This week’s lesson: How to be brave

Reviewing the workouts he had given me for the week, I told my coach that Monday’s swim workout was going to be hard. He had assigned me 400 yard sprints — at 20 seconds faster than last week’s pace.

Um, seriously?

Yes. Seriously.

“Be brave,” he told me. “Take it out at the start. Just don’t sacrifice your form. But go ahead and be brave.”

The purpose was not so much to have me swim those specific times as it was to push me to swim all-out. Typically, I grow into a 400, beginning with a moderate effort then trying to blast through the final laps. After all, I don’t want to burn out.

But here was a different perspective. Be brave. I don’t know if anyone had ever used those words with me before. I wasn’t really sure what it meant to me, to be brave. It was, however, a good place to start the week.

After my warmup, I settled in for my 400s. With each passing lap I thought of my new mantra: Be brave. The burning sensation in my arms came early in each set. Negative thoughts fought for top billing, but each time, my mind returned to the mantra of the week: Be brave.

Did I hit my times? Well, no. But that wasn’t the point. With each sprint I exhausted myself, spent at the end of the pool searching for a way to catch my breath during the generous rest period. I gave the best effort I could. And I was happy.

The next day brought run intervals on the treadmill. Again I thought of my mantra: Be brave. What exactly am I afraid of? That I can’t do it? That it will hurt? I know from experience that I can do it and that the discomfort is only temporary. Setting the treadmill to the low end of my given speed spectrum, I focused ahead of me. Be brave.

And I did not touch the speed. I kept it at that pace for the entire length of the 1,000-meter sprint.

As the intervals progressed, I decided to be brave and bump up my speed. Each one was more difficult. Each one, however, I survived.

Be brave. What does that mean? Does it require a certain level of sacrifice, courage and risk? I believe we create definitions in our own lives. Sometimes we adopt the societal standard for definitions, other times we invent our own. The trick is to find what is meaningful for you and to live that out.

In my world, being brave means not selling myself short. I can go all out in my training and survive and thrive with it. Where else in my life can I go all out? Where else am I selling myself short? Where else can I be a little bit brave this week, even if the only person who sees that courage is me?

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