Today I swam 56 minutes in very choppy water. I have not swam in 5 days while I was visiting my good friends in another city for the holiday week. Coming back after skipping a few days I felt that usual loss of momentum for training, but also knew from so many years that all I need to do was just get in the water and it would kick back in.

I procrastinated much of the day though and did not get to the sea until 13:30 by which time the predictable on-shore wind was stirring up the waves and chopping up the surface into an ugly, random mess. As I looked at it I realized I was going to get tossed around a lot today. On the other hand this would make for an interesting swim, albiet a bit more tiring than I intended for a warm-up.

I jumped in and headed west, into the stronger-than-usual current, with the waves breaking on me at 10 o’clock. Within 15 minutes I was not feeling the fun…  I was getting smacked in the face on both sides and the waves and breaks were random enough in timing and direction that I couldn’t slip into a rhythm with them. It was going to be an hour of practicing focus under less-than-pleasant conditions and so I took this as the training challenge for the day.

Whether aiming to perform at a top level, get along under stressful conditions, or just stay alive in some terrifying survival situation, narrow FOCUS is the key to bringing the mind and body under control and into some managable calm. Here I was finding myself getting angry at the messy, mean waves! Just like I used to rage against the headwinds when I trained on a road-bike- I used that sporting anger to sink further into the aerobars and hammer my pedals without surrender. But now, in my TI mindset in the water, I needed to dispense with the anger, and embrace the challenge by relaxing into it even more- to rise above it (actually, literally, to sink and balance below it!) and use my training to  master these conditions that might discourage most other swimmers. The love for open water swimming necessarily includes a love for facing uncertain and inconvenient conditions- where pool swimming is much more about performing under controled conditions, open water swimming is much more about adapting to un-expected ones.

When I saw those waves from the ignorant safety of shore, I felt no hesitation to get in. When I started experiencing those waves (and drinking more salt water than I cared to) I had to set aside the growing frustration and seek out a new attitude. I broke the swim down into my favored 250-stroke pieces and started to focus on smoothing my body out in each small section of time. The moment I took my mind off “how much longer will I bear this?” and put it on, “how can I make my body flow better with this?” I started to have peace inside again. I had something constructive to work on other than just enduring.

I can’t say I had ‘fun’ but I did reinforce my trust in the power of FOCUS under stressful conditions. I did take something that started to frustrate me and find calmer productivity instead. It was not ‘fun’ but it was good.

It was sure nice to be greeted by my melting water bottle on the shore when I got out- that’s a perk for sea swimming you should never forget to bring along. I sat there sipping the sweet water, looking back at the turbulent mess I just emerged from. To those on shore it wouldn’t seem so bad, nor even to those who are just bobbing along in the surf for play. But to those who try to get somewhere in it- those waves were all rude, impersonal resistance. But today, despite the inanimate random treachery of those waves, I felt a satisfaction of having pierced their chaos with my smooth, flexible order, of calmly cutting my path out and back in defiance of their control. They raged against me, but I did not let them steal my swim.

Focus.

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