I write this with Janice in mind, although it likely applies to nearly every endurance athlete I coach, train with, or compete against. We all start with some type of lofty goal; completing an Ironman, or cycling around Lake Michigan, or maybe trying to break some specific record (our own or someone else’s). In Janice’s case, she’s swimming across Lake Mendota, as part of the Gills for Gilda’s charity event. Lake Mendota is 6 miles across, so a swim of this magnitude is something very few of us will ever dare to confront.
Once the goal is set, the training plan is put in place, and the work begins, we usually feel a pleasing sense of determination and courage at the start of the journey. There are good training days, and there are bad training days, but inevitably, at some point in the weeks leading up to the Big Day (for me it usually happens the morning of), you suddenly find yourself anxiously wondering, “Wait…Do I actually have to go through with this?”
We all choose to participate in events for different reasons, facing different types of challenges. We do it to honor others, we do it to help raise awareness, or raise funds. We do it for the camaraderie, or the thrill of adrenaline, or to add value to our lives through achievement. But no matter what our initial motivation is, the task is never easy.
And this is exactly the point. If completing the event were easy, you wouldn’t need to train for it. If it were easy, you wouldn’t really care about it. If it were easy… would you even bother to do it?
From the casual first timer to the well-seasoned elite, we’re all out there with a goal in mind that may or may not be just out of reach. Endurance events often bring about physical discomfort, but sometimes the worst discomfort comes from the doubts and fears that swim in our minds. Suddenly you question your abilities, your motives, and you ask yourself, “Why did I ever think this was a good idea?”
But the answer is simple: the greater the potential for failure, the richer the victory when you succeed. In the end, it will be worth it.
The key to staying strong through those unpleasant moments of doubt is to anticipate them. Recognize the role that they play in your race day. Know that the uncomfortable sensations are supposed to be there, they are the pieces that will fill your day with meaning, and the reason the finish line feels so good. On event day, when the doubts begin to swell forward, greet them with “Ah ha, I’ve been expecting you,” and remember that facing yourself is exactly what you came here to do.
Gills for Gilda’s is held every June to benefit Gilda’s Club. The 2015 event took place on June 19th.
The six mile swim across Lake Mendota is completed by dedicated – if not a bit crazy – ultra swimmers who wish to make their efforts larger than just the swim – by helping those in the toughest journey of their lives – the journey with cancer. To learn more about this event or to support Gilda’s Club, please visit their fundraising page.