“My Mind’s a Movie Theatre”: Katie Benoit on the Mental Aspect of UltraSwimming

Swimming the Oceans Seven is more than just a physical challenge; it’s a mental one too. We asked open water swimmer, full-time police officer, and mom Katie Benoit about her mental training. It’s worth noting that she swims with extra determination as her major swims are dedicated to raising funds and awareness for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. Here’s what she had to share:

I can't think of any question that I am being asked more often than, "What do you think about when you are out there for all that time swimming?" My short answer is, "My mind's a movie theatre."

I am a firm believer that most of our outcomes are primarily determined in our mind. What I mean by that is that I need to develop the firm belief that the swim is possible. Depending on what challenges are ahead, that task goes hand in hand with the daily training.

For example, I don't only condition my body for the cold water and for endurance swimming, but I also work on accepting the conditions I will be facing. I utilize visualization in training. I may be freezing in my Endless Pool [Ed. Note: she keeps it at 59° in preparation for her next swim; it can be set to a high of 92°], but as I am doing so, I visualize the coast of Scotland. It really goes beyond just thinking of the image. I try to imagine what it would feel like to finish. I imagine the relief, the euphoria, and really try to live the experience. This type of mental training happens in passing almost daily as I am swimming

What's Katie Benoit thinking here, in 2012, about 4 hours into her successful English Channel swim? Maybe she was visualizing her emergence onto the coast of Scotland. Maybe she was thinking about the sacrifices of her support circle. Or maybe she was just singing a song in her head.

A certain level of dissociation can also help you push through some physical discomfort. I have spent roughly 23 years swimming, and even as a high school swimmer, I learned to entertain myself while swimming. I'd sing songs in my mind, study vocabulary, recall a movie, and so forth.

On race day, things are a little different. I have a few standard thought processes I use to psych myself up. The biggest piece is a deep acceptance and understanding that I have no control over the conditions (weather, temperature, tide, etc.) that I will face.

I remind myself that my goal is not to finish but to give absolutely everything. I don't ever think about what other swimmers are doing, who I can beat, or even personal time goals. The only thing I promise to myself is that I will swim until I am physically unable to do so. I make an unwavering commitment to that idea. This strategy has worked well for me, and I finished many UltraSwims and IRONMAN triathlons that way. Our physical limits are often much greater than our mental limitations may suggest. We can do much more than we usually think.

Don't get me wrong – there are times when I think of the money wasted on the logistics of the swim when I quit. Or I think of my loved ones and the people that have supported and believed in me. I remind myself that their sacrifices have allowed me this opportunity, and I remind myself that the swim is bigger than just me.

This mindset definitely helps at work too. There are situations when you really would like to drive the other way, but again, I made a commitment ahead of time, and I know with conviction that I will do what needs to be done to address the situation. I know that I will give it 100% and really try my hardest, and usually that is helpful.

Being a swimmer for so long, I have experienced setbacks and frustrations, and I have developed a certain persistence in the face of failure. I try to bring a learning mindset to everything I do. One of the best parts of my job has been meeting some very impressive people and learning a little from each of them.

Training, Swimming
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