As I glided the length of the pool, I counted my laps. With each breathe, I reminded myself which lap I was on. After my warmup, my workout started with a 400-yard time trial. Go out as hard as I can. That was the plan. Only I didn’t feel very much like going hard. Still, I put my face in the water and pushed off the wall. My mind wandered. I brought it back to my stroke. Keep my arms wide. Pull through. Glide. Keep my head low in the water. Turn it on for Lap No. 8. I hit the wall, looked at my watch and my heart sank.
That? Was not a good time. I had gone faster in a 400 last week for crying out loud. This wasn’t even close to what I’m capable of. What the heck is happening here?
I took a moment to catch my breath. See, the workout wasn’t over. I still had to pound out eight 50-yard sprints in a ridiculously fast time followed by my 300-yard cool down. I pushed off the wall for my first 50 and counted my strokes. On my return, my time was decent. OK. But I still has thoughts of that failed 400 in my mind, the frustration starting to tear up in my eyes. What went wrong on that 400? Did I just not work hard enough? Am I not getting a push off the wall? What’s my excuse? With the rest interval up I pushed off again for my second 50-yard sprint. One second slower. My eyes started to tear up again.
And here is where I made a decision.
I could wallow in my 400 time. I could be frustrated and afraid and fill my head with plenty of self-doubt. I have Gremlins who live in my brain with advanced degrees in self-doubt. Or, I could forget the 400. It’s over with. Done. I will never get to do that 400 again. I could regret it and wallow. Or I could focus on what was in front of me — my next 50. I chose to focus on the 50. I pushed off the wall, counted my strokes and returned a second faster.
Halfway through my 50-yard intervals, I switched from counting strokes to repeating the mantra strong, smooth. I worked each length of the pool thinking “strong, smooth” and found I could pick up my pace. Another second faster. By the time I got to the final interval, I turned in my fastest 50. Ever.
The moral of the story isn’t that I torched my final 50-yard sprint. It’s that I rallied instead of wallowed. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of a good wallow. It can truly be a valuable asset in the arsenal of emotional health. But I believe it should be used sparingly. In this instance I eschewed the wallow to focus on what was available to me in that moment. I had the opportunity to forget that 400 and focus on the 50s. I didn’t let the Gremlins divert me from my real purpose in the pool — to swim, to push myself and to have fun.
As I got out of the pool I recalled it was only a few years ago when I couldn’t make it one length without flipping over on my back and floating. I remember being in tears in the locker room after failing to swim one length let alone one lap. Now, I’m pounding out 50-yard repeats like it’s nothing. Forget about how fast I may or may not be. This is not about speed. Not for me. This is about accepting challenges and confronting my Gremlins. And each time I do that, I move a little bit forward. I embrace my life a little bit more. And incrementally, almost without being noticed, there is less and less I can not do. This is about showing up as my best self, without judging myself and without regard for what happened in the past. This is so much bigger than my time for a 400-yard time trial.