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by Laura Smith

May 1, 2004

Get 100% out of yourself

I am not one of those Master swimmers who goes into races thinking that I will win. I am one who just tries to compete, and come out a little better of a person than when I dove in. For example, my husband and I were at a meet in Tucson, Arizona a few years ago. I foolishly made the mistake of entering the 1,000 yard freestyle (secretly hoping no other woman in my age group would be irrational enough to enter it, thus increasing my chances of medaling). Be careful what you wish for. Not only did no other woman in my age group enter, but no other woman entered it at all, therefore leaving me alone to swim with the men – some very, very fast men.

I walked the long road down to lane 8 not trying to muster up a lap counter, as I just figured I would be swimming two extra lengths for each time the guy in lane 7 lapped me. The starter blew his whistle, and we all settled into the starting position. All of a sudden I noticed (just like when a group of us 10 year olds toilet papered the Bemis’s house and the police showed up) that I was left in this really awkward position on the block, and the other guys were gone. When I hit the water, streamlined, glanced up and saw bodies flipping at the wall up ahead in the distance, I knew this was going to be a long race!

One thousand yards can be an eternity. The fishlike bodies in front of me were obviously an entirely different species than my own. They were strong, fluid, and graceful. I decided that the only way to get through this ordeal was to keep my head down, concentrate on my own race, but keep one eye out for Mr. Lane 7 lapping me so I’d know when I was done. One at a time the men hit the wall with a spectacular finish. I flipped and swam another 50. Then another. Then another. The men had already showered, gone to dinner, and taken in a double-feature. The announcer, bless his soul, had stayed to the bitter end. I visualized him rattling off the times for the first 7 competitors, then seeing me and announcing “Tuesday….Wednesday…Thursday!”

But I finished. I finished, and I was happy I did so. Just like so many of you, I’m out there for me, for the high I get from a great swim and the adrenaline I’ll carry with me for the rest of the day. In my warped mind, I’m not off in the back in a different area code. I’m out-touching Natalie Coughlin to win the Olympic Gold. The fact that she didn’t bother to show up to accept the silver is her problem.

I love the quote from six-time Ironman champion Mark Allen about getting 100% out of yourself no matter what you have on that particular day. If you’re 50% of your optimum condition, work with that. Jump in a race and get 100% out of that 50%. When it comes down to it, it’s just you against you.

So challenge yourself this month. Jump into a race you might not feel ready for. Do a workout that seems a tad beyond your level. Remember, you can never fail when you try. You can only fail if you don’t.

Laura Smith is a member of the USMS Fitness Committee. She has 12 National certifications in the Fitness world, including American Council on Exercise (both for Aerobics and Personal Training) 3 AFAA certifications, and the Cooper Institute. She was Fitness Director for several outstanding health clubs from 1992 until 2002, and was the sports coordinator for Club Med in 8 different locations for 4 1/2 years prior to that.