This summer has been a fantastic one for me personally, full of challenges and interesting changes, as well as some relaxation and travel.
The highlight has been a swimming challenge which took place over the bank holiday weekend – a 1 mile swim in Loch Lomond, Scotland. I have to say that this challenge sounded much more inviting when I agreed to take part with my friend, sitting in a cosy local pub, drink in hand, on a cold January evening. August was a long way off!
I enjoy swimming and have always swum for pleasure, but I soon realised that I would need to invest some serious time to training and preparation if I was to go the distance. So, I upped my sessions at the local pool (University of Hertfordshire pool, great facility by the way) and pushed myself to do more and more lengths until I was able to swim a mile in a reasonable time. I was rather pleased with myself and thought I was in a comfortable position to take it to the next level… open water.
Well, this was whole other kettle of fish (literally). My first forays into the world of wetsuits were disastrous. I went with a friend to a boating lake, hired a wetsuit and clambered into the water. What became immediately apparent were the physical effects of the wetsuit and the mental effects of the whole experience. The wetsuit felt as though it was strangling me, the cold water cause me to gasp short struggling breaths, the panic of being out of my depth in weedy, muddy water started to take hold. I bobbled about for a bit, decided to hire a different wetsuit next time and realised that although I could swim breaststroke beautifully in my swimming costume in the pool, this wasn’t going to work for me in a wetsuit because of the restrictions and buoyancy. I would have to learn front crawl.
Right. This was new, I’d never learned to swim front crawl properly and here I was, six weeks before the event, finding myself in a position where I had no alternative if I wanted to complete the challenge successfully. I am fortunate enough to know a few people who are expert swimmers in open water so I went to two of them for advice. I also met with one at the pool for a tutorial. Great, so now I had the basics – time for some hard graft and practise. But I was reluctant, out of my comfort zone, scared of making a fool of myself, more scared of drowning!
This had been an interesting journey, and at times I doubted that I would be able to complete the swim, but I was determined to give it my best shot and was constantly looking for ways forward. I have to say this was hard, although made a lot easier by having the support and company of my friend to guide me through. After lots of tweaks (addition of nose clip, finding the perfect wetsuit, taking nutritional advice, learning techniques on overcoming panic and cold water shock) I was ready for Scotland. I was confident, fit and ready to go.
The moment I was in the water I was excited and energised, we had done our acclimatisation, warmed up and stretched and we were off! They had warned us about the wind picking up and so I was prepared for the first half (outbound) of the mile course to be tough, and it was. It became nearly impossible to crawl so I reverted to breaststroke and I found myself swimming at an angle just to maintain a straight line. Then I rounded the end buoy to go across the course for the return leg. Front crawl time now I wasn’t swimming into the wind and through the waves it created. Head down, off we go. Head up – I’m facing the wrong way. The current had pushed me round. So I get back on course and head-up crawl to the half-way point and round the corner for the inbound half. Easier, but still hard to sight myself to the next buoy and maintain the right line, so now comes a strange hybrid of strokes (front and back) to get me to the finish.
And what a feeling! Climbing out of the water at the end of the event, having done what I set out to do 9 months previously felt truly amazing. I was on a high for the next week. We ate, drank, talked about out the challenge and celebrated with our husbands over the next few days. We have raised a lot of money for our chosen charities which was always an added incentive to not give up.
And what, you might ask, has this all to do with coaching? Well, it seems to me that the whole swim, and preparation for the swim, is a useful metaphor for any challenge or goal that we might undertake…
Get out of your comfort zone – set a challenging goal Work out some small but achievable steps Recognise what is going well – keep doing that Recognise what needs to change – change it Ask an expert Don’t give up – keep working Help others along your journey Celebrate your success – celebrate with people who truly love you
And the final message? Feel the fear and do it anyway, you never know what you can achieve until you try, I certainly didn’t. Set your sights on success and enjoy the journey.