Fear, such a short innocuous word, yet its effects can blur the boundaries between rational and irrational, send heart rates soaring and leave its victim frozen in their steps. If you have read my previous posts you will have gathered I have very little love for water, in truth anything involving more water than a bath is something I would rather avoid. A great deal of persistence, hard work and patience from my partner (now wife) helped get me into a pool and to a point of being a relatively competent swimmer. Yet still, on any given day the irrational part of my brain tells me I can’t swim and that the swimming pool is the most dangerous place in the world to be and should be exited as soon as possible. Over the years I have developed techniques to help overcome this from writing shopping lists, visualising Kata to doing maths. Recently these techniques have been tested to the full.
I was told that the first time you try open water swimming you will hate it, the second time you will still hate it, the third time you will hate it but by the fourth time you will love it. In reality the first time shock and fear left me making very little progress towards the “open water” portion of the lake, the second time I made it around and towards the end even managed to string a few strokes together. That brings us to today, the third attempt; in reality it was never going to be a success, for three days before I have thought of little else other than reasons why swimming was a bad idea. Little sleep was had, and the journey to Pugneys left me dry mouthed and sweaty palmed. Climbing in I was hit by a wall of cold water made tougher by a tsunami of fear. I am an incredibly stubborn person who hates being beaten so despite the fight or flight pressuring me to exit as fast as I entered I set off to the first buoy. Attempting first breast stroke, then doggy paddle then front crawl I just couldn’t get into any rhythm. The rational and irrational parts of my brain were arguing constantly, yes I can swim, yes there are a safety boat, spotters and my wife nearby but still this is WATER, and not just any water, cold dark open water. Technique after technique was tried, then quickly pushed to one side as I couldn’t help but notice there was a current taking me, and no matter how hard I worked I didn’t seem to go anywhere. Making it back to the jetty some 400m and 30 minutes later all I wanted to do was get out, get dry and hide somewhere thinking of my failure. What actually happened was my very persuasive wife convinced me to spend some time between the jetty’s working on stroke and head talk. Twenty minutes later I was just about stringing some strokes together, controlling my breathing and there may have even been a slight smile on my face.
It would have been easy to leave the water after the lap from hell, would I have felt better? probably in the short term, but longer term I would have been kicking myself. To add extra pressure/motivation I had previously signed up for The Amphibian long course open water swim, a 2 km open water swim. Why have I done this, in all honesty partly because I see how much my wife and mother in law enjoyed the Great North swim, partly because I like a challenge and partly because when I accomplish it, it will be an achievement I know I’ve worked for. You see we live in a push button society, you want a meal – put it in a machine push a button and ping there it is, you want a movie? just push the button, you want to get from ground floor to top floor? push the button. So much in life is about making things easier, sometimes you have to take yourself back to raw emotion, challenge yourself and push yourself beyond what you think you are capable of.