I did an open water swim last Saturday, 25th April 2015, in Labuan. I managed to swim 2.7km in 2.5hrs which is half of the distance of the Labuan cross channel swimming challenge.
Below is the google map view of the distance that we swam.
When I first started, I was doing well. I kept in mind of what I’ve learnt during my practice swims. As I focused on looking down to the ocean floor, I could see the white sand clearly underneath me. The waves were calm and I had nothing to worry about. I even enjoyed seeing shiny tiny fishes swimming below me.
The moment I noticed the white sandy ground had disappeared behind the murky waters underneath and surrounding me, panic started to creep in. It was then I started to hear myself thinking of the worst possible things that could happened.
Realizing that I was scaring the shit out of me in just a few minutes after I started my swim, I consciously shut down my mind and told myself to focus on the swim.
That worked for quite some time until I started to feel pinching pains on some parts of my body, my legs, my back, my left arm and at some point on my face. I was like “What the hell is that?!” the pinching pain comes and goes. I thought it was from the pollution coming from the ships and that my skin is sensitive to pollution. My mind started to freak out again and my imagination ran freaking wild. I started to imagine jelly fish, big fishes, sharks and what to do if anything happened. I can feel the panic starting again. So I turned off my over-thinking brain and shift my focus to swim.
Then I encountered the less gentle waves. At first I was caught off guard. I struggled to work with the waves. I wasted a lot of my energy by pushing my head up to breath. My neck started to hurt, I became tired and my swim became less efficient and slow. At this time, I forgot what I had learnt from my own practice swim.
I saw Bobby was swimming further forward and I didn’t want to lose sight of him. So I forced myself to swim harder so I could be next to him. Feeling safe next to Bobby, I remembered what to do. So I swam relaxed and I could feel that it was less tiring and the painful neck reduced. Right after that I started to enjoy my swim despite the waves. I was able to work with it, predicted and anticipated the waves better in a way that instead of struggling to breath, I used the waves to lift up my body so I could breathe easily. It started to feel fun and I was confident that I could do this.
I think half way of the distance, the waves started to get rough. There were a few times when I didn’t manage to breathe because the waves crashed on my face. The salty water got into my mouth. I struggled to breathe and I lost my momentum. I was back to struggling again. It didn’t help when I started to feel dizzy from the rocking waves.
This was the moment when I said to myself that I wanted to give up. Told myself that I couldn’t handle the waves anymore. I wanted to quit. So I stopped and treaded in the middle of the ocean. But I saw Bobby kept on swimming and he didn’t stop. I remembered asking myself what the hell was I doing, wanting to stop in the middle of nowhere. So I changed my mind and told myself to just freaking swim to the island.
I swam next to Bobby, surrounding us were several ships that moved and that gave us clear sight to the island. At this point, I very much felt that I was swimming in the water for too long.
I continued my swim and I was thinking to myself. I’m in the middle of nowhere. There is no way to quit. If I quit, then I could die of drowning. I couldn’t rely on anyone else to save me if something happen. I doubt the kayakers are well equipped and whether or not they can save me. Those thoughts made me realized that I’m solely responsible for my life at that time. It also made it crystal clear that I made the choice to put myself at risk by swimming in the open water with lack of preparation. If I knew what I’ve gotten myself into, I probably wouldn’t give it a try especially with less training and skills.
So I aimed for the island. There is a small white jetty that I could see from where I was. That motivated me to just continue swimming in the rocking waves. I remembered that I said to myself this was madness! And I couldn’t believe that I put myself in a dangerous situation. I kept on telling myself that this is the last time that I’m doing an open water swim. NO MORE!!!
The last 500 meters felt like battle to me. I aimed to swim to the white jetty but the waves kept on pushing me away. To correct my direction, my movement was against the waves and I was really in a hurry to get off the ocean. I dumped what I learnt and swam as crazily fast as I could. But that distance felt so freaking long and I didn’t reach it fast enough.
By the time I reached the white jetty, I didn’t feel relief. I was overwhelmed by my own fears and judgments of how crazy I was for putting my own life at risk.
A day after the event, I finally felt proud of myself for giving an open water swim a try.
Here are what I’ve learnt from my experience:
1. Going slow is not a good idea. Going slow means longer time in water. Longer time in water more likely that undesirable things can happen, such as rough waves.
2. Preparation is a must. I could do the distance in a swimming pool but without mastering the necessary skills, I ended up struggling for breathing a lot, causing painful neck, aching shoulder and tiredness.
3. Strong mentality helps a lot. My mind constantly scares the hell out of me. It creates panic, wild imaginations, disempowering self talks, the victim mindset, etc. I don’t want to feel scared or stressed or disempowered when I swim so I turn my mind off so I don’t hear anything negative that it has to share.
4. Focus on the swim not the distractions. When I focused on the distractions, the pinching pains, the scary wild imaginations, my fears, all those take away what’s important right there and then which is swimming in the ocean. I didn’t allow and let myself be distracted because swimming is vitally more important than entertaining those distractions.
5. Being responsible. Once I got that I’m responsible for my own life, only I can save my life. why am I saying this, I’ve got the swimming skills, I’ve got the knowledge, when I’m responsible for my life that means I use what I’ve got, the skills, the knowledge to keep me safe and alive. That also includes mastering my own mentality. There is no room for fears to take control in my head that would cost me my life. Relying on other people may cost their lives especially when those people are not well equipped to save others.
6. Use and apply the knowledge continuously and consistently. There were so many times when I ditched what I know, I ended up swimming inefficiently. I got left behind, I struggled and I got tired. When I used what I know, I swam like a pro and I started to have fun doing it.
7. Learn the rhythm of the waves. Once I got the rhythm, I sailed with it! Breathing became easy and riding with the waves became fun.
8. Acknowledging oneself is important. I didn’t think I was doing great because I compared myself to other swimmers who finished their swim in 2.5 hours, while I was still swimming half way. But when I acknowledged that “I swam 2.7km in open water”, suddenly I realized it was a huge deal. 1. I’ve never done it, 2. This was my first time of doing it, 3. I was the only Brunei woman who was doing it at that time.
Once I got over my fears of “risking my life” and how crazy I was for trying it out despite the lack of a few skills, I’m glad that I did it.
By the time I’m back in Brunei, Bobby shared with me this video that I very much relate to especially with my experience with the open swim. I can laugh at my own silliness now.
If you don’t know how to swim, click here to learn.
P.S. I shot a short video of the ocean the day before the event. If you’d like to watch it, click this link.
The Effortless Swim Team