Swimmers are regularly asked what they think about while they're swimming. "Uh, nothing," is usually true, but I do try to concentrate on my stroke, breathing, and flip-turns while I'm swimming.
When I swim early in the morning or after a long day at work, I can't really concentrate on anything so I imagine that I'm either a famous swimmer or an animal that moves the stroke I'm swimming.
Some mornings I pretend like I'm Dana Vollmer, winner of the 100m Butterfly in the 2012 Olympics, but most mornings I don't feel as coordinated. (The actual race starts around 4:30.) When I don't feel like Vollmer, I just try to move my back like a dolphin. I also try to pretend like I can breathe like a dolphin, that I'm not gasping for air when I surface.
Missy Frankly has an unbelievable backstroke, and I've been watching her swim for years. My backstroke is much more haphazard, and I just try to get enough out of my strokes to keep up with my legs. And I get through long kick sets pretending to be an otter.
(The race starts around 4:00.)
My breaststroke is incredibly slow. In fact, this guy inspires me, and he's a big old fat frog. I'm pretty sure his timing is better than mine, too! And I didn't even include an olympic video because my body really does move more like this frog's.
Freestyle is a really interesting stroke to me because I used to be so bad at it. However, having a great coach and learning to swim in open water has helped both of my long-axis strokes. Competitive open water swimming is different from competitive short- or long-course pool swimming. This video of Jodie Swallow illustrates an ideal open water stroke.
So in the middle of a lake, I don't actually think about my stroke count. Usually I just sing to myself and pretend to be Dori from Finding Nemo.