“Fear in the mind killer…” from the novel Dune is part of the litany against fear and perfectly embodies exactly what I try to embrace every time the fear rises. There is nothing more debilitating than fear. It can kill. It can also turn us into killers. It’s the most lethal intangible force on the planet. When you’re taught as a child which insects or snakes or other creatures of nature to watch out for, often times we’re told to leave it be because it is more scared of us than we are of it. This is true. We’re massive scary monsters by comparison to whatever creatures lurk in the grass but this is also why they strike. They feel threatened. Fear turns the switch of fight or flight and while most often they will indeed flee, if they feel backed into a corner they will defend themselves. Humans are very much the same with the exception of possessing conscious thought and free will. This is where the difference lies.
We don’t always use it, but we have the ability to rationalize fear. Where does it come from? Why does it rise? Why do we allow it in so easily? And what does it affect and why? It’s possible to acknowledge it, stay in control and push it away. That power exists but too often we allow the fear to conjure our rage. That rage is reckless abandon and usually careless as hell. It can get us into serious trouble. Panic can set in and do a SHIT LOAD of damage.
This is the choice I faced last weekend. I had signed up for an event I was genuinely scared of. Now I sign up for crap all the time that intimidates me, but I know myself pretty well and I choose them based on one thing: Will this challenge me? Well yes. They all do no matter the distance. If the distance isn’t intimidating, the intensity most certainly is. This weekend was no exception. I went to my tri team’s annual Augusta 70.3 training camp. An intense 3 day camp including a swim race event, Gatorfest and a charity ride on the Augusta 70.3 course. Gatorfest consists of a 1.2mi swim (intimidating enough) and a 3.4mi option. As I stare down the barrel of Ironman Louisville in October, I know that I NEED to get in that 3.4. I don’t want it, but I need it. So I do what any athlete should do when they’re nervous about something, I called my coach. I said “It has been a very long time since I was genuinely scared of an event and i am SCARED of this swim.” I think he laughed to himself? Maybe not. Maybe my mind filled that part in (totally possible). His words to me? “You’ll be fine.” Uhhhhh fine? FINE?! What in the fresh hell?! I am not fucking fine. Run a 5k? Sure. But I had never swam over 3500 yards and that felt like a feat. Not endurance wise. I can ride my bike a helluva lot longer than that. But if I stop pedaling, I can coast. If i stop running, I can walk. But if I stop swimming or moving, I’ll drown. Not exactly an option. So I was fucking SCARED!
Now granted, this was in the Savannah river which has an incredible current, it’s clean, it’s quiet and it’s chilly which mean WETSUIT! So all those factors definitely helped. However, none of that negates the fact that I’ll be in the water for over an hour and likely alone for most of it. I was unsure how any of this was gonna go. I hid my anxiety well but inside I was a total wreck. I think I visited the port-o-potty 4 times that morning. It was a long bus ride to start on only about 5 hours sleep the night before. It was quiet too.
The night before we had some lecture and covering of the race course. One of the speakers was Dick Thompson who spoke to us about how to handle stress. While I won’t go into gory detail about his talk, he did say something that stuck with me. He said to count strokes if you get tired or overwhelmed. Keep your head down and just count your strokes. Count them to the next buoy or just count to 10, take a look a round then do another 10. I thought this was a solid strategy, so going down to the ramp I told myself I would do just that. We gathered, all about 30 of us, listened to the National Anthem then was asked if there were questions. One guy asked how many buoys there were. While Chad (our race director) was unsure he guesstimated 6-7. So I decided I’d count them too. I knew, and it was said, that if you stay closer to the middle, the current is stronger so I’d essentially, go faster.
The gun went off and we were swimming. I swam it. I counted buoys and forgot ALL about counting strokes. I focused on sighting, keeping relaxed and staying in the glide as long as I could (the one piece of advice my coach did gave me). I did a little happy dance in my wetsuit when I saw the train trellis marking the 1.2mi swim start then again when I saw the boat house. I finished. I got out. I was so happy to see land.
And you know what? I was fine. I took long strokes, I lost myself in the rhythm of my own breathing, I kept my eyes closed for 90% of the time except to sight, I counted the buoys and I finished. What I realized later was that my fear was not necessarily unfounded or irrational, but it was fueled by the lack of confidence in myself. Something my coach had in me the whole time. While his words to me were not AT ALL the consoling words I wanted to hear, he had complete faith in me. Something I completely lacked leading up to this event.
Moral to this story? Have a little faith in your ability. Fear will come. It will find you and it will haunt you. You have to know that you are strong. You are powerful. You have abilities that are completely untapped and unknown maybe even to you yet. Others may already see that power, that fire within you. They may even tell you and yet you STILL have doubts. DO NOT doubt yourself. YOU are fucking incredible!! You have more talent than you can imagine. But you have to believe and apply yourself. You have to want it bad enough to not care about the risks. You can plan for them to a certain extent but you can’t let the fear of those risks stand in the way of your goal. Know that you have done enough work leading up to that event or that goal, that once you’re standing at the precipice, YOU! HAVE! GOT! THIS! Trust the process, trust your coach (just do it) and have faith in yourself. You’re not gonna let yourself drown. You’ll come out the other side. And you may even get a little hardware!
Fear is a LIAR! Doubt is an ASSHOLE! Fuck em both. You don’t need em. “But what if?” I hear you say. What if you die on the way to work tomorrow? You still get in the car to go, don’t you? Ok. So STFU, HTFU and go get that goal! FUCK the fear!