How to Swim Forever / How to End the Race

A couple times in the past few months I’ve encountered the phrase “forever pace,” and though I hadn’t heard the expression before, I knew immediately what it meant — it’s the pace at which you (feel you) can swim forever.

Some days you swim hard, faster than your forever pace; some days you struggle to find it. But some days you slip into your forever pace, like you slip into your old jeans or your favorite book, and there you are, swimming forever.

The term “forever pace” appears in this video about the Deep Enders, a group of open water swimmers. The video itself is one of the new Fueled by Water advertisements by Speedo (although Jim McConica is wearing a Real Swimmers Swim Naked t-shirt during the video, which seems a bit contrary to Speedo’s message).


If swimming forever is the beautiful dream, ending the race is the sad reality. It doesn’t matter how long the swim is — I’ve swum two-mile races and I’ve swum ten-mile races — the hardest part is the last half mile. A half mile away is when I can see the end; I start looking for the finish line, and wondering where it is, and feeling as if I’m never going to make it in.

It’s all in your perception. When you’re way out in the water, you pick out one big thing, and you head for it. If you jump off a boat in the middle of San Francisco Bay, for example, you head toward San Francisco: it’s the big sparkling city in front of you. And you feel you can swim toward it forever. But when you’re nearing the finish and you’re heading for a beach or dock, there are suddenly a lot of little things in front of you, and you need to aim for the right one.

At the last race I did, Swim the Loop in Wilmington, North Carolina, I could not figure out where I was supposed to go. There was a big sign, of course, saying “FINISH” or something. I could see the sign. But somewhere near the sign on the docks there was a ladder, and I couldn’t work out where it was.

Lake Castaic, California. Photo by Mike Lewis, Ola Vista Photography. From SwimSwam.

A paddle boarder yelled encouragingly, “You’re almost there!” and I shouted back, “I don’t know where I’m going!” So she yelled, “Follow me!” and she guided me in.

The paddle boarders and the kayakers and the people on safety boats — there aren’t enough thanks in the world for them. I don’t know of a race where they get paid in anything more than a t-shirt and a lunch, and yet they will save your sad wet butt when it is at its saddest and wettest.

Of course, if you swim a race over and over, you have a big advantage; you know the route, and you know what the end looks like. The first time I did the Lowcountry Splash in Charleston, I missed the entrance into the chute that directs incoming swimmers past the official finish. I was able to duck into it quickly and ended up in the right place. Now that I’ve done the swim three times, twice at 2.4 miles and once at five miles, I know where I’m going. Last year when the current was much faster than previous years, many people missed the entrance into the chute, but I knew the course, and I was ready for it.

Registration is open for the Lowcountry Splash 2015 on May 30th. I’ve signed up for the five-mile race. It’s a beautiful course and well-run race. I already know that last half mile will be the hardest part.

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