The hardest part when I did Couch to 5k in 2012 was getting through the first 20 minute stretch of running without stopping. I had to attempt it multiple times, and finally made it through when Greg ran next to me with the jogging stroller. The thought of quitting in front of him and both my children was enough to finally overcome the hurdle.
The funny part about my previous attempts was that I remember not giving up at minute 17 or 18 which would indicate that I couldn’t quite make it yet. Nope. I was giving up at minute 10 or 12, despite having done 15 minutes of running successfully. I was quitting at minute 10 or 12 because although I could have kept going in that moment I was convinced I couldn’t finish the whole distance. The thought of having to continue for that long made me panic, and I stopped. My mind was quitting, not my body.
The same thing has been happening to me with swimming.
I’m having trouble making progress; I can barely finish my 50 yard repeats. My swim instructor thinks based on the number of repeats I can do in a session and how my form looks towards the end (not tired) that I could make it much further if I could get through it mentally.
It’s amazing how similar it is to running, where the feeling of being unable to catch my breath was the hardest part in the beginning.
So I’m revisiting strategies I used to use for running when I tried to increase the distance there. These strategies have gotten me from 60 seconds of running to over 2 hours of running, so clearly they work for me.
Time to take them for a swim.
Strategies for Pushing Through Your Desire to Stop
Take it One Moment at a Time. Don’t tell yourself you need to make it X distance before you can stop. Ask yourself if you can keep going NOW. Just this moment. Just one more stroke, one more, one more.
Recover Without Stopping. Slow it down rather than stopping. See how slowly you can go without stopping and watch how it helps your heart rate and breathing. For running this is especially true if you’ve just run up a hill; you may not even need to slow down, just be patient and realize you don’t need to stop, your breathing will calm down a minute or so after you clear the hill.
Count / Use a Mantra: When I’m doing 400 meter repeats on the track, I’m usually thinking “one two one two one two one two” over and over again to distract from anything else. In the pool, I’ve started to think one, two, three AND one, two, three AND. It helps me keep from thinking anything else, and also helps me breathe in sync with my stroke on the AND.
Be Social: Being with someone distracts you from what you’re doing and provides accountability. I try harder and take fewer breaks during my swim lessons because I don’t want to waste my time with an instructor. I swam a lot of continuous back-stroke in the pool with Greg on Mother’s Day because I didn’t want him to think I take a break every 25 yards.
Add Repeats: If you’re hitting a block with the length of a repeat, shorten it but do more repeats. Do what you’re comfortable with until it’s boring. Boring isn’t scary. Boring is boring. Boring helps fight the panic. Add to your total distance slowly, and realize that’ll help your individual segments of activity lengthen also.