I don’t love every swim.
Yesterday, my swim felt terrible. I was mentally absent. Physically uncomfortable, or maybe just tired.
Every stroke felt like a chore and I dragged my body through the water like a leaden lump, none of that glide I’ve come to cherish in my swimming.
I beat myself up as I swam. “What is wrong with you? Come on! Snap out of it!”
And of course, as we all know, that is absolutely not useful in any way.
I considered getting out. Bagging it. Taking a “rest day” and owning that maybe, it just wasn’t going to happen.
But I didn’t. I stuck it out.
What I’ve learned is that those swims where I’m just not “feeling it” are sometimes my most important ones.
When I am doing a distance swim, I will go through any amount of hating it, regretting it, loving it, cursing myself, thinking I made the best decision ever in the history of the world, and the worst.
I love my sport. I crave the water. I dream about it. And there is something about that first moment of slipping into the water the instantly calms me.
Except when it doesn’t.
When I am training and the swim feels that way, awkward, hard, unpleasant, I think about how it forces me to think it through, to PUSH through, so when those moments happen in a race, I have the ability to do so. I’ve trained myself to.
I’ve been thinking lately about the resemblance this has to when new swimmers come to learn from me and their tendency to stop when a stroke isn’t “perfect”.
Often, I watch them stop as soon as they think they’ve done something “wrong,” an impulse that can prevent them from continuing long enough to get that feeling of gliding through the water, letting themselves truly BE in the water rather than just be in the water.
Every stroke I take might have something “wrong” with it, but I have to let that go in order to truly feel my swimming. When my clients stop after a stroke or two because they think they’ve done something incorrectly, or they worry that it’s not right, or they just feel funny, I tell them to try again and think to themselves “Just one more stroke. Just one more stroke.” (It doesn’t mean I don’t think about technique. I do. All the time. And it’s a meditation for me to do so.)
I think about that stopping tendency in my new students when I push through on those less than stellar swim days.
When I am considering stopping, I do a bit of a mental cost-benefit analysis.
What will I gain from not stopping? What will I feel when I get out of the pool? Will I be glad I have done it? Will I regret getting out if I do? How far can I go and will I know that if I stop now?
Sometimes, the balance shifts in favor of getting out, and I have to listen to my body and own that. And that’s okay.
But more often, my analysis tells me that I want to stay in. That to do so will make me more able to stay in another time. That when I am doing a long swim sometime over the summer, the mental strength will be more than a nice addition. It will be essential for my success.
With my students, I want them to try to push past that point of instinctively stopping. Let themselves go and just swim.
Sometimes, this requires distracting them, or setting a goal for them. “I want you to swim to the first yellow ring and don’t stop until you get there.”
Sometimes, I ask them to tread when they feel like stopping. Instead of grabbing for the wall, I want them to tread to give themselves a break and then try again.
And it works. They are able to let go a little more, to swim more freely, and learn that they can, indeed, push through that moment and swim.