I am a natural cynic and base my life around facts and evidence. In just over two months, I will be swimming to France and the weight of this challenge is looming very large.
- One of the things I love about swimming is the solitude – You have so much time to think.
- One of the things I hate about swimming is the solitude – You have so much time to think!
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity of a practice swim with one of the Channel pilots (Stuart Gleeson). I had been unwell in the week leading up to the swim and my brain was telling me to ‘take it easy’ and ‘just do a short swim’ etc. I spent two hours in the water and ‘battled’ with my brain for the entire time. As soon as I started swimming, my brain kicked into gear and began to play tricks on me – “you are cold”, “you are swimming terribly”, “you’ve been unwell – just stop”
After two hours, I climbed onto the boat and felt like a total failure.
So what did I learn? Well firstly, I need to pay some attention to the mental side of my swimming game. I was not ‘cold’ that day and I have seen footage of the swim – I looked fine and was swimming well.
I am throwing away my cynicism and embracing every opinion that I can find to address the mental challenges that are to come. Are a few of the strategies I have been told about in recent weeks:
- Graeme Schlachter has an actual army of minions … Not just any minions, but fully trained medical minions! Graeme spends time in his swim mentally scanning his body for aches and pains. He then sends his army of highly trained minions to the problem area and visualises them massaging, pulling on muscles and tendons and repairing the problem.
I have asked to borrow the army for my swim …
- Ned Denison counts strokes… The man can literally count his strokes for an entire marathon swim and knows how long to his feed etc within minutes. This method isn’t for me – I tried it in Dover and found that it slowed time down in my head.
- Kathy Batts told me that she knows of a swimmer that would attempt to solve riddles and questions between feeds. Her crew would put up a question on the white board and it would occupy the mind until the next feed.
- Other swimmers have told me that they dedicate blocks of time to people that matter in their lives. They think of that person and everything about them for some time, before moving on to the next individual. This strategy works a bit for me – It certainly focuses you on the reason you are swimming
The emotive part of your brain (your Chimp) wants you to stop swimming – Of that there is no doubt. It will tell you to stop swimming – It will scream at you to stop swimming at times. I have started reading a book called ‘The Chimp Paradox’ which I hope will arm me with the tools I need to deal with this pesky part of my brain. I have named my Chimp Ossie and am going to learn how to have a rational dialogue with him! Fighting with this part of the brain does not work, it’s just too strong and the battle leaves you exhausted and stressed. I hope that this book and the advice of friends, will give me methods to talk ‘Ossie’ down and keep the pesky blighter calm J
All of this goes against my natural cynical instincts, but I am determined to embrace it. Many aspects of a channel swim are out of your control, but my brain doesn’t have to be one of them.
ONWARDS – See you out there soon.