It was my quest for truth that drove me in. The water was cold, and the shock it gave to my system was simultaneously traumatic and invigorating. I worried about the way that I had just laboured to get moving. The first few hundred metres almost always felt stiff and sore, I reminded myself in an effort to inject some positivity.
I continually fought the impulsive urge to speed up a bit, just to test how I really felt, knowing from experience that rushing things would be detrimental to my performance; soon enough it would be obvious. As I stroked leisurely down the pool, the soothing buoyancy of the water and the hypnotic black line below me untethered my mind, allowing it to drift ahead, outpacing the current of time to my upcoming race in one hour and ten minutes.
Faced with the imminent challenge, my desire for positive results triggered the natural anxiety that brings with it too much mental resonance. I laughed inwardly at myself as I do sometimes, from the sudden realisation that I had been thinking about the way that I had been thinking about how I sensed that felt. Exhaustive mental chatter echoed back and forth. “Did I feel fast? if so how fast did I feel? Am I getting ahead of myself thinking that I am feeling fast?”
When you feel really great, you just know it in your bones. Entire seasons are designed to culminate with the goal of attaining this feeling for a few days at the most important competition of the year. Feeling great is an ephemeral description for when you can intuitively sense that almost unlimited reserve of nascent energy will be there, unbridled, when called upon at the exact moment it’s needed most.
The awareness of this inspires a Usain Bolt-esque playful confidence, the kind of primal self-assurance exhibited in nature by the way that a few brazen gazelles, when in the prime of their lives seem to taunt lions, because they know without a shadow of a doubt, that on that day they are swifter than the fastest, most desperate predator. The hungry lions sense this too, and so don't bother to waste their energy, preferring instead to stalk the weak and the sick.
Having known the power of that feeling, you also can therefore recognise by contrast when you don’t have it. For most of the season while being subjected to the kind of physical training that stimulates the human body to adapt in order to become fitter, faster and stronger, it’s not there. Very often in this phase of the season your efforts are met with impatient disappointment at not being your best ever, yet.
However, the honest objective feedback that racing provides in this training phase is priceless. The required focus, technical aspects, and the emotional control required to put together a world beating sporting performance must be practiced continually, and especially mastered when under the stress from the training workload so as to expand the comfort zone. For this purpose top athletes will race frequently during the season with the focus being solely on the processes and not the results.
Honest objective feedback is invaluable for personal development in sport and in the wider scope of life. We are constantly in a dynamic state of mental, physical and emotional flux. Each race is an opportunity to get a brutally honest reading of exactly who you are and how you measure up to your goals at that cross section of time.
There can be no faking it. The saying “it is what it is” is never more appropriate than when analysing a recent performance. Our innate tendencies, mistakes, weaknesses and strengths must then be honestly compared against how we want to be. The path to our goals lies in recognising our faults, while getting there lies in overcoming them.
Big egos are too fragile to last long when put up against the objectivity of a stopwatch in an individual sport. Any egoic delusions will be dissolved by the water in the race.
An individual sporting career of constantly being subjected to the raw truth, both good and bad eventually brings acceptance of the realisation that you can’t be anything but what you are at that moment in time! To struggle to be any other imagined version of yourself becomes insanely futile.
There is nothing left to do but be natural, and approach whatever the outcome of every situation with easy equanimity, because it’s just a step in the process of constantly becoming.