Winning the Mental Battle 

Open Swim

Sometimes challenges and tasks just seem too big. We tell ourselves we can’t do it. Sure, someone else certainly has the strength or courage to do it, but we do not. We build it up in our head to the point where it seems impossible. Those phrases are familiar in my mind. They’re dangerous and have the ability to doom a dream, idea or challenge before it ever begins.

“Our greatest battles are that with our own minds.” – Jameson Frank

Swimming continued to mess with my head over the last month or so. I can’t totally explain why, but it’s been a mental battle — a battle which begins before I even get in the water. Let’s take yesterday for example. I had a plan to attend Open Swim down at Lake Nokomis in Minneapolis, MN. The course runs about 1200 yards (or 0.70 miles) round trip across the lake and back. The furthest open water swim I’ve ever completed has been just under a half-mile. I started thinking it would be too long of a swim for me. I started running through all the what-ifs in my mind. The doubt kept increasing.

Once on the beach, I gazed out at the marked and life-guarded course as I began the long process that is putting on a wetsuit. For some reason, it looked doable. It wasn’t quite as scary as seeing the tetrahedrons out on the water the morning before a race. But I had already built it up in my head as being too difficult. I began making a plan b. Maybe I’d just swim halfway out and then come back. Yeah that would be safe. That was my plan.

I waded into the lake, dunked my body to adjust to water temperature, took a few breathes and started swimming. My body became weightless and enveloped by the water. I was surrounded by other swimmers, yet I still felt alone, in a peaceful way. I settled into a groove and was at the middle of the lake in what seemed like no time. This was where I had told myself I’d turn around. But I wasn’t tired. And I wanted more of this weightless, relaxing exercise. I kept swimming.

I progressed to the opposite shore and turned around for the return trip to the beach. I was completely relaxed yet actively engaged in swimming against a light wind current on the lake. How was I doing this? I’ve been much more tired while swimming shorter distances. I blocked these thoughts out of my mind the best I could, focusing on each stroke. The moment was very present. All that mattered was moving through the water with efficiency. I could analyze it all afterwards.

I stepped back on shore and looked back to see where I had been. Wow. I did it. I swam all the way across the lake and back. My confidence was sky-high. Earlier in the day I doubted my ability. Now I had completed what I thought I could not.

This didn’t cure my swimming fear, but it’s one more piece of evidence that I can use against my own brain in the future. I’m already looking forward to next week’s Open Swim night. This boost was just what I needed with only a few weeks to go until the Chicago Triathlon. A new race is sure to produce jitter and doubt. But now know I can handle a swim longer than what I’ll encounter on race day. It’s me against my brain.

It’s amazing what we can accomplish when we set fear aside, tune-out our own negative thoughts, push our limits and just believe in ourselves. Cheers to the next challenge!

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