Just don’t quit – My day at the Mighty Mac Swim
First, I am overwhelmed with humility and gratitude as I look back on the Mighty Mac Swim.
For me, the race was a true bucket list accomplishment.
Over the last several days, I have rehearsed the emotions and grandeur of what happened. They, at times, choke me up. Just taking on a challenge of this magnitude is a feat in and of itself. My triathlon coach, Jim Riga of Experience Triathlon (ET) Personal Coaching Services, said to me with tears rolling down his cheek one day… “Just getting yourself to the starting line, that’s where the winners are.” So just showing up, just being in the game and competing… That’s the win. So I told myself that advice several times on the ferry ride over. Just show up, just get in the game and give it a go. I’m okay with failing. I do it a lot, we all do. I don’t try to protect myself from letting others know that I fail. I’m okay with it. I’ve taken this approach with all my endurance events. It doesn’t matter. I chose to spend my energy on running my race, at my pace, with the goal of finishing.
The day started like every other event day I’ve done; a restless night, early rise, fueling, coffee, and dark skies. This day, we loaded the ferry, and about 330 of my new friends were anxiously awaiting the start. I was caught up in the moment and knew this day was going to yield multiple stories of victory and celebration, as well as frustration and fury.
So, the Mighty Mac Swim…this event was new to me. The past summer in 2018, while visiting the Island, I thought to myself, “Why don’t they have some type of triathlon here?” This is the perfect venue. What I found online was the Mighty Mac. I looked it over online and decided after a conversation with Katrina Murphy, one of the race directors, I was going to give it go. I had never swum 4.04 miles before. I had never logged 4.7 miles on my Garmin “open water” option before. Kind of funny, the extra 7/10ths, but it was not as funny after reaching the 2nd tower trying to get to the finish line swimming sideways because of the current.
To give you perspective and a little encouragement, I’m a middle to back of the pack swimmer, always have been. I didn’t swim competitively when I was young, and I had just gotten into swimming during Ironman training. For some reason, I just love being in the open water. I love mentally disappearing in open water with no phone, no worries, praying for my friends and family, and just plainly thinking about life. So I thought the event would fit me. I had planned out mentally to just pace myself, have fun, and finish. It was a pretty easy plan, I just needed to execute. The race director assured us that the start of the race had favorable conditions; the current was timid, the waves were calm—I’m ready to make this happen. So, that’s what I did for the first hour. Things were great, I enjoyed the sights and sounds and I even enjoyed the clear waters and stupidly looking for things at the bottom. I also loved looking above myself at the huge, towering bridge. SOOO awesome. After reaching the first tower, I could tell that I, and several of those around me, were a wee bit off course and needed to get closer to the bridge. I started crabbing into the current, only to find myself near the second tower, now even farther away from the bridge. All I could focus on was reaching the north causeway. At this time, things were very difficult. The faster swimmers were awarded smoother conditions, while we back-of-the-packers had to pay Mighty Mac. A rookie move, I planned on the conditions staying the same. It honestly didn’t register that things could change that fast, but they did.
Let me drop this for you since I’m a God-loving, God-fearing minister and it’s in me to break things into outlines and send the message quick…
Lesson 1: Some things in life change fast, so react with good decision making, and don’t let frustration rule the hour.
The conditions got rough, and for 45 minutes I swam like a possessed man, reeling in the north causeway. It appeared that I was not gaining progress. It literally appeared as if I was motionless. I was so upset that I couldn’t see anything getting closer; no perceivable progress. I can tell you I was working harder than I ever have swimming and there were no foreseeable results! I was upset, discouraged, and the old soundtrack, “You don’t belong here, you’re not as good as the others”, began to play.
Lesson 2: Most times you can’t calibrate progress during difficult times, so stay on course, keep your goal in front of your every breath, and work diligently.
With other endurance sports, there are two factors that fuel me… Progress and People. Visually knowing that you’re making progress is SO encouraging. I love seeing Mile markers, and aid stations, and just knowing that you’re moving forward is great. Then there’s the people and the encouragement and it’s like super fuel. Its more than super fuel, it’s like Jet Fuel. I mean, one human being investing into another humans’ lives and giving them encouragement when it’s needed the most. Multiple, multiple times I have run next to competitors, as you have, and just spent some time enjoying one another and encouraging one another. When swimming, not too many souls speak to you. It’s a different environment. It’s not lonely, just different. As odd as this sounds, just seeing buoys around me was encouraging me.
Lesson 3: Get involved in someone’s life and give them a nudge of encouragement when the struggle is on.
If you are in this sport, or even other endurance sports, I already know you hustle in every other facet of your life. So, just as others have been there for you, jump in and encourage one another. It’s worth it. I’ll end with this favorite memory of mine from the ET Ironman Wisconsin 2018 pre race team dinner. Coach Suzy encouraged one of her athletes and said… “Don’t quit. Absolutely do not quit. Do not stop, DON’T!#$^!#$ STOP!!!.” For some reason the panic of the night before my Ironman race, that’s what registered with me. Keep your eyes on your goal and just don’t quit.
Think about this swim in the years to come and put it on the list!