Sink or Swim?

In this guest post, my client graciously shares his inner struggles and physical challenges while preparing for his first half ironman. I thank him for sharing his story and my friend, Pam, for the guidance in the pool.

 

David crosses finish line

Crossing the finish line at St. Andrews New Brunswick Half Ironman

Glug! – Plunging in at the deep end

Have you ever hastily committed to something, caught up in the excitement of a great vision or goal, and then realized you have neither the skills nor the time to do it?

My brother, an experienced triathlete, asked if I’d like to join him and friends for a Half ironman in July. Over the last 5 years I had been gradually getting fitter, losing 100 lbs and taking on cycling and running challenges. I loved the idea! I could see myself drinking a beer, celebrating a great event.  My wife and kids loved the idea too and within a moment I parted with a big entrance fee and made travel plans.

Oh S**t what have I done!

“I can’t swim, I’m over 50, I go into panic when my head goes under water, I swallow water like it’s Guinness, I can’t swim half the length of a pool, and the thought of open murky water terrifies me.”

The sobering thoughts hit me like a bolt of lightning and I went into a grieving process.

  • Denial – Surely I can’t have been stupid enough to sign up. Tell me this is a bad dream. I didn’t really sign up for a triathlon with open water swim–that’s not me.
  • Anger – How could I be this stupid? What possessed me? I have set myself up for failure!
  • Bargaining – Can I switch to a relay? Can someone else do the swim leg? Can I use water wings?
  • Depression – I am going to let everyone down and never challenge myself again.
  • Acceptance – Do the best. It’s going to be an experience and I’ll learn something in the process.

5 P’s of success

I use to be a heavy, unfit guy a few years ago. Slowly but surely I became fitter by challenging myself to do more. I conquered the Manitou incline, my first 5k and my first hike up Pikes Peak to name just a few. July’s half ironman was my biggest challenge yet but I persevered by focusing on these 5 P’s of success:

  • Perspective – Who is going to die if you don’t do the swim? – Are there rescue boats that can help you if you get in trouble?
  • Plan – How are you going to learn to swim? Join the “Y” and my friend can teach you the basics
  • Persistence – Just do it, get yourself in the pool 2-3 times a week. Turning up is half the battle
  • Practice – Even if you can only swim half a length, swim it multiple times, just practice!
  • Patience – Be grateful for small steps.  Don’t be critical and compare against expectations or others. You are unique

Of course, I continued to build strength, endurance and flexibility out of the pool; swimming skills needs arm, shoulder and leg strength. Without a regular sanity check against these principles, set backs are out of context.

Getting it done.

I read books, watched videos and spoke with people in the hope of getting that miraculous secret to overcoming my water fears. Every week I hoped that it would all come together like switching on a light. It didn’t happen, my progress was slow, and was more like a very slow unveiling until my first lake swim just a month before my big event.

To say I didn’t feel confident for the swim would be an understatement. Come the day of the race I was still unsure if I could complete the 1.2 mile swim. Family and friends were rooting for me.  I was very slow, the rescue team were eyeing some action! I kept to the plan to finish within the cut off time, not to race the others. I remained persistent and patient and remembered to enjoy the moment as I passed each buoy.  I was one of the last out of the water but I had such a sense of relief that I smiled all the way through the bike and run and finished the triathlon in the rain nearly an hour before the cut off.

Glutton for punishment and gambling addiction

What a huge emotional high! To complete something extreme that I could never have dreamed a few years ago. My brother asked if I’d do the Boulder half Iron next year, I signed up and am happy to say I haven’t gone through the dread of last year (yet). I hope to be more confident and prepared. People ask if I would like to do a full ironman, I would like to try one in a couple of years if someone will do it with me!

Lessons learned

  • Fear is an incredible force – Accepting that trying as hard as you can is reward enough can be hard to come to terms with. While this gamble turned out well this time, the more I push for bigger goals, the more inevitable setbacks will be. Reminding myself that when those occur, it’s okay, the experience of trying and learning is part of the adventure.
  • The power of the mind can be greater than the body – Patiently balancing training of both is crucial.
  • Getting the help of a professional trainer – One willing to take the time to look at the complete picture and help figure a way forward for both mind and muscle is imperative
  • It’s very hard to do anything big on your own, being with friends and family on the journey. Celebrating, commiserating and putting things in perspective makes such a difference.
  • Having a goal can be fun – Like looking forward to a vacation, having an event on the calendar can be great for keeping the spirits high and adding some spice to life.
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