It was a great day.
I can say that now, but last Saturday, doubt and fear jockeyed around in my head as I stood shivering in the chilly air (of course, a cold front had moved into the Austin area) watching the sun come up and looking out over the water I’d soon have to face. I kept repeating positive things to displace the negative thoughts that were pushing their way into my head – and I kept trying to breathe.
You see, I had signed up for an elite CrossFit competition, the Godai Elements. Everything about it was a stretch for me: the weights I would be lifting, gymnastic movements I had yet to master, doing four challenging workouts in one day…and then there was that water.
The first event was a 2-mile trail run followed immediately by a 200m swim. When this first workout was released, I almost backed out of the event then and there. Never a confident swimmer, the idea of swimming 200m in open water seemed impossible. And terrifying. But I really wanted the experience of competing in an elite-level CrossFit event, so I sought out some swim coaching from a friend and went to a local pool multiple times in the weeks leading up to the event to practice. And I got so I could swim 25m across the pool. Nowhere near 200m.
Fast forward to last Saturday morning. The trail run started and I was already shivering – and not just from the cold morning air. In spite of thick mud on several parts of the trail (people were losing shoes!), I had a great run and reached the water’s edge in good time for me. And then I stood there. People passed by me, jumping in and heading out to the white buoy that marked the turn-around point. And still I stood there.
My dear friend Connie was right by my side, throwing positive energy and encouragement my way, but my feet were rooted in the sand at the water’s edge. I didn’t even care that all these people were standing around me watching me shake, tears in my eyes, at the idea of getting in that water. I didn’t want to be beaten by this fear, but I just knew I’d sink and drown if I got out into the middle of that lake. In the end, some of Connie’s words managed to break through the fear: “Just try. You can always turn around and come back. But you’ll regret it if you don’t even try.” Then I did one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I walked into that ice-cold water and started swimming. A half dozen clumsy side strokes out, I couldn’t breathe. The nearest lifeguard on the paddleboard was 50m away. I turned back, climbed out of the water angry and disappointed with myself, and gathered up my things, not wanting to look at or talk to anyone.
As I stood wrapped in a towel trying to warm up while I rinsed thick layers of mud off my running shoes, I had to make a decision. Did I let this dictate the rest of the day? So I can’t swim well (yet!) – I had a great trail run and a full day of challenges ahead of me. I steadied my breathing and decided that this was going to be a great day. Time to put the swim behind me and get ready for the next event.
And the rest of the day WAS great! I got to compete alongside some truly inspiring competitors and friends and to test my limits over and over again. There were things I couldn’t do at all (L-sits, handstand walks), new personal records (15 pound jump in my max front squat!) and the experience of doing things that – a week prior – I had never thought myself capable of doing; 75 pound snatches, lifting a 75 pound atlas ball from the ground to my shoulder and – my personal favorite – a 55-foot, 225 pound Zercher carry (imagine lifting a barbell loaded with 225 pounds off a rack in the crook of your elbows, hugged tight to your chest and walking as far as you can with it until you have to drop it – pure strongman stuff!)
Something shifted for me between the water’s edge and that final Zercher carry at Godai. Fear is only as big as we make it. Disappointment sticks around only as long as we let it. And both can be overcome with action. Doing trumps fear. Every time.
The week following the Godai competition was amazing – it was like I finally understood deep down that my biggest barrier is ME. I always told myself I just wasn’t that strong lifting overhead – until I got nine 75 pound snatches overhead on Saturday – so Tuesday I thought “What the hell” and picked up and single-arm push pressed a 40 pound dumbbell multiple times overhead during a workout (10 pounds more than I ever had); Wednesday it was a 95 pound sumo deadlift high pull (30 pounds – yes 3-0 – heavier than I’d ever done) – and I did it 22 times; Thursday I finally jumped OVER a 20” box; and Friday, after over a year and a half of working out in the 12:15 co-ed class at CrossFit Central, I finally got “podium” – the top woman’s score for that day’s workout among all the classes (Tabata alternating push jerk and push press with 65# barbell – max total reps of 118).
It was a great week.
And one thing is certain – I will be able to swim 200m in open water by this time next year.