You finish something that you didn't think you could finish. It takes a little while for it all to sink in. You have moments of sheer joy, relief and longing for the challenge, the simplicity of the adventure and the feeling that every day was a day where you learnt something new. Tears of relief, the disbelief of surviving certain situations and the laughter as you relive moments that required experiencing for them to be amusing to others.
The thing is, what do you do next?
You've done one run, or cycle. You went bigger, made it harder but you realise that it was a run or a cycle again. Is it really a challenge to just go further or faster? How are you exploring anything other than the results of a new training plan?
I asked myself these questions, along with a whole load of others as I ran through Spain, knowing that it was just a few weeks before I was finished and on my way back home. That's when an old friend got in touch. He didnt make a big entrance. Just slowly made it's presence clear and gave me a big welcoming hug. The fear of the unknown, "The what will happen next?" monster wasn't a monster anymore. Defanged it was just an old familiar friend who gave me the counter point I needed to push a little harder. So this is where this starts...
Years ago, when I was less than 10yrs old, I swam. I loved to sit at the bottom of deep water, relaxed and at home. At some point, a tiny black dot of fear grew into something bigger. Not just a fear of the water, but a fear or reluctance to get my body out in public. Even weaing a tight top would cause the same reluctance to be in public. Each time I acknowledged it and did as it bid, I gave it strength and then, before I knew it nearly 30yrs had passed since I got into any water for anything other than a wash. This made the river crossing of Europe something more than just the annoyance of wet gear and feet. I silently walked the tight rope of panic, just keeping things undercontrol because I knew panic would lead to potential disaster. So I decieded that there was an aspect of my stupidity that I needed to cultivate...
It was time to embrace that fear of deep water, the awkardness of wearing a wetsuit or a pair of swimming trunks and swim. The first step was a social dip. I walked it an open water swim, but in reality it was a 1m mildly paniced dip at the edge of some open water with a group that call themselves the Googleybears. I left feeling like I chickened out. Is my will power really so week that I didnt swim out, I couldnt relax and a simple paddle was all I could muster?
The next step was a public pool. I need to be comfortable in the water. I need to be able to swim relaxed as I used to as a child and so I set the day. Wednesday, at opening time for the pool. I faffed like a champion moving the entrance to the swimming baths from 7:30 to 8:30. I followed this with a smooth "I need a coffee" maneuver and sat in the swimming baths, looking at the group of people (no more than 6 people) swimming back and forth along the 3 lanes. Coffee finished, receipt for a swim already in my pocket I wander in.
"You'll have to train in your wetsuit" I got told and that was a good thing in my mind. Avoiding getting the old body out was a positive. Turns out you feel more of a nanna if you walk into a swimming baths fully clad in your nice shiny new wetsuit. Then you realise you forgot your goggles and do an awkard walk back to the lockers, only to return trying to workout how to adjust them. Goggles on and more faff at the pool side delay the first dip even further.
I go in. The stealy eyed glares of the life guards feels like a set of stiff fingers jabbing me in the ribs until I'm in. I sit in the water, not swimming and just trying to get a bit more comfortable. There is no panic attack, but then I can see into the water and it's no deeper than my waist. Next step...
A slow and uncordianted front crawl, head held defiantly above the water line. Lap two and it's time to dunk your face in. Arms extend ahead of me and I put my face in the water. The reasonably realxed breathign quickly become a paniced set of short gasps for air, a tiny bit of water causes me to cough and splutter as I reach the deep end.
"What the hell was that?"
I didnt expect to have that reaction and the next plan is to just breath at the shallwo end, rhythmicly raising my head to breath in and frcing my face under the water, breathing out and trying to do this relaxed and as one long and steady breath. The same responce follows each breath until I learn to relax. Brain finaly lifts it's hairy little finger off the panic button. Now to link it with swimming. "The secret is breathing" was everyone's catchphrase once they found out I was gonna start swimming again. Genius!
Luckily I watched a few open water technique clips and heard the full version of the clip.
"The secret is to breath relaxed and let your breathing dictate your swimming"
Now that made sense to me so the front crawl rhythm mathced the rhtyhm of air rushing in and air being breathed out. The front crawl was reaplced on short sections with a jolting freestyle stroke. I imagined the life guards poised to dive in as my stroke looked more like the death throws of a beeched whale, but they didn't and I just kept moving back and forth. The stroke got smoother and I started to relax, with occaisional glitches in coordination causing the odd splutter and cough as I began to learn the most important lesson of the day...
You cant breath under the water.
Odd thing is I talked myself out of my grand swim master plan a day or so before I talked myself out of it because I fell into the olf habit of doing fears bidding. It sat on my shoulder and said "Listen to all the warning of danger. Listen and be scared. Change the challenge and make it easier. You can't fail if it is easier" I left the pool two and a half hours later, having swam for nearly two hours of that time. I felt the same relaxed sense of self that I do when I finish a long run and suddenly, the stupid seemed less stupid. If I fail then so be it. I'll learn from the failure and while I keep moving towards the start date of #ProjectBigSwim, I can seriously cultivate my stupidity and take on this open water swimming and stop being scared of the invisible, non existant water beasts. Fear is my friend and its words are a taunt to get me out of that all too familiar comfort zone.