Mine were, which meant so many opportunities missed, and all because of this one emotion. I think many of us avoid trying certain things for fear of failure, or the opinions of others, or looking awkward or incompetent.
At the beginning, my relationship with running was driven by fear, but soon it became the escapism I needed. Later I realised that my motivation to run was less to escape anything, rather a way to return to my real self, rather than the guy who created walls to hide some aspects of his self. I preferred being the guy who was happy to grin manically, to do things that others said couldn’t be done, to feel frustration and anger openly and to seek out adventure.
Running helped me return to a mentality I had when I was younger where I felt totally invincible, my self-belief was unshakeable, and I was determined to overcome every obstacle whether I understood the ‘right’ way to do something or not. Certainly, the open mind-set of my early youth often put me in situations where fear would rear its head and try to control me, but I was too focused on the task at hand to let it win!
I realised quickly that it was ok to feel fear, but it wasn’t ok to lose myself to it.
The wilderness doesn’t always allow room for mistakes – one slip and you’re tumbling down a cliff. Fear’s ability to rob me of my capacity to think, to act without hesitation, could have led to injury or even death. I spent my time running Europe battling one fear after the next until eventually, I could embrace fear like an old friend.
Fear’s harsh warning tones became gentler. Its visions of pain and discomfort became the subtle encouragement of a friend, and as my relationship with it evolved, the mood of the journey became lighter. I stopped running from the cold harshness of winter and instead began to enjoy the beauty of a cold, frosty early morning.
When you finish an adventure, I think it’s good to test what you’ve learnt about yourself and your relationship with your surroundings and emotions. I knew I wanted more adventure. Who doesn’t? So I thought hard about my next challenge.
Irrationality of fear
In thinking about fear, I tried to understand what triggered it - was it based on the beasts that live in the depths of the deepest lakes and seas or was it simply a fear of drowning? Pondering this eventually led me to realise that my fears were based on totally irrational thoughts. Knowing this, I wanted to find out if I could make friends with my fear, to make it a familiar sensation, where I was in control, so I said YES and took on my toughest, biggest, scariest adventure yet: #ProjectBigSwim.
Why this challenge? I AM PETRIFIED OF OPEN WATER! So there is really nothing more mentally and physically challenging to put me to the test!
Acknowledge small progress
The first steps were to re-learn how to swim, otherwise jumping into deep open water would be foolhardy and dangerous.
I took a quick dip in a local reservoir with a group of open water swimmers, made a handful of visits to Buxton swimming pool and taught myself to relax in that unfamiliar watery world. I practiced breathing into the water, which took 20 minutes of insistent and dogged determination; eventually, I made it into the lakes of the Lake District, swimming short distances(3-6m max) supported by my incredible friends who realised that dissuading me from my swimming challenge is pointless.
I swam to the centre of Derwentwater, accompanied by a friend; the swimming was slow but there was abetter level of understanding. I felt the fear but the presence of someone else in the water helped familiarise me with the sensation and instead of losing all control, writhing in the water like a hooked fish, I stayed calm.
Then the swims got longer - I attempted a SwimRun challenge called the Frog Graham Round with a friend and completed the longest swim I have ever done in my life: a whopping 1.6 miles across Derwentwater. Success! Maybe a small success on the grand scheme of things but still, it’s acknowledging the small successes that lead to bigger ones.
“It’s not for me” mentality
Amongst the effort to stay in control, the panic attacks mid-swim, the frustration that I wasn’t in control 100% of the swimming time, that I didn’t quite swim as far or for as long, there have been some moments of pure beauty.
Seeing the fells around me bathed in the golden glow of late spring sunlight, beams of light shimmering through the water creating a mesmerising pattern on the aquatic plants and rocks below the surface, reminded me of those pure and simple moments whilst running in the wilderness. The felt a deep privilege at being able to witness these moments and I realised that life at its simplest is beautiful and precious.
The voice of my fear is changing its tone and I feel I’m on a path that will show me yet another kind of happiness and all that it means to be alive. And to think…
For years I’ve sat on the shore, watching friends surfing, swimming and generally enjoying the open water, maintaining that‘I don’t like swimming. It’s not for me’. I convinced myself that I wasn’t scared – I just wasn’t interested in water. What struck me hard was realising how misguided this was, and how this “cant do wont do” attitude had quietly invaded other aspects of my life.
Perhaps it’s time to say YES more often. Get past the initial frustrations, the fears, and see what you’re missing out on.
If you’re intrigued by #ProjectBigSwim or just curious to follow the journey from land lover to reluctant long distance swimmer, follow me!
Would be great to have you along on the journey and hear your thoughts
Have fun! Be more feral!