Both my sister and my husband teased me a bit after the race, just a bit of “aren’t you glad you didn’t drop out?” and “you thought you couldn’t do this!” I’m not even sure that teasing is the right word. But I was reminded that I had major, major doubts coming into this.
I had major, major doubts during the very first portion of the open water swim. In fact, the doubt was so severe it almost developed into a full blown anxiety attack. The buoys looked so far away, and I started to doubt myself really hard.
The thing is though, doubt is good when it comes to racing. My doubt that I could get through a one mile swim is what had me at the pool, swimming a mile or close to it, twice a week, from January until the week of the race. It had me standing in a freezing cold lake the first weekend it was open for swimming, dunking my head in and out of the water to force myself to shorten my breathing so that I could force myself to take deep breaths in cold water. I know plenty of people who do their first triathlon on minimal training, figuring that they can swim, and ride, and run, and so why would they need to do those things all at once? I have a friend who did his first International distance race to train for his first half-Iron distance race, and I did his only practice open water swim with him and we definitely did not swim a mile. Doubt is why it took me so long to sign up for a longer distance tri, even though it’s been on the bucket list for four years. Well, doubt, and money. But I doubted myself so much I knew I had to really push myself in training.
For a person like me, who handles that little voice inside her that says, “you can’t do this!” by saying, “just watch me.”, racing is how I conquer doubt. It’s also how I remind myself that I can do big, scary, hard life things. Finals became easier for me once I started running half marathons. One of the things I’m learning in therapy is that anxiety is not an unproductive emotion until it becomes too severe – a small amount is a good thing, it can help you be more prepared and I’m trying to channel my anxiety into going, doing, being, instead of letting my anxiety rule me and tell me that I can’t do things.
I know a lot of people who let their doubts and anxieties and issues keep them from doing awesome things. I have known several people who have dropped out of races because they didn’t think they had trained well enough for them – even if they had completed way more training than I had for the same distance. I know a lot of people who have talked themselves out of professional opportunities because they doubt they are qualified for a position or they doubt they will get an interview or the job.
The day I decided that I was going to do this race and get pulled out of the water if I really couldn’t handle the swim was the moment I stopped giving into my doubt. I did it, in fact, by giving into it. The easiest way for me to shut the voice up is to say, “I’m going to try” and recognize that failure is, in fact, possible. Because the truth is, failure is an option. But trying is a learning experience. If I had DNF’d the swim, I would have learned something about it for next time and I would have eventually done it. And I would have done the bike and the run and I would have been okay and felt okay about myself. Obviously, one should never do something one is too horribly untrained or extremely injured to attempt, but if the only reason you are scared to go forward and do something is that you haven’t done it before? Go forth. Be awesome.