Facing your Fears
What would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?
The above quote rests tightly on my visor in my Xterra and in addition it's my screen saver on my phone. It's so simple, yet if you allow it, it gives you a "gut" check if you really look into all the things in life we often forgo to the little tales we tell ourselves daily. You know the ones…the voice that says, "oh, some day", or "well…I would, but I'm just too busy today". How about the "I'm too tired today" mantra, or infamously using your family as a crouch and saying, "I have to do this for little John/Jane, today, otherwise…I totally would!"…don't lie to me - I'm with you and have said it to myself as well! Well, 3 weeks ago today, I could no longer "hide" behind excuses - I accepted a challenge, a fear and I was on a plane to Santa Monica, CA to work on something I'm simply not the best at…my swim. Year after year I've dug deeper and deeper into the well of my being for great results on my bike and run, but the swim has been a second thought, a necessary evil, but nothing I put nearly enough time, energy and passion into. Why? Because, for years I was told and it was reinforced that I'm not a natural at it. Plain and simple - I'm one of those lucky people that got thrown in a pool at the ripe age of 3 and developed a sense of the water. Also, to add more turbulence to the matter, I am a perfectionist and I love being good at things right off the bat. I'm naturally very athletic, so when something doesn't come to me right away, the perfectionist side of me gets aggravated. Now - before you go ahead and think I NEVER worked on my swim, well - that is far from the truth…but I needed the RIGHT coach to work with me, and unfortunately, I had never truly found one. There were several good SWIM coaches out there…but, often times I found they were trying to put me into a "cookie cutter" process to become a better swimmer. Many didn't understand my body, tailor my swim training for a triathlete, versus a strict swimmer. And many - let's face it, think they can call themselves a "coach" when they have no business being on a pool deck barking out orders…sorry, but, there is a huge difference between being an athlete and then turning around and coaching one.
Allow me to back everything up - after performing rather poorly in the swim at the World Championships and again at IM FLorida in 2012 my coach and I decided that it was time for drastic measures. I found myself faced with my demon and there was no turning back. Giving up 15+ min on the swim in an ironman is a near impossible grave to dig yourself out of…it can be done, as I have proved in the past, but it makes for an extremely daunting experience mentally and physically. And at the World Championship level, it is unacceptable.
"Sometimes I think it's better to never ask why…funny how the heart can be deceiving, more than just a couple times...Ever worry that it might be ruined? And does it make you wanna cry? When all you're out there doing what you're doing, are you just getting by? Where there is a fire, there is gonna to be a flame, where there is a flame, someone's bound to get burned, but just because it burns doesn't mean you're gonna die, you gotta get up and try, try, try…"
Fast forward some phone calls, research, inquiries and I landed myself in the welcoming arms of Gerry Rodriguez and the wonderful athletes at the "Tower 26" swim club in Santa Monica, CA. It was time to get direction/coaching from one of the best.
"Nervous" can't even begin to describe how I was feeling my first morning. You know that feeling you get when you're afraid your alarm will fail you, when you really have no idea the lay of the land and you pray your GPS doesn't fail you? At the pool I was so afraid of getting assigned to a lane I'd struggle to keep up in…thoughts erupting in my head varied from, "will the other swimmers get irritated with me if I'm too slow…what if I hit somebody on a flip turn? What happens if I'm faster than someone? Are they going to get mad at the "new girl" tapping them on the feet?" Yeah, welcome to the heart and truth of the matter - I was the "new girl" in school, it was my first day and I was hoping everyone would like me…God, didn't I already go thru this in middle and high school? Sigh! ... Needless to say, I don't think I slept more than a couple winks that night.
I showed up to the Pacific Palisades pool where all Tower 26 workouts take place. It was a rather "chilly" morning and I had no idea we'd be swimming outside - temps where in the mid 30s and here we were jumping into the water in the dark - can life get any better than this? - (I love knowing I'm awake before the rest of the world and working harder in the first 1-2 hours of my day than most will experience all week). I was instantly put to ease when I walked up to the man I believed was in charge in the big swim parka - I was correct, it was Gerry; a handsome, dark-haired gentleman originally from Trinidad, that resembles the features you'd find in great actors that were "manly-men" - like a Gregory Peck, Andy Garcia or Rock Hutson. I was instantly welcomed with a big hug and my fear of alienation started to ebb. Without boring you to death with too many details my first practice went well and I found myself capable of handling the workout with ease…did I mention that Monday is "recovery" day at Tower 26? Good day to start…but no where near the intensity nor volume that was awaiting me in the days and weeks to come! Ignorance is bliss my friends!
Good news - I more than survived the sweet sessions that followed. I found myself taking direction from Gerry and understanding my inadequacies in the water. I learned to "look at the trees and not the forest" - basically, take each day, each session, each set, each lap - ONE AT A TIME! The first couple days Gerry had to work on me to "peal the wet blanket" (as he calls it) off my psyche. I had repeatedly been told over the years that I wasn't a swimmer. So, I believed it and resided myself to it…this took some work to remove that facade, but slowly it melted away as I kept proving myself over and over again what my biddy and mind could handle. I was churning out more yards and swimming faster sets than I ever had in my life. If someone would've told me 3 weeks ago I would be swimming 6 days a week, 9 sessions a week and building up to 40,000 yards a week, I wouldn't have believed it possible….but, Gerry took me (as an individual) and figured out what I cold handle - how intense I could be pushed…and so on…(NOTE!!! PLEASE do not think that you too must to what I did…my whole point in the part is that everybody is very specific and there are no "cookie cutter" shortcuts/workouts or plans that works for everybody!)
So, how do you peel away your demons? There are many ways - facing them is one, as stated above but also surrounding yourself with positive people is another. I believe a column was written once on me describing my bike and run combo to be one of the best in the business, but my swim was compared to a mannatee…(ouch!) I too convinced myself that "I'm just not a swimmer"…well, I'm here to tell you (and my old self) that that is bullshit! (DId that shock anyone? Sorry - but, those who really know me know I have a little "potty mouth" - mama is so proud!) Bottom line kids…you are what you tell yourself you are. If you tell yourself you're slow…guess what - you'll be slow. If you tell yourself you're fat - you're probably gonna carry yourself with your head down and decomposed. If you tell yourself you can't do that balancing pose in yoga, make that interval on the track, hit those watts on a bike, or do that set of 100s in the pool, well, damn straight - you just fulfilled your own destiny and you aren't even going to attempt it!
Last year I wrote a blog about surrounding yourself around positive energy and "firing" the energy thieves in your life. I had someone in my life that left me utterly flat every time we spoke and I've since removed this person from my inner circle. That applies to your goals as well! If you surround yourself around "go getters", "believers", ones with positive energy that also want the best for you as well - you are more likely going to go beyond what you thought was possible. It's quite simple if you think about it! I think that that is why I've got such an enduring heart for dogs…they welcome you at the door, wag at the sound of your voice and are ready to give you little kisses for no reason at all…(I must have been a dog in a previous life!)
Morale of the story - or blog - find your weakness and confront it. Don't hide behind your fears and hope and pray that they'll go away…don't pull an ostrich! You'll feel so free when you face your demons, acknowledge them and devise a plan of attack. So…go out there, grab your weapon of choice and face your fears…what have you got to lose? Oh - and pet a dog…it'll make you feel better!