"Stop swimming from behind. Swim YOUR fast." Coach first said this to me from the pool deck on Tuesday morning. He repeated these words to me this morning before practice. I first thought he was referring to my swimming tendencies with my lanemate, since I tend to mindlessly gauge my efforts on his pace. He is a strong, steady fish, and sometimes it's easier to swim in his shadow than listen to my own body and what is my own perceived effort.
But Coach was referring to the fact that I am swimming slower than I am capable of, mostly because I like to be comfortable. How can I get faster if I refuse to swim and challenge my body to a higher threshold of work? (notice I deliberately didn't use the word pain...)
Remember Icarus, from Greek mythology? He attempted to escape from Crete by wings made of feathers and wax. He ignored the instructions not to fly too close to the sun, and the melting wax caused him to fall into the sea where he drowned.
I recently heard of Seth Godin's book, The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly? where he challenges the old rules of playing it safe and staying in your comfort zone in your career and life. He flips the lesson on the classic Icarus myth, and instead praises Icarus for his willingness to take a risk and challenge preconceived notions. In society, the real innovators and artists are those who defy traditional rules and strive higher. They are not afraid to risk. Godin writes about how it is better to be sorry than safe. We need to fly higher than ever.
In sport, our 'dangerous sun' is also know as our "red line"- the point that you reach where you either quit, vomit, or have to slow down. Ironically, that line is rarely reached since our head prevents our bodies from ever coming close to that breaking point.
Most of us train in the gray zone, that comfortable place where we give some effort but not enough to make us faster in the long run. I've been guilty of this. I know my body and when things start to feel uncomfortable, I dial it back a little, recover and conserve. I'd rather have "something left in the tank" than crash and burn. I live up to my nickname "Shadow" at times, where I have a tendency to rest in the shadows and put out effort when I feel like I have something in the tank. The problem is, I always have more than enough left in the tank. I have yet to fly close to my sun because I have been afraid of the melting wax on my wings.
Hence, my coach's words of advice.
So today I swam MY fast, in my triathlon kit with more drag than I'd prefer. I felt the lactic acid build up in my muscles. I kept swimming. I dismissed the negative thoughts telling me to slow down. I concentrated on feeling strong and relaxed, and gliding effortlessly over the water. I adopted the attitude of staying curious, not afraid. Exploring my limits, and moving past them.
"Stop swimming from behind. Swim YOUR fast." Don't gauge your rhythm, your pace, and your path in life upon someone else's. Pave and discover your own way.
I am still finding my fast in the pool and on the bike, and in life. Today I came one step closer.
Dance upon the edge.
Be like Icarus.