceived failures to drive them away from their life-long passion. Cherish all the memories of the sport – from the bitter-cold morning sessions, to the laborious test sets and lifelong friendships. They are what keep you coming back for more.

Commentary: All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.