― Winston Churchill
Hell is exactly what John's last challenge was, well at least it was for me, swimming 20k off of 2 minutes = 7 hours total in the 50 meter pool at Surrey Sports Park. This challenge was to prove both physically and mentally tough on everyone. Mental discipline, in my opinion, is what ultimately got him through it. It is what makes good athletes great, and makes people achieve in life more then they are physically capable of...or its just stupidity....actually maybe its a bit of both!
This challenge was number 4 out of 7, once again all in aid of the charity Bloodwise. We started at 11 am on Saturday and finished at 6pm the same day. Dan, a fellow triathlete who is 19 and myself who is also a triathlete and a young 51 (I am pointing out ages because it becomes relevant later on) all started off together sadly feeling rubbish for the first 1500m. Sluggish and tired we tried to maintain focus and happy thoughts. John lead from the beginning to get himself into a pace which he felt comfy with then it was Dan and then it was me.
I had it in my head I would only swim 4 sets of 2k with a break each time. I certainly knew I couldn't do the whole 20k but I wanted to try and manage 8k, 1k more then last time. After the first set of laps a new group of people got in with John and I got out. It was now someones else's turn to swim with the fish.
Everyone took turns at the front as it broke up some of the boredom and gave John a bit of a break which at this point he was ready for. Swimming on someones feet is slightly easier then solo although it certainly didn't feel like it at the time.
I could tell after I got back in around 6k that both John and Dan were chatting less and starting to eat some of the melted chocolate that was poolside. Several of the RG Active coaches Phil, Emma and Krista had been doing time in the water with him but were happy to get out after 4k....normal people! Now it was just the 3 of us again and the mental toughness was beginning to come out.
Obviously I was fresher then the boys but still not being swim fit for over 750m I too was beginning to feel it in my shoulders and back. It was like a dull pain that with each arm revolution just got worse. I was even struggling to lift my arms up to my mouth to try and eat some of that chocolate. For all of us it was about swimming through the physical pain but mainly trying to cope with the mental side of this mammoth task. This is when all of our heads were telling us to stop because it was seriously hurting and we still had 4 hours left to swim!
We got to that dark place during the swim physically and mentally. John and I have competed in many endurance races before, we both know what it is to try and stay focused and we both know when it hurts to try and keep digging. At this point of this torcherous challenge our experience with mental toughness was helping us to get through the day and stay in the water...but for Dan it wasn't the same.
At 19 Dan is a regular on the podium and an amazing athlete all round. However he doesn't have the years of learning how to deal with the hurt mentally. It is life experiences just like this one that develops mental toughness for an athlete and can guide them through how to conquer the quitting barrier. After swimming as much as he physically could Dan got out at 15k took a break, ate something and re-grouped. He got back in at the end to finish off his swim with an amazing 16k in total. As I have always said failure is the best way to success! (that is another blog)
I decided to stay in and try to get a photo of my Garmin showing 10k for Twitter, but once that happened Carole, who had been manually counting laps, said I had swum at least 12k. Bloody technology I swam more then I needed to!! UGH!!! I probably would have got out at 10k but when I realised the challenge was almost over, just an hour and a half more, I dug mentally a bit more (dark place) and stayed in to see if I could finish it...and I did! Ouch!!!
Our next challenge was how to get out of the pool?? I honestly didn't think I could even pull myself up on the ladder forget about jumping on the side. Anything at that point which involved my arms was going to be difficult.
But he did it...and we did some of it!! Challenge number 4 down with 3 more left!
Thank you to everyone who came to support and graciously gave up your Sunday to see us all suffer. We may not have seemed it at the time but having you all there really motivated and helped to keep us going!
Write soon... when I get more strength back in my arms!