Swimming Braver with Ironman Champion Rachel Joyce and Dana Platin
The small group nervously looked at each other and at the water. Each woman had a separate reason to be there. One was preparing for her first triathlon and already felt she was in over her head. Another had been hit by a car and had learned to overcome the physical and emotional devastation through returning to sport. More than one was looking to advance her swimming skills and qualify for Kona this year.
Since entering the pro field, I was only too familiar with how fear can hold you back. All of us in this Swim Braver workshop, held at the University of Colorado on May 20, understood what Rachel Joyce and Dana Platin were there to teach us: to achieve your best race results, you need courage and confidence.
The workshop was part of a new series led by Ironman champion Rachel Joyce and leadership coach Dana Platin, founder of The Warmi Project. They designed the three-part series to help women gain the skills and confidence necessary to take on new challenges both in triathlon and life.
We spent the morning together at the University of Colorado pool rehearsing drills and techniques for open water swimming. Joyce led our group through hard skills practice to prepare for mass swim starts, sighting, swimming through rough waves, and navigating turn buoys. And they captured underwater video footage to provide individual swim stroke analysis for participants.
During the afternoon, we dove into our inner fears as we explored the two voices inside us: the positive (Inner Mentor) and the negative (Inner Critic). Platin illustrated the ways in which our Inner Critic holds us back and how we can strengthen our Inner Mentor for the confidence to overcome fears, particularly during critical moments like mass swim starts or descending and ascending on the bike. We learned to recognize which critical moments can trigger us and how to mentally rehearse and practice in advance for those moments—just as we practice our swim, bike, and run skills.
Armed with the tools of visualization, mantras, and journaling, we went through exercises to strengthen this Inner Mentor and encourage the positive voice inside of us to speak up—particularly when we need it most. We turned FAIL into an acronym that means First Attempt in Learning. We prepared a mental-skills packing list to prepare ourselves to confront situations of fear with actions of bravery and feelings of confidence. The group discussed the critical moments that trigger fear, apprehension, and anxiety in each of us. The energy in the room was palpable and there was raw emotion in each woman’s voice as we shared our stories. The group quickly realized that we face similar situations and triggers. Together, we practiced turning negative statements and feelings into positive mantras and positive feelings, both of which will set us up for success and lead to positive outcomes.
I remembered how terrified I had been of biking the Keene descent for the first time at Ironman Lake Placid. Athletes are forewarned about this section of the course, a descent of over 1,000 feet in 7 miles on Route 73 as you head past Cascade Lakes and into Keene, New York. The first time I rode it I was shaking like a leaf—so hard that my bike started to wobble and swerve back and forth on the road. My fear turned into reality. Descending became dangerous. I hit the brakes too hard and the bike became more unstable. One of my water bottles came loose. It shot down the road at high speed, disappeared under the roadside barrier, and went over a cliff. I had to stop and pull over onto the side of the road—shaking and sweating profusely with my heart pounding. I thought there was no way I would be able to descend safely during Ironman Lake Placid. I would be a goner for sure. Just like the water bottle.
The second time I attempted the Keene descent, I followed a friend who had been biking for years. A master descender, she maintained good speed and took the corners wide to make it easier. I followed her wheel. I didn’t think. I didn’t give fear a chance. I focused on staying behind her. As a result, I didn’t shake and I didn’t lean too heavily on the brakes. I did exactly as she did and had one of my fastest descents—one of courage, absent fear. It was the confidence booster I needed before the race. I had quieted my Inner Critic and allowed my Inner Mentor to shine through. On race day, my Inner Mentor was there to coach me through the descent. Positive thoughts and positive feelings led to bravery and a desirable outcome. I made it swiftly and safely into Keene as opposed to being laid out across the road. Or going over a cliff.
It was enlightening to realize how self-sabotaging doubt and fear can be and that with these simple tools, we can prepare our mind and body to react to the situations that arise both in triathlon and in life.
I’m looking forward to developing my descending skills further in the Bike Bolder workshop to be held by Joyce and Platin on June 3.