When I was in the Navy, part of my job was to learn how to drive a ship. There are naturally a lot of factors to consider when one is in charge of maneuvering a large warship, and one of the first lessons we were taught was the importance of controllable and uncontrollable forces. For example things like speed and rudder angle I, as the ship driver, have control over. Things like wind, currents, other sea going traffic, Northern Right Whale calving season (it’s a thing), not so much. It’s the uncontrollables that are the hardest factors to learn and overcome, and I think the same goes for swimming, or exercising in general.

You’ve probably had a day where you feel ready and motivated to hit the gym, but you show up and it turns out that class you take EVERY Wednesday at noon is cancelled because the instructor is sick. Frustrating. Today, I had that kind of day in the pool, but I have to say I’m struggling pretty hard with overcoming because it’s becoming a pattern at the pool I use.

You see, to stay motivated to train for a meeting I’m doing in November, I took time and wrote this grand plan. I broke down every day of every week from now until December 31st, and really honed my focus in an effort to gain some more speed and aerobic endurance. Last week, my plan was interrupted by overwhelming allergy attacks of the mid-south (sounds like a bad horror flick). This week, deep sigh, the pool.

The pool I swim at is part of an athletic club owned by the city, and the facility is overall very nice. It’s two blocks from my house, so I can walk there and back in less than 10 minutes. I’m really lucky to have it. The problem is, the condition of the pool is horrendous. The air quality is bad (poor ventilation), the water quality is bad (often warm and cloudy with chemicals), and the bulkheads (save for lane 3), are completely torn apart. I’m talking gaping holes that easily catch and cut your feet.

I’ve been silently (and by silently I mean giving it a 9 instead of a 10 and really crushing that free response section of member surveys) putting up with this nonsense for close to two years now, but this week really tipped my frustration over the edge. Here’s a glimpse at the week so far:

Monday – cloudy and full of chemicals.

Yesterday – closed (because it was more swamp than pool).

Today – reopened but worse than Monday. Cloudy, hot, full of chemicals.

The cloudy culprit. My phone camera is actually too good and making it look less cloudy than it really was.

It was so bad today that I spent the last 15-20 min of my workout coughing, and voiced my frustration to the pool manager when I was through. This week is a bit of an extreme exception, but I face this poor water quality at the facility about once a week. It really puts a long term strain on my mental toughness and motivation. I always have to wonder if it’s going to be a good pool day or a bad pool day.

These kinds of things that are out of my control that so strongly affect my workout are really hard for me to mentally overcome. Something breaks in me. I get angry, and spend the whole workout coming up with exactly the right things to say to the right people to get my message across (then never follow through). I lose focus on the workout. Then I leave, complain about it more to all my friends and family over text, and stew for another few hours. If I go in tomorrow and the pool is still cloudy, the cycle will repeat.

So how do I break this negative mindset? I do have a few strategies. They aren’t fool proof, but over the years, they’ve helped me. And today took all three for me to finish my workout.

  1. I think about someone worse off than me: I read a book recently by Lynne Cox and her adventures in long distance and cold water swimming, and there is a chapter where she describes the conditions of swimming in the Nile River in Egypt. Reading it made me cringe. So today, while I was feeling sorry for myself, I thought, “AT LEAST YOU AREN’T SWIMMING THROUGH HUMAN WASTE YOU BIG BABY.” My point, things could always be worse.
  2. I pretend I’m more important than I actually am: Again, me feeling sorry for myself today, I thought, “Olympic swimmers don’t complain about a murky pool, they just keep swimming”. Am I an Olympian? No. Could I afford to turn around and walk out and skip two days this week? Yes, I could. But I’m stubborn, and I don’t want to miss my workout and get off track. So I pretend I’m Dara Torres or Katie Ledecky and I keep going.
  3. I adjust my expectations: Today was supposed to be a pretty solid (and by solid I mean hard) set of 200’s, mixing fast and aerobic paces. I had to adjust. I knew that I wasn’t going to hit my goal times while I was hacking up a lung. I had to be okay with that and recognize that I could have made the easier choice of walking away and leaving my workout behind, but I got in, and that at this point in my Masters swimming career IS GOOD ENOUGH. (See #2 above, where I am not actually an Olympic swimmer)

I’m sure we’ve all had similar experiences – you get stuck at work and miss your gym window, or your kid gets sick and you can’t (in good conscience) drop them off at the kid’s zone or call a sitter. Things happen. I think the important takeaway for me today, as I try to take my own advise I’d give to a friend in a similar situation is that beating yourself up over something out of your control will just fuel the negativity and ultimately maybe even make you miss out on the small accomplishments you were able to achieve today in the face of great odds. Have similar coping strategies? I’d love to hear them!

Warm down and out –

Ray