Win a luxurious spa weekend courtesy of Arla LactoFREE
Swimming Events Guide 2024
Top Tips,  Training and Technique

6 Steps to Overcome Failure

You have trained for years and sacrificed your social life and family time in your journey to complete your open water swim. But then it all falls apart at the final hurdle. In our sport, no outcome is ever set in stone. Extreme weather, marine life, hypothermia and exhaustion can obliterate years of planning. We call these soul destroying experiences “unsuccessful” swims instead of “failed” swims, but it does not change the final outcome. Not completing a swim is never pleasant and is often followed by a feeling of emptiness. A lot of people will be happy to have at least attempted the challenge, but what about those of us that cannot accept the outcome and yearn to return to swim another day? Here we will go through six steps to reframe your previous experiences and return to complete your unfinished business.

1 Acceptance – Come to terms with the unsuccessful attempt

The first step to moving forward on your journey is to fully accept and come to terms with the unsuccessful attempt. Although the experience can be traumatising, as soon as you accept the situation for what it is and commit yourself to try again, you are already over the biggest mental hurdle. Every great journey starts with an idea, and once that idea takes root you are in a position to move forward and put in the necessary work to make it happen. 

One of the key ways to accept the experience of the unsuccessful swim is to focus on the facts and not the “what ifs?” You may be plagued with thoughts like “What if I swam a bit faster?” or “What if I had a different day?” but these thoughts

are simply drawing you into a negative spiral of stress. Accept the true reasons for failure, which often will be down to circumstances beyond your control. When you understand this you will feel so much more at peace and be ready to move forward. At the same time you must take responsibility for anything within your preparation or approach that contributed to your lack of success (for example, poor nutrition planning, started too fast, etc.) and ensure you have a plan to address these short-comings in the future.

2 Develop resilience – Accept that failure is an option again

As Captain Matthew Webb once said: “Nothing great is easy”. If your challenge were easy then anyone could do it! All great challenges will be difficult. To revisit a massive personal challenge, you need to develop resilience. Accept that failure is an option again, but commit to staying strong and achieving your goal. 

3 Book and pay for everything 

You have had the idea to try again, now you need to commit yourself and turn that idea into reality. The first step to properly cement this is to plan, book and pay for your whole expedition again. It is easy to put this off as it can be a painful reminder of the previous attempt, but at least you already have the contacts and experience. Let’s not kid ourselves that these expeditions are cheap: if you don’t have all the funds available then at least start the planning process by paying deposits for boats and accommodation, etc, to secure your booking. The important step is that you take definitive and positive action to commit yourself to trying again.

4 Work your ass off to train up again

Now for the hard bit: training all over again to get back to peak condition. The physical element of this may not be as tricky as it sounds, assuming you have not had months off training since the last attempt. You will already be pretty highly tuned so keep ticking over at a manageable rate

ready to ramp up the training in the final months. Re-committing yourself mentally is harder than the physical training. As Alison Streeter MBE (Queen of the Channel) once said: “Channel swimming is 80% mental, 20% the rest. “ Don’t let the training scare you off. Embrace it, stay positive and enjoy the journey.

5 Treat it as a brand new challenge

Leave all of the negative feelings and doubts in the past and treat the next attempt as a brand new challenge. You already know the swim so are at a massive advantage; however, no two days in open water swimming are ever the same so be prepared for a whole new set of obstacles to overcome. 

6 Develop a “challenge state” rather than a “threat state”

If you had a really bad experience last time then you will at some point see the next attempt as a threat during your preparation. This will cause stress, anxiety and will be no fun at all. The key here is to treat it as a challenge. Challenges are supposed to be fun so don’t forget why you are here: to do something amazing in your unique journey of personal development. Do not lose sight of this and embrace the whole challenge for what it is – an amazing and often life changing journey of self-discovery.

Remember that just because your previous swim was unsuccessful, it does not mean your journey is over. It just means that your journey will take a little longer than you first thought. 

Stay up to date with The Dip, our free weekly outdoor swimming newsletter.

Outdoor Swimmer is the magazine for outdoor swimmers by outdoor swimmers. We write about fabulous wild swimming locations, amazing swim challenges, swim training advice and swimming gear reviews.