Never before has one quote captured the totality of an experience like this one by Sanford Meisner has for me. Allow me to explain.
Fatigued, but energized. Aching, but alive. Out of breath, but exhilarated. My life has become an ever-present source of dualities thanks to my newly created triathlon training schedule. I typically train 6-7 days a week in some capacity, whether it is biking, running, swimming or weight training. As I sit here thinking about this, it continues to surprise me that this is my life. It wasn’t too long ago that my daily exercise routine consisted of walks around the office and yoga in the mornings. But, when I set myself the goal of competing in a triathlon, I knew that I wanted to be in the best shape I could possibly be.
I started training more regularly, focusing on biking and running 2-3 times a week with a weight training class to mix it up. Of course, I was leaving out a pretty essential part of the equation. It wasn’t until I realized that the triathlon was 3 months away that I absolutely couldn’t put off swimming any longer. But something was holding me back. I made every excuse I could think of.
“I don’t have goggles yet.”
“My bathing suit isn’t a sport suit, it won’t be appropriate.”
“I just dyed my hair, I don’t want the chlorine to turn it green.” (I’m ashamed to admit that I used this one)
If I wanted goggles, I could just go to the store and buy them. Bathing suit not “appropriate”? I don’t even remember the last time I owned a skimpy bathing suit – of course it was appropriate. And if I was so concerned about my hair, I’m sure it wasn’t something that a swim cap and a good clarifying shampoo couldn’t solve. So there – all my problems had solutions, and still I resisted.
On the day I finally decided to head into the water, I felt sick to my stomach. As I was getting my pool things together and changing into my bathing suit, my heart was beating a mile a minute. By the time I got to the pool, I was filled with insecurities. My bathing suit was not an athletic style suit – it was a simple black one that I bought for my vacation back in February. It was a one piece, but it’s purpose was intended for looks much more than functionality. My brain was wracked by so many questions as I got ready in the change room: Should I wear the swim cap? If I do, it’s going to look like I know what I’m doing and I clearly don’t. Will I be the only one wearing a swim cap? Are they even allowed? What about my glasses? I read on the box of my contacts “Do not wear while swimming”, so was I just supposed to swim blind? I hadn’t splurged for prescription goggles. And what about the other swimmers? Would they judge me and my poor stroke? Would the lifeguards think I was unqualified to swim? Would I hold others up because I swim so slow? Would I bump into anyone?
My inner dialogue was a diatribe of judgement and self-doubt. There were 3 or 4 other women in the change room pulling on swimsuits and my nerves really got to me. I knew there would be other people, but this seemed like a lot. A big part of me wanted to put my clothes back on and run for my car. An even bigger part of me, however, knew that if I didn’t get into the pool today, I never would. I swapped out my glasses for goggles, grabbed my towel and headed to the pool deck. I felt comforted in the fact that the world around me was blurry and non-descript; even though others could see me just fine, at least I wouldn’t be able to see them. I found the lifeguard on duty and casually said, “I’ve never swam here before. How does this work?” She then described the difference between the slow, medium and fast lanes and suggested I start in the medium as it was the full length of the pool. Acting like I knew what I was doing, I climbed down the stairs and into the pool and headed to the lane. Of course, the day and time I chose was a busy one. There were about 6 people already in the lane and they seemed to have an understanding of how this worked. I stood at the end of the lane and let the others pass me, while I pretended to fiddle with my goggles, which were working just fine, but bought me a few extra minutes to psych myself up. Then, when the way was clear, I went for it.
Panic ensued as I put my face in the water. I forgot everything I read about how to breathe while swimming and felt certain in that moment that the triathlon would never happen. I got to the end of the lane and regrouped. I started encouraging myself to go just one more lap, to take it easy, remember to breathe, there’s no rush. Then, something miraculous happened.
That first day in the pool presented me with my biggest challenge yet, and it had nothing to do with my ability to swim. As I’ve been preparing for this triathlon, I have been so consumed with learning how to prepare my body – what kind of stretches to do, improving my form and how to nourish my body with the right kinds of foods – but I had completely overlooked the need to work on my mental game. That day in the pool, my self-talk was critical and damaging. If I had let it get the better of me, I would have probably abandoned my commitment to this triathlon, convinced myself that I was in way over my head and walked away. And believe me, that thought crossed my mind several times. But there was something in me that was much stronger than my self-defeat – my determination to prove to myself that I could do this.
Since that day, each time I set foot in the pool, or climb on the bike or lace up my running shoes, I am preparing myself for some serious motivational self-talk. I repeat motivational phrases to myself over and over again. I focus on my breath. I visualize myself crossing the finish line, sweaty and exhausted, but so incredibly proud of myself. I imagine how it will feel to have completed something that seemed impossible just a few months earlier.
The task at first was to train for a triathlon: be able to run the whole distance without stopping to walk, learn how to swim longer distances and improve my strength and stamina on the bike. What was hindering my task was my inner dialogue – negative self-talk, self-doubt and defeatist attitudes. “That which hinders the task is the task”. It was never about the physical challenge; it was always about the mental game. The hardest part of any task isn’t always what you think it might be. For me, it was about getting my body ready or learning which foods to eat before and after a workout or even the appropriate technique for each sport. That which gets in your way, holds you back or causes resistance just may be the task you need to focus on. In any endeavor, the task is learning to support yourself with encouraging thoughts and approaching it from a place of love. Love for yourself. Love for the task.