Just Jump #2 (Cowards Strategy to Life Part 2)
|January 8, 2021
|Posted by Melinda under Uncategorized
Let’s review what we’ve learned so far.
Coward’s strategy to life strategy #1 is to make a rational decision while not under pressure. Then wait until the perfect moment. Then, still in your “right” mind, say yes when the opportunity comes. When the fear sets in, bull doze ahead and just jump, knowing you made the right decision before the panic set in and everything will likely be ok.
This describes 99% of my life decisions.
I would be remiss if we didn’t talk about the other 1%.
The problem is strategy #1 requires a desire to actually do the thing.
What about the things that I have no actual desire to do? Logically, it makes no sense to do the thing because I hate some aspect of it. It’s basically hell and a form of torture to do it, and I don’t wanna.
Like eat salad.
Or do an open water swim.
I could continue to behave in a logical and consistent manner and say nope nope nope, not for me. You can have your rabbit food and your cold water.
But…there’s this little tiny part of me that sometimes thinks that maybe there’s something to be found at the end of something distasteful that would make it worth while.
After I finished my first 100-mile ultra run, my husband asked me why I felt compelled to do it.
“To see what was on the other side,” was the best my post-29 hour 100-mile brain could come up with.
“An inflatable arch, and a bad DJ, and even worse coffee,” is what I remember my husband responding in disbelief.
Here’s the deal. To make this strategy work, you have to have a spark of understanding for what I said above. If you are in my husband’s camp, this probably isn’t going to work for you.
Because to make this work, that spark of curiosity is what the whole house of cards is founded on. What is on the other side?
Here’s a summary of the cowards guide to life, strategy #2: Once you find that spark, immediately squash it, lie to yourself that it really is a ridiculous idea, and then go on making the small decisions that inevitably lead to it. So that when you find yourself at the starting line of a 100 mile run, hemmed in by all these other people who probably made a very rational decision to be there and actually belong there, there is no escape except forward.
Or, (for example), standing on a dock in a swim suit that may or may not survive the swim, staring down at all your friends waiting for you to jump off the dock into the cold and freezing water to start an open water swim that you don’t quite remember saying yes to in the first place, although you definitely RSVP’ed yes, convinced another friend to show up to (she’s already in the water), and drove to the meet up. So there’s some complicity there. Maybe.
But the point is, the ability to selectively lie to oneself and trick yourself into doing something that would have been a HELL NO if you weren’t already half way there already, and succumbing to peer pressure at the end (use this power for good, not evil!) is effective.
It had been at least 5 years since I had swam on purpose (capsize drills in a kayak don’t count right?). I couldn’t particularly remember a specific instance of open water swimming on purpose, but that didn’t mean anything because I don’t really LIKE swimming and could have blotted it from my memory. At one point in the distant past, even further back then being pregnant I had trained in a pool with the intention of doing the Whiskeytown 1 mile open swim. Had I done it? Not sure. Probably not. Seems like a terrible idea. Obviously hadn’t perfected the ability to lie to myself at that time.
Swimming is one of those things I think I should enjoy. It’s good for me! Like salad.
There are many many many things to dislike about swimming but the major two reasons are: your skin gets wet. And the water is cold. No matter how warm the water is, it’s cold.
Here’s what happened.
In January 2020 I signed up for the local triathlon team. In order to run. Only run.
In March 2020 I bought a road bike. To do some rides. Run and ride. That was it. Because the people were really fun and there were a lot of biking opportunities in the club and it turns out biking is a lot easier than running. Which I think people have been saying all along, but I’ve refused to believe them since running makes me feel like a magical random pooping unicorn. But it turns out they were sorta right. I can bike every day and not regret my life decisions and how old my body feels, but I can still only run 3 days a week.
Then, they convinced me to clip my shoes onto the pedals of the bike. If this sounds like a bad idea, it’s because it is. You will decide it’s low risk because unlike a horse, you are most likely to fall off at a stop, not while your mount has decided to buck wildly down the open road, dragging you along because of an unfortunately decision to attach your foot to the stirrup on purpose.
The illusion that this “low risk” decision is worth the potential benefits of being able to use the whole pedal cycle will come into question the first time I forget to unclip while stopped in September, crash the to the asphalt, and then have to drag myself out from under my bicycle like some roadkill raccoon at a deserted four-way stop in the middle of nowhere.
