Self-Doubt and Transformations
Disclaimer: This is a LOT longer than I thought it would be and caution is advised. Please don't try to read this on the way to work on your iPhone while driving. There IS a point to all of this.
With any major undertaking, new goal, or life change often comes the dreaded self-doubt. Self-doubt is the thought that introduces hesitation and reluctance that can be realized in physical symptoms such as that lump in your throat, skip in your heartbeat, or sweaty palms when you are trying something new, or different from what you are comfortable with. Self-doubt is the inner voice questioning your actions and, though it can be good and self regulating at times, Self-doubt, left unchecked, can consume your entire focus and destroy any positive results or chances of success. In short, self-doubt can become your biggest obstacle to achieving any goal.
So, why do I bring this up?
As I mentioned, I am just 65 days (who's counting right?) away from participating in an event that I considered, up until 2 weeks ago, insurmountable. I know I can bike the distance ( 56 miles ) and complete the run ( 13.1 miles ), and heck, I have even proven to myself that I can do a long term endurance event ( 4+ hours ) by completing my first marathon and a Spartan Beast.
So why did I (being postive here - its "did" not "do" ) feel it was impossible for me, and what are my fears? The swim. Plain and simple. The thought of actually swimming for 1.2 miles in a competitive environment with hundreds of people in open water just seems improbable to me. The self-doubt when thinking of a swim has limited me to the point where, though I wanted to, I wouldn't think of trying any triathlon with greater swim distances than 600m, or about 1/3 of a mile. This completely eliminated any hopes or goals for competing in longer sprint tri's (Appleman or Duxbury, for example ), or moving on to an Olympic distance, or should I say it here, Half distance triathlons.
So, what was the genesis of this self-doubt and how has it perpetuated itself. I think like most things, it starts with your fears that you develop in childhood. I was never afraid of the water or anything like that ( heck, we had a pool for most of my years growing up ), but I never had to learn to swim for any reason. We had an above ground pool, so if I was tired, I just stood up or grabbed a float. I remember taking, and not being successful at, lessons and the only take away was a water polo type free style ( head way out of the water flopping back and forth ) and, yes, the doggie paddle. Both effective for umm..let's say..not drowning, but not for actual distance. Whenever, I would swim in in ground pools, I would find myself frantically trying to get to a side or wall or something to hold on to so I wouldn't sink. Reinforcement of this self-doubt was constant over the course of my life, such as having an inability to swim long distances, or to be afraid to swim out to that raft in the middle of the lake.
The moment that my self-doubt about my ability to swim was permanently ingrained in my soul occurred in a simple workout session for crew in college. It was winter and we were heavy into building our base through a myriad of training exercises ( rowing on ergs, running stairs, endless intervals of something ) and our coach decided we should try swimming for a workout. Thinking that I was in shape, and not wanting to be viewed as "weak", I jumped into swim races with my teammates. The workout was simply races of increasing length with the first race being one length, and every other race increasing from there. I don't recall how long it took, or how many lengths I did, but I do remember hitting a "wall" like none other that I have experienced in my entire life.
[Brief Commercial Break: Eric Gelber, Ultra-Marathoner and member of the MMRF Power Team writes about the "wall" here ]
Devoid of all strength and mental capacity, I literally stopped halfway in the middle of the pool, grabbed a lane divider for dear life, and stayed there. I couldn't move. I didn't want to move. I couldn't rationalize, or think, or breath, or do anything. I don't recall exactly, but I think I had to have a couple of guys help drag me out of the pool. That moment has been permanently stamped in my memory.
So fast forward 20 years later to late 2010. Jeanie had just underwent her stem cell transplant and I had wanted her to "look forward" to something that she enjoyed and would focus on in her recovery, so I signed us up for what would be her second, and my first, sprint triathlon - the Sudbury Spring Sprint Triathlon - 400m swim (in a pool), 7 mile bike, and 2.3 mile run. Jeanie had completed one earlier in 2010 before diagnosis with Beth, and it was a huge achievement for her. I wanted it to be a celebration and incentive for her recovery, and I would do it with her! Great idea, except, yup you got it..the swim.
For 3 months prior to the race, I tried to put aside self-doubt and took swim lessons almost every Sunday night with a great coach, Carol(I have a lot of great things to say about her in upcoming blogs). While Beth ( completing the Patriot Aquabike with me) swam with the masters, myself and Jay (Beth's husband), had the cordoned-off special lane and lots of Carol's attention to help learn how to swim properly. Carol was incredibly patient and stubborn for never giving up on me. Needless to say, as bad of a student as I was, she was able to teach me enough to swim 400m with a mixture of free style and a backstroke to help me catch my breath. I was not going to miss this event with Jeanie and fortunately, I was able to complete the Sudbury Sprint and then I went on to complete another shorter pool swim distance triathlon. It wasn't pretty..in fact, I'm sure to those watching, it was probably painful.
[Another Brief Commercial Break: Comments and a Picture from Jeanie's blog on her one year anniversary of finding out she had MM and shortly after the Sudbury Sprint Triathlon in 2011
I no longer see my cancer as a death sentence. It has truly changed the course of my life and of those close to me. Yes cancer sucks! The stem cell transplant sucked! Chemo sucked! Being bald sucked! But you know what, I came out the other end stronger and better. Cancer is no longer holding me hostage. Yes it is true, it may come back. I may get real sick again. And it may get harder and harder to fight it. But I will be strong and both physically and mentally with my gloves on ready to give the fight of my life ready to dominate!
Getting back to it, I was actually enjoying the multi-sport challenge that the triathlons offerred and I was trying to remove more self-doubt about the swim, so I hesitantly signed up for the Nashua Y-Tri which had a..gulp..600m open water swim, which would be a first for me. I figured if I signed up, I would force myself to at least try to conquer the swim (and somehow it woud magically happen right? ). Well, once again, self-doubt, consumed me in every thought process - the training, the walk through of the course ( the buoys looked soooo far away), and the event itself. Sure, enough, on race day, my self-doubt carried through. I finished the swim - if it can be called that - in a time that was 269th out of 289 participants in the swim segment(really, I'm not kidding - see below) .
It was a mixture of free style, back stroke, and some modification of a breast stroke with a funky kick. Thankfully, I had a wetsuit ( yes, a much needed personal flotation device if you've ever worn one). In fact, I had one lifeguard following me around in a kayak, and I had to constantly tell them that "really, I was OK", and "no, don't pass me that noodle, I will make it". I took so long to finish that my family was actually cheering for the wrong person, and began to worry when they didn't see me.
The swim had drained me of energy, filled me with negativity, and set the tone for the remainder of the race, and my future desire to do triathlons. Self-doubt had robbed me of an opportunity for success and satisfaction.
That was my last triathlon and also they last hope I had of ever doing another one with an open water swim. Self-doubt had robbed me of an opportunity for success and satisfaction.
OK, so now you wondering if I wasted your time and if I actually have a point to all this. I have first told you I was going to do a half distance triathlon which has a 1.2 mile swim, and have just now built up affirmations that it is crazy to think I can complete it. I do have a point, but go refill your coffee (or beer) first and I can move you closer to it.
So what has changed and why am I still doing this.
Four things.. Jeanie, the marathon, something Carol proved to me, and an amazing event(for me) that occurred two weeks ago.
"Hold on!" you say, "You were just telling me your whole life story and how self-doubt killed your ability to swim, and now you want to randomly introduce a marathon and some mystery comment and event! I want a refund of my time!!!! "
Let me explain...in my next blog.