“Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after the other.” — Walter Elliot
Yes, this is a lesson from today that I learned and will likely never forget.
After months of training, this morning I finally competed in and completed my first mini-triathlon. While I’ve said all along that this process has not been easy or natural for me, I found out this morning just how far beyond my comfort zone this actually is. The learning curve wasn’t so bad in some areas. Running? Not a problem. Cycling? I hadn’t been on a bike since I was a kid and I’d never used clip-in pedals, but eventually I caught on. Swimming? Yeah, that’s been a problem. A BIG problem. Not only had I not been in a pool since I was a kid, I’m a self-taught swimmer. So really, my “training sessions” in the pool for the triathlon have been “learning how to swim properly sessions.” And these “sessions” took place in my cute neighborhood kidney bean-shaped pool — not an actual lap pool. The only training session I’d had in a lap pool ended almost as quickly as it started — with me overwhelmed with tears and nursing a severe panic attack. I’m not a fan of deep water, as it turns out. But after my meltdown, I’d spent enough time in my neighborhood pool that I thought I’d be okay this morning.
Boy, was I wrong.
Two lengths into the 16-length swim, terror set in. Clinging to the wall, letting countless swimmers pass, I knew I should quit. There was absolutely no way I had 14 additional lengths in me with a panic attack this severe. I was tearing up, shaking uncontrollably, and having difficulty breathing. I scanned the pool to see where I could get out. But something weird happened. For whatever reason, I pushed off the wall and swam another length. I got to the other end of the pool, same thing: where do I get out? I’m a wreck and I don’t have 13 lengths in me. But I pushed off the wall again. Gripped by fear, each length became its own challenge. With 12 lengths to go, I told myself that it didn’t matter how long it took, I’d swim through (with) the fear – one length at a time – until I got to the end. And so it went. Slowly, I checked off each length one by one, until finally, I shakily climbed out of the pool, 16 lengths behind me. I’m 99.99% certain I posted the slowest swim time out of all of my competitors (by FAR). But somehow I had worked through one of the scariest mental challenges I’ve ever faced. I spent the next ten miles on my bike trying to figure out how in the heck I made it through that swim. I’m still not sure, to be honest. Somehow I’d persevered — one small chunk at a time. After the nightmare swim was over, I made up some time with the bike and run and even managed to pass a few people. Best of all, I crossed the finish line with a smile, to the cheers of my kids.
Finish line spectators were cheering their support, but no one could possibly know how big this actually was for me. The physical accomplishment of finishing this race wasn’t even the point. I’d just won a mental battle. A gargantuan one.
If you asked me right now, I’m pretty sure I’d say that I’ll never do this again. But I’d also tell you that this is one of the proudest accomplishments of my life.