Like most people I lead a rather uneventful life. I work hard at both of my jobs each day. I love going to the movies and spending time with my family and friends. For the most part, I am perfectly content with my rather ordinary simple life. However, every once in a while I like to really challenge myself and do something that pushes me harder than I think I can be pushed. Such an opportunity comes to me each August with the annual Deer Creek Open Water Marathon Swim. I recently finished my 6th entry in the race (my 13th total open water race) and it was a tremendous experience.
I must admit I struggled with the decision to enter the race this year. Swimming a mile in open water is really hard and the prospect of doing it both terrifies and excites me (which is probably a good sign I should do it!). Unfortunately, I wasn’t very prepared this year as my podcasting and other responsibilities have made getting to open water very difficult. My stomach was in knots thinking about the race, and I didn’t know if I could do it. However, I didn’t participate in 2018 and I regretted it. So a week before the race I submitted my entry and hoped for the best (I had anxiety about it the whole week before but again that’s probably a reason to do it than not).
On August 10th the day of the race came. My friend Lisa agreed to be my support kayaker and the 2 of us set off in the 77 degree water on a beautiful summer day. My goal was to divide the race up into 100 stroke blocks, swimming both freestyle and breaststroke. This worked pretty well but freestyle proved difficult with the sun right in my eyes going up, so I kept getting off track. Breaststroke is slower, but I could more easily see the goal of the 1/2 mile turnaround buoy.
It’s such a weird thing when you are swimming because it feels like you aren’t making any progress. I like to say it feels like I am on a swim treadmill. (It’s even worse in the Great Salt Lake where there is nothing to look at or sight but everything is worse in that lake!). Mentally it can be really hard to stay motivated because it feels like you are never going to reach that goal (but again that’s what makes it such a great experience). Physically it’s a difficult event but the mental toughness required is equally essential and daunting at times.
When I reached half way point I wondered if I could do it this time. I knew my time was very slow and my legs were starting to cramp up a little bit. My worry was it would break out into a full on cramp and it would be difficult to finish. Mustering all of my strength, I tried to use my arms as much as possible in my strokes and keep my legs relaxed. I also had some asthma problems, which caused me to cough and made the breathing harder but the cramping was the main challenge. Could I finish? Was it too hard?
Fortunately I am not a quitter. I think I would rather drown than outright quit! So the goal was not to have a great finish time or to wow anyone with my tremendous swimming. I just wanted to finish, which meant stretching my arms as far as I could for one more stroke and then another. Like Dory in Finding Nemo says ‘just keep swimming’ and moving forward. Towards the end it became even tougher because there was more boat traffic and boat waves are difficult because they are big and rolling in a way that’s hard to swim against. However, I just kept counting strokes pushing forward: 1, 2, 3, to 25, 50, 100 until finally the finish line is in site.
Even with the finish line in sight, my mind plays tricks on me and it seems like an insurmountable distance to cross but I found the strength somehow. I tell you when I hit that buoy and got my finishing medal I felt so alive! I did it! I finished the race!
I’m not saying my story is the perfect inspirational tale. I was not prepared so many of the challenges were of my own doing. Nevertheless, I did something hard, something that terrified me, and I finished! In life, we all face hard things where it seems we are never going to finish. It might be a difficult situation at work, a health scare, or any number of tough times. Indeed, life can often feel like we are swimming on a treadmill, making no progress towards our goals.
So what’s the key in finishing the race? We just keep going and never give up. We feel the cramping coming and we adjust. We shake it out and put one arm in front of another pushing forward. I promise that once you have that medal around your neck it will all be worth it. When you finish that goal you set out to achieve it will be one of the sweetest days of your life. Don’t give up and your life will be rich and full of purpose! This is the great lesson I take away from my race, and I’ll have it in my pocket to help me through all the tough times to come. Before I know it next year will be here, and I’ll be in the water (hopefully better prepared) wondering if I can make it all over again. One stroke at a time.
Have you ever done a competitive race? How do you stay motivated? We’d love to hear your experiences in the comments section. Thanks!