The point is, do you see how one bad decision leads to another?
“Open water swim at Englebright. Meet at 5:00, in the water at 5:30.”
There’s absolutely no reason to say yes. None at all.
I’ve kayaked on Englebright. It’s a big scary reservoir with a giant dam that would probably suck me under the water and through it turbines (or whatever they are called) given half a chance (I’m told there are grates across. Great. Guess I’ll be stuck on it…..Another person told me not to worry because the outflows are so clogged with LOGS across the grates my body would never be sucked through. Great. Death by log jam.). Also there’s downed trees under the water ready to snag legs. And probably those sharks that migrate up rivers and then sneak under the water for unwary things to bite.
Also the water is cold.
Everyone else acted like the water wouldn’t be cold. Wet suit optional. This is a perfectly normal, non-crazy thing to do. Come on out to a club swim. It will be great.
So I asked my friend, who also acted like this was a perfectly normal thing to do, to go with me. She said yes.
I said yes.
Never once thinking the whole thing through to the part when I had to get into the water and actually swim.
Nope nope nope. Focus on other things. Like finding that bathing suit, that I bought when I was an undergrad (15 years ago) and most recently used when I was pregnant (5 years ago). How the fabric managed to not fall apart as I put it on, I’m not sure. I lifted a prayer to the god that keeps swimmers from getting eaten by sharks or sucked into dam turbines that a little attention would be paid to my bathing suit to keep it intact through one more swim.
That kept me distracted for at least a day.
Another two days were spent asking every swimmer I knew that the predicted water temp was doable for no wet suit.
All in all I never actually thought about the swimming part.
I used to (reluctantly) do Master’s swimming. I knew I could probably muddle through the swim.
I thought it best to not think about it too much. Otherwise there was a lot of reasons not to do it. Like cold water. Sharks. Dams. And a bathing suit that probably wasn’t going to survive the outing.
Which is how I found myself on the dock, with everyone else in the water…waiting, while I stood staring down at the (cold) water.
The moment had come.
I had committed to the things prior to the moment. I had commented to the swim after the moment.
It was the actual moment – the actual jump into the water – that I had done my best to not think of.
But now it was time to jump.
I was not excited. I did not think this was a good idea. I did not want to do this.
But there was no other option. Not really. My new friends were in the water waiting. One of my best friends was in the water. I had said I was doing this. I had backed myself into a corner. Put up or shut up.
I screamed and flailed around while my friend yelled to the others, “don’t worry! it’s normal! She’s totally fine!” having witnessed several similar expressions of emotion during training runs where I was forced to get major parts of my body wet or iced. Like several toes. Or a whole arm.
Me and my friend reiterated our plan to stick to the buoy line at the dam and then back to the dock and the rest of the team set off on their longer planned route.
It was awful. Buoy to buoy we swam. Maybe my friend enjoyed it. I did not. The water was cold. I couldn’t get my breathing under control. I splashed my way ten buoys out, ten buoys back, and then limped my way back to the dock. It took 30 min. I swam 2 tenths of a mile.
After pulling myself out by the dock (don’t ask me how, but I was highly motivated not to swim further to the next dock where I could walk out) I collapsed on a bench and noticed that my bathing suit had definitely said “no more” and let certain body parts run amok.
That is where I started.
For reasons I’m still uncertain of, I went back (in a new swim suit. And a wet suit) and did another swim 3 days later. And then I did it again. And again. And again. Twenty more times.
In total I did 21 open water swims last year. Along side trying out ER medicine, it was one of the most fulfilling things I did in 2020 and I’m so proud of myself.
I started out on that first, terrible swim by swimming from buoy to buoy (10 out, 10 back), stopping to catch my breath at each one. By the end of the season I was swimming a mile (and more) smoothly and confidently. I even survived a real triathlon that required swimming last summer.
This year, in 2021, I’m signed up for a three day open water swim camp. And guess what? I’m looking forward to that first open water club swim of 2021. For realz this time. I’m not even lying to myself this go ’round.
So remember, just jump. It’s scary. It’s okay to be
a coward. tenacious/patient. It doesn’t mean we can’t do hard or scary things. It just means we need to have a couple tricks up our sleeves. No matter what you have to do to get to that point – wait for the right moment, lie to yourself, hop on one foot, or call your best friend….just jump.