I swim for fitness at my local YMCA, because there’s a great coach who coaches Master Swim - which just means he’ll take you if he’s into you. I heard the coach was very good, prepared to swim 300 yards continuously to try out, and went, a bit scared. He had me swim a couple of laps, shook his head and said, “I don’t like it at all. You can come.” I guess he enjoys a challenge. That’s how I started in February 2015.
Plenty of people who swim regularly outswim me both in terms of speed and endurance. I’ve just been swimming with a coach for about 3 years, which got me hooked on the endorphins and the process of improving. Swimming with a coach is a great way to get better, because expert feedback, guidance and encouragement help you change over time and exceed your previous limits. I am so addicted that I show up at the Y pool at 5:30am three times a week to have my coach yell at me.
Lately, it’s both my coach and my new swim buddy helping me get better. Mitch, a triathlete, started coming about 4 months ago, and kept at it, getting lots of attention from the coach. When the coach watches you and gives you regular direction, you’re going to improve fast. So before long, the coach was pairing us up to do parallel workouts. He’s a super nice guy, and I enjoy working out with him. He has much greater endurance than me, and swims really fast with fins. At the moment, I’m a little faster without fins, and have smoother strokes. Sharing workouts seems to be good for both of us.
After a grueling workout two Fridays ago, Mitch gave me a pep talk. “Kori, you’re a great swimmer. When we swim (these multiple 50, 75 or 100-yard drills), your strokes mostly stay the same. Your form doesn’t fall apart, and you’re able to continue swimming smoothly. You totally look like you can pull it off. Maybe your mind is hampering you even when you’re physically capable. You can have more trust in yourself!”
I said, “WOW, thanks, Mitch. It feels really amazing to hear that from you.” His words stayed with me, and all week I’ve been thinking about what he said, the context in which he said it, and what might have compelled him to say it.
I’m always huffing and puffing on the challenging drills. Listening to the coach dictate them, I immediately start telling myself, “Oh that’s a lot, I can’t do that,” or “I’ll DIE doing that”. A couple of rotations in, I feel spent already, depleting my mental energy more quickly than my aerobic capacity and strength. By the middle of the drill, I’m feeling like I can’t go on. Yet, I usually finish the drill, resting only a few seconds longer in between than the coach specified.
One time, I petered out in the middle of an extended drill, and my coach yelled exhortations from the sidelines for me to continue. I felt so exhausted that I screamed, without a shred of artifice, “I CAN’T DO IT!” Later on, he quietly counseled me to keep going when I feel tired. Indeed, I acknowledge that feeling of exhaustion gets the better of me more quickly than it should, but I had no idea what to do about it.
I think Mitch might have been in the pool when that happened, a rare moment of open desperation where usually most swimmers are wordlessly practicing their strokes. And he’s now seen me close to quitting in the middle of drills plenty of times, panting “oh-my-gosh”, like I can’t possibly go on. He always encourages me: “We’re halfway there!” or “Just four (or two or three) more to go!”
To have a peer, a fellow swimmer working to improve himself, point out strengths that I hadn’t noticed, stopped me in my tracks. It was remarkably encouraging to hear an evidence of my continued improvement from a non-coach source. I also realized it held unexpected power to potentially help me shift perspectives where it seemed impossible before. I have the physical capacity to swim more, but the negative self-talk keeps me down. I do that really hard, sometimes to the point of screaming. If I could stop that, and focus instead on what I’m doing right, maybe I’ll swim better faster. And maybe it won’t feel like such a struggle anymore.
I’ll write about what I tried to stop the negative self-talk in my next article.