How to Be Ready For Any Challenge?

Mental Prep Meets Race Prep

By Jocelyn Martin

It was 7am and I was on my way to the race.  I was nervous about the swim.  It was where I had gotten crushed the year before.  Ocean swims were not my strength.  I grew up swimming in a pool.  The biggest wave you got hit with in a pool was from the swimmer next to you or from the feet of the swimmer in front of you.  Swim team was completely different from the crest and fall of an ocean wave.  Not to mention the fact that there are no walls to grab onto in the ocean if you get tired or need a rest!

But I was focused.  I had spent the last 3 months perfecting my swim.  Practicing different breathing techniques to handle the waves, no matter how rough.  To maximize my stroke, making it more efficient.  Strengthening my core, so I could improve my breathing, while still moving forward.  And swimming longer than the distance of the race so mentally I knew I could do it.  The night before I visualized the course, my swim, how I felt, how I looked.  Each little detail was not overlooked.  I wanted my mind to be as prepared as my body for the swim.

The year before I had nearly panicked as I got hit by that first wave and took in my first mouthfull of salt water (YUCK!).  I spent most of the swim that year, doing breaststroke, side stroke or even backstroke to get through the swim.  I remember the thoughts going through my mind, “I’m never going to get through this!”, “Oh my god, I’m going to drown!  My husband is away and the children are with a babysitter!  You’ve got to swim for the girls!”  and “I’m not ready for this!  What was I thinking!”  My mind turned to fear, panic, worry, and really worked against me as I swam for shore.  I made it through that ocean swim last year, but I knew I could do better.

This year, I had a better plan.  I knew my weaknesses.  I sought out a swim coach.  Spent more time working on my stroke, breathing pattern, swim endurance, learning all I could about how the body reacts in the ocean vs. a pool.  I prepared both my body and my mind for the swim.  I was determined not to panic this year once I hit the water, once I got hit by that first wave, once I took in my first mouthfull of water.  I was also prepared for all of this to happen and visualized what I would do when it did.

As I stood on the beach, looking out at the water on race day, I immediately noticed that there were more lifeguards than last year.  The seas were looking rough!  My mind started to list the reasons this wasn’t such a good idea.  I turned it off, listing the reasons I was ready.  I spoke to my coach, who gave me some last minute tips, things we had already covered.  I stuck to my plan.  I was ready.  I found a quiet place, or as quiet as you can get in the transition area on race day, and focused on my breathing.  Calming my mind, my heartrate, my nerves.

I was ready!

The gun went off.  I took a deep breathe and walked into the water, letting a few stronger swimmers go before me, but not wanting to get caught up with other nervous swimmers.  I got over those first few waves, I was doing good.  Then the waves got bigger!  I could feel my body cresting over the top.  My mind started to wander.  No stay with me!  We can do this!  We practiced this!  I tried my breathing patterns.  This was working.  I was staying with the crowd.  I rounded the first buoy and, because I had visualized the course, knew I had to start breathing on the other side so as not to take a wave to the face.  I was ready!  It worked!  I got stuck on buoy number 2, sandwiched between 2 people.  No problem.  I’m good.  I’m strong!  I’ve got this!  I changed up my breathing pattern as the waves were cresting on me, took a few breast strokes and stuck to my plan.  The beach came within sight.  I had made it.  I hadn’t panicked.  I was tired, but felt good.  Better than last year.

As we exited the water, they were counting us to be sure they had accountability of everyone who had entered the water.  As I passed by the counter I heard him say “51…”  I was number 51 out of the water.  51!  I was elated!  Last year I had exited the water in the bottom third.  This year, the top third!  I went into transition on cloud nine!  I had already won.  I had bested my goal.  I had already set a personal best!  (I later learned that it was one of the roughest swims in the last several years of the race.  No wonder they had all those extra lifeguards this year!  It made being number 51 that much more special!)

I finished the race 2nd in my age group, 3rd overall.  But the place I was most proud of, number 51!

My preparation is what got me there.  Both the preparation of body and of mind.  Visualizing all possible outcomes on the swim and being prepared for them before I hit the water.  Knowing how to quiet my mind and replace those negatives with positives.  It improved my overall experience and placement.

The great thing, its a technique that can be used in many areas of your life.  Visualizing how you’ll answer people who ask you out to lunch if you’re trying to lose weight.  What you’ll eat when you get there.  How you’ll respond to their comments.  Preparation is as much physical as it is mental.  And the great part is….you’re extremely capable of making it happen and will be so much stronger both physically and mentally for having taken the time to do it!

So practice visualization of your goal today!

1.  What you’ll look like when you achieve it down to what you’ll be wearing, how you’ll act, where you’ll be, what you’ll say, how you’ll feel….

2.  Then visualize overcoming any obstacles you think may come into your path to derail you from your goal.  How will you act, what will you say, what will you do..

3.  Lastly, practice rewriting any negative speak with a positive.  “Its never worked before” with “This is my time!”,  “I can’t do that.” with “This is hard, but I know I’ll get it.”,  “I’ve failed again.” with “Ok, that wasn’t the outcome I was looking for, what can I do differently?”

I promise you, it works!  It may take practice, but all good things do.  But if you put these exercises into practice, you’ll be ready both physically and mentally to succeed.  And you’ll be taking the steps to make it happen!

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