Over the weekend I competed in the Gulf Coast 70.3, a half Ironman race, in Panama City Beach, Florida. It’s usually a fun race and I enjoy being able to bring my family along with me for a long weekend in the Sunshine State (especially after a Vermont winter that would rival any winter in Westeros!).
On Saturday the sun was out and so was the wind. As nearly 2,000 participants entered the water, we contended with strong storm surges, high winds, and 4-5 foot wave faces. The swim was extremely dangerous and not for the faint of heart. Ocean swimming rarely is! But this time was pretty intense, even for experienced swimmers. Red flags lined the beaches warning the participants to exercise extreme caution due to the rip tides and waves. On top of the less than ideal weather conditions, this was a no-wetsuit swim, which just increases the difficulty, and hello! Jellyfish!
Sometimes in ocean swims, it’s tough to get through the first 500 yards or so, the break, but once you do, the ocean smooths out. Not this time! The ocean didn’t release at all, pounding you through a 1.2 mile swim. Waves would crash over you pushing you under water. Other times, I would be swimming pretty much vertically with my head pointing towards the sky before cresting and then plunging down the other side of a wave, head first into the ocean. I expected it to level out. It never did. Even when we turned and headed in, the waves would push, pull, and crash over you, making it pretty impossible to see anything. The staff told me after the race that more people were pulled from the water in this swim than they’ve ever seen before. And a group of swimmers were taking a mile off course because of the rip tide and storm surge! About half way through the swim (which felt like forever) I started getting pissed, angry, and upset that I wasn’t swimming faster, that I couldn’t see, and that I had drifted about 75 yards off course.
So, what do you do when you’re in the middle of the ocean battling the elements and your own mind? First, you relax. Then you start talking to yourself. You tell yourself that all the other racers have to deal with the difficulty too. So, I just stopped (well, I kept swimming, but I stopped becoming my racing mind and instead watched the thoughts race). And then I started laughing inside and realized that what I really needed to do was find the joy in the swim, in the suffering. The joy? The water was 78 degrees! The joy? I’m healthy! The joy? I currently swimming in one of the hardest swims in Ironman history (without a wetsuit)! Even the salt water in my mouth and stomach became part of my joy!
As I reframed my experience to a positive one, I relaxed even deeper. I loosened up more, smiled, and embraced the suck! I didn’t swim as fast as I had wanted to, and it was still a great experience! Joy can come from suffering if we reframe our experience to a more positive one in the moment, as we are going through it. It’s one of the top ways you can improve your joy! Perspective is everything. I was able to carry this joy-shift with me the rest of the race and ended up finishing at #8 in my age group and #42 overall (not including the pro division). Joy can be found everywhere. Yup, even in the middle of the ocean when you feel like you’re drowning.
What are you going through that you need to reframe and get a new perspective on, in order to unleash the joy that is already inside of you?