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Lessons from Our SwimRun

Sep 07, 2023
Woman and young man smiling, standing at finish line of swimrun event

Last week, my son, Caleb and I competed in our very first SwimRun competition. It included over 3 miles of swimming in the cold water of Lake Huron and nearly 16 miles of running up and down the hills of Mackinac Island...all while physically tethered together. It was an awesome experience that neither of us will ever forget.

I am so excited to have Caleb with me on the podcast today. We’re giving you a sneak peek into the race itself and sharing some lessons that we learned about ourselves, our capacity, and our brains. I hope this episode will inspire and motivate you as you continue to go work toward your own goals and your next big accomplishment. 


Our SwimRun Experience

A SwimRun race is a little bit wacky. It’s a combination of (you guessed it!) swimming and running, but you alternate between the two, carrying all of your gear with you the entire way. And did I mention you are tethered to your partner? 

The point is to have an adventure in nature and to see what you’re capable of. There are a few things that surprised us about the event, like the relative quiet and calm of the environment, the COLD water and how our muscles responded and the amount of trail running on the course. 

We were also surprised by how fast it was over! The only other endurance event I had done was the 29029 last year, and it was really long. This time, we finished the event with the rest of the afternoon free and nothing on the agenda for the next day. 


SwimRun Lessons Learned

Caleb and I are taking turns sharing some of our biggest takeaways from the SwimRun event and the training leading up to it. Our hope is that you can apply some of these to goals you’re working on in your own life. 


Our predictions aren’t always correct

It’s a little funny how we compared this event with the 29029. Your brain tries to be a predictor, and it makes those predictions based on past experience. So, we looked at 29029 and thought all endurance events would be like that. But this one was so different. Your past isn’t always relevant to what’s to come. 


Desire is the only qualifier you need

So many times throughout training, and even more during the event itself, my brain said things like, “What are you even doing out here?” “You do not belong here,” and “Who do you think you are?” It continued to tell me that I didn’t know what I was doing and that I was doing it all wrong. 

Anytime you’re working on goals or dreams, your brain will try to disqualify you, but the only thing you actually need to qualify you is desire. If you want to be there, you get to be there. 


Theory will only take you so far

In preparing for the SwimRun, we conceptualized what the event would be like. We practiced how we would run, how we would swim and the transitions between the two. We thought we understood what it was going to be like. But we didn’t, at least not fully. Because actually doing something is totally different from thinking about it. 

There is a threshold where we spend too much time thinking, and it holds us back from being in the experience. When things don’t go as planned, it can be easy to dwell on that, rather than embracing the moment as it actually is. During the race, we thought we should have run more trails and we should have dipped our feet in ice water and practiced running cold. 

What if we spent less time worrying and more time embracing the experience? What if we could just allow for the uncertainty and the unknown and realize it was always supposed to be different from what we thought it was going to be. Not only could we save ourselves a lot of worry, but it’s really just part of the fun and adventure of it. 


Your life gets more interesting when you're willing to be bad at things

There were so many elements of this event that I'm not naturally good at. If we think we have to be good at something before we do it, we’ll miss out on so much. 

We finished this race dead last. But it didn’t matter. The point was actually doing it. We still crossed that finish line. They still called out our names, and everyone cheered. 

When your brain tells you you’re bad at something, you can decide it’s embarrassing or you can decide it’s awesome instead. 


There’s nothing wrong with pain

We all go through pain in our lives. In this case, we signed up for it voluntarily. When you put yourself through an experience that you don’t have to, it’s easy to question why you’re doing it at all. When you’re in pain, your brain will tell you something is wrong. 

When we were freezing cold, calves burning, feet hurting, we reminded ourselves, “There is nothing wrong with this. It is part of the experience.” It’s okay to be in pain, and it doesn’t mean you have to stop. Especially in a physical challenge like this one, reminding yourself that it’s supposed to hurt takes away so much resistance. 


You can do amazingly hard things when you break them down into doable things

When you look at the whole, huge picture of your goal, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and scared. You’ve never done this before, so your brain tells you that you can’t. 

But any big goal can be broken down into smaller doable sections. In our race, for example, we ran 16 miles. My brain says, “You can’t run 16 miles,” but because we were switching back and forth between running and swimming, each individual segment felt doable. You only have to run the mile you’re in. It might still be uncomfortable, but it is achievable.


The process is what matters

As amazing as it feels to cross a finish line, it’s not what matters. The finish line is, in many ways, the smallest part. 

It’s a process of becoming. And you don’t get the achievement without the process behind it - the smaller accomplishments along the way, the failures, the setbacks and the decisions to overcome your brain and keep going. 

You might finish last. You might not be good at it. But you’re doing it, and that’s what it’s about. The process is what changes us. 


Your brain is the thing that needs mastering

If you can manage your brain long enough to make your body do what you want it to do, your body will adapt and grow. It will develop muscles and lung capacity. It will make your internal systems work better for you. Your body knows what to do. It’s your brain that’s getting in the way. 

Your brain will continue to play the same tricks on you. It’s going to offer up the same doubts and worries over and over again. But when you get to know those familiar tricks and learn to overcome those hurdles, you can do amazing things. 

It’s important to remind yourself how normal it is for your brain to bring up all the reasons you shouldn’t be working toward your goal. It’s going to continue to tell you that you aren’t capable. It’s going to feel like the truth. But it’s not. 

How do you want to respond? Decide ahead of time, so you’re ready when those thoughts inevitably come up. 


Caleb had a LOT of texts back and forth questioning whether we should do this event. Things were busy with my daughter’s wedding. Our training wasn’t perfect. We didn’t get a lot of practice time together. 

But I am so glad we didn’t listen to all of those reasons our brains offered up. I’m so glad we did it, and we did it together. 

If there's something out there that you want to do, go for it! It's available to you. You get to have great experiences, and your brain doesn’t get to keep you from having them. Give yourself permission to step into something that you want and go after whatever it is.


You’ll Learn:

  • What a SwimRun event is (if you haven’t heard of it, you’re not alone!)
  • What surprised each of us about the race experience
  • 8 lessons we learned that you can apply to your own goals 


Previous Episodes (A look back to the 29029 endurance event):

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