Just about ready to start...no idea what 4 miles is going to feel like!

Just about ready to start…no idea what 4 miles is going to feel like!

Sunday morning checklist:

– Murky water. (check)
– Water weed with octopus-like tentacles. (check)
– Rumored water moccasin sightings. (check)

“Sounds like a perfect morning for open water swimming!”

OK, that was NOT what I was thinking at that moment.

Mental reframe: “I’m doing this for charity. I’m a good swimmer. I can do this.”

This silent conversation took place sometime around May 2010 as I prepared to start training for my first big open water swim.

(For those of you who are unfamiliar with swimming, an open water swim takes place in a lake or ocean, away from the crystal clear — and clean — water of a swimming pool.)

This swim was for a charity called Colin’s Hope, whose mission is to prevent childhood drowning and promote water safety.

I was excited but nervous as I started training. I’d done a few open water swims in the past, but nothing like the 4 mile beast I was attempting to conquer.

In fact, I had never swum 4 miles.

I thought the biggest challenge of the swim would be training for the distance.

I was wrong.

The biggest challenge for me was learning how to swim in water that wasn’t crystal clear.

I HATED not being able to see exactly where I was at all times.

I realized after the first practice swims that I didn’t trust myself to move in the right direction when I couldn’t see exactly where I was going.

Open water swimming challenged me to trust myself in a new way.

Becoming a better open water swimmer helped me move forward in areas of my life where there was no clear, step-by-step path to success.

Here are the things I learned:

1. Look up every now and then to “sight” where you want to go.

It is a strange feeling to have your eyes open but not really be able to see anything under water. Not all water is as murky as the lake I started swimming in, but even in clear water, the underwater landscape doesn’t yield any hints as to where you really are.

With open water swimming, you have to look up every 5-10 strokes and “sight” your target to gain perspective on where you are in relationship .

I think working toward big goals in life can be similar…..during our daily lives we have our heads down (sometimes we may even feel like we are underwater) just trying to survive the day.

When you are working on a big life change, like pursuing a new career, there are many small steps that you will take on the way to your goal.

It’s important to “look up” and step away from our normal routine to re-focus on where we want to go and make sure our actions are taking us in that direction.

If they aren’t, you can easily change course. (See step #2.)

2. You can’t correct your course if you aren’t moving at all.

Because of my fear of swimming all over the place (except in the right direction), I stopped A LOT when I first started open water swimming. In fact I stopped so much, I spent a lot of time just treading water.

I was constantly worried I wasn’t swimming in the right direction.

Because I stopped so much, I was a lot slower in open water than I was in the pool.

I finally realized that you actually have to MOVE in some direction in order to correct your course (as needed).

So while I I initially thought I would be faster if I swam exactly on course, I reached my goal faster when I allowed my self to just swim and make adjustments as needed.

3. I had to let go of the idea that I was going to “look perfect” and “do the right thing” all the time.

I had this deluded idea when I started open water swimming that I was going to swim exactly on target all the time and avoid all of that beginner crap like swimming off course, wasting energy and looking silly.

Ummm….not so much.

Once I stopped stopping all the time, I started zig zagging all over the lake. If a GPS was tracking my course, it would have looked like a three year old’s crayon scribbles.

I eventually found a rhythm of breathing and sighting that worked for me. But if I hadn’t let go of my desire to swim exactly perfectly, I would’ve stayed so slow that I’d still be out there trying to finish my training swim.

I think the same is true in life. In order to really speed up and go in the direction of our goals, we have to be willing to take messy, imperfect action.

SO happy at the finish!

SO happy at the finish!

Becoming an open water swimmer helped me grow in several areas of my life. I learned how to move forward toward my goals, even when I couldn’t quite see where I was going. I also learned how to change course on the fly and let go of some of my self-judgements about how “perfect” I needed to look while doing it.


What hobby or new skill has helped you in another area of your life?

PS- After doing the first 4 mile swim in 2010, I got hooked on the Colin’s Hope annual Got 2 Swim event… I’m swimming again this year for my 4th time!! If you would like to help me raise money and awareness to promote water safety and prevent drowning, please click here!

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