Impossible is Nothing

Right before the start of the swim at the 2015 Florida Double Anvil. The 2016 race has been moved, so the swim will be in Lake Louisa, Clermont, FL.

It was Christmas Eve morning, at dark:thirty. I had scheduled a 4800 yard Swim for myself.

Let me be clear: Coach Maria is an asshole.

After all, I/she hadn’t simply scheduled a nice steady endurance swim. Nope. It was a hard one. In fact, it was a session that I had done last year going into the 2015 Florida double. But last year, I didn’t quite hit the marks I had set for myself. 

When I scheduled this one again for this year, I was clearly looking for a little revenge training. I was determined to hit those marks.

But, as I stood on the pool deck, I felt just that small twinge of doubt. As I looked at the paper I had printed with the workout details, I thought about last year. I’m not going to lie: I felt like this workout might just be a bit too impossible for me.

Maybe my targets are too aggressive? I thought. Well, I’m not going to hit them thinking that way. Get going!

The beginning of the warm up didn’t help improve my confidence. Everything felt tight, sluggish, slow, slappy. You know those days in the pool when you wonder if you actually know how to swim? Yeah, sorta like that. 

The voices were threatening: Eh, don’t worry about it. They tried to lull me. Maybe today just isn’t the day. The voices love a quitter. 

But, I don’t love quitting. I wasn’t ready or willing to give in to those thoughts–I mean, at this point, I was only about 500 yards into the swim. That was hardly enough time to get my old engine to idle, let alone revved up.

So, I ignored those thoughts. I realized that my body needed a little more time, so I extended the warm up, in the hopes of finding a grove. There’s no rush here. I added a few 100s of backstroke to stretch myself out, to loosen up.

My originally-planned 1200 yard warm up had turned into 1700 yards. I could stall no longer. It was either time to start the main sets, or slap my way through to 4800 yards. I wasn’t in the mood for slapping. 

The main portion of the workout included alternating sets of 300 yards, one hard, one steady, one hard, one steady – and so on for 3600 yards (6 x 300 hard, 300 steady).

I hit the lap button, and told myself: I have to try!

The first hard set felt much harder than it should have for the pace. Ugh – is that it?! I looked at the split pace on my watch. I was in the target range, but it just felt unsustainable for 5 more sets!

STOP IT! I knew I had to get a hold of myself–of my HEAD–or this session was going to break me again.


I gave myself a pep talk during the first steady set: Just find your rhythm. Just one lap at a time. Catch. Pull. Catch. Pull. Stop fighting it, just flow.

Somewhere through that first steady set, I felt something click. And, I watched my splits come down. In fact, this steady set was almost as fast as the hard set – but it felt a lot easier.

The power of the mind is an amazing thing indeed.

With the next hard effort, I pushed a little more, and I felt good. Could I descend each hard set, and each steady set across the 6 sets? And, with that thought, the game was on. 

I’ve been putting a lot of time into my swim this year. Last year, I lost a lot of speed doing most of my training for the Florida Double at an easy to steady effort, mostly because the volume of swimming was beyond anything I had every done before. This year, that’s not the case. So, I’m pushing limits to regain my old speed (well, speed for a triathlete swimmer, anyway). And, in the past two weeks, I’ve been happy to see it’s starting to come back. It’s not where it used to be, but I’m chipping away at it. 

Before I began this workout, I thought briefly that the targets I wanted to hit might be impossible. But they weren’t. I hit – and exceeded – my targets. My body could do it all along – after all, the targets were based on my threshold test.  So, it was my mind that I had to get on board. 

Not every workout is an impossibility-breaker – and nor should it be. But we have to open ourselves – mind and body – to the chance that it could be. We can’t let the voices in our heads shut us down before we even get started. 

Every time we push ourselves in training to achieve the impossible, we make the realm of what is possible that much bigger.

Muhammad Ali had it straight.
Muhammad Ali had it straight. Impossible is nothing.