Mike Tyson was asked by a reporter whether he was worried about Evander Holyfield and his fight plan and Iron Mike’s speedy reply was; “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
On Sunday morning, I got punched in the mouth by the ocean, and wow did it bring me unstuck.
Over the last couple of months, in goal preparation, I’ve completed 17 ocean swims: (time and distance below)
My battle plan was this:
1.) Conquer 500 meters (which was a challenge), then add a little distance to each consecutive swim. Work towards a metric of 2:24 per 100 Meters which is essentially 2.5 Km /hour.
2.) Find a pilot (my brother enthusiastically volunteered) to align with my game plan and set the pace and direction. The lead would swim draft me so I could comfortably achieve my goal of five kilometers in under two hours
3.) Put the above into a duo – practice run, a week before the event
4.) Fine-tune the plan if needed
Our practice run went “swimmingly!” We made some minor adjustments to some distance splits and amended our strategy for the start of the race. I was confident and good to go.
I owned this swim.
How the plan went:
It was already a miserable day, far from the tranquil sunny days of my recent enjoyable ocean swims. A storm cell whipped up as we were marshaling to enter the water. The onshore wind, tide, and current were traveling in the opposite direction to the way we were heading out and the ocean looked ugly.
The start gun sends your heart rate through the roof. The tussling bodies of dozens of other swimmers all compete for swimming space. The waves were breaking on my face every time I tried to take a breath. I was not only drinking copious amounts of dehydrating salty water, I was inhaling it.
My goggles were smacked down my face by the slapping of the unanticipated swell. Putting my goggles back on imperfectly with the seals not flush against my skin created leaks, all of the water was now on the wrong side of the lens. My eyes stung and I had poor visibility.
I just couldn’t get a breath.
I couldn’t settle.
I was going harder than I’d ever swum and I was barely moving. I was swimming like a water polo player with my head in the sky and it was unfamiliar and fatiguing. I couldn’t slipstream Happy as we got amalgamated like we were taking a bubble bath together in the washing machine
“What the fuck am I doing?”
“Why am I here?”
“I can’t do this!”
Happy kept stopping and asking if I was ok. I couldn’t even respond. A lifeguard at the third buoy asked me “are you ok mate?.” If he had blurted out some instructional rhetoric like “jump on my ski,” I would have.
I wanted to grab the giant yellow-anchored buoy. I wanted to stop.
I decided to slow right down, convert to breath stroke, and complete one lap which was half the intended distance. I would be a failure but I tried my best. What else could I do?
After turning around the 5th buoy at 600 meters, we aligned with the tide and the wind. The rain was still so heavy it was bouncing off the surface of the ocean so we couldn’t see the next marker, but the swimming-strokes started to return. I had a taste of rhythm. I was putting my head in the water, my heart rate was coming down and I was in control of my breath. I was swimming.
Helmuth von Moltke was a war strategist in the 19th Century. He first coined the term “no plan survives contact with the enemy”. This a slightly more sophisticated statement but the same as Bad Boy Mike’s, “Everyone Has A Plan Until You Get Punched In The Mouth!”
The ocean had been friendly to me in training, today it was my enemy. I had to keep the old plan in mind while working out the new one. If I was a boxer, my eyes were black, my nose was pushed across my face, and blood was in my eyes but my arms and legs were still working. “Don’t stop moving and throwing punches, Dom.”
My new plan was to get to the next buoy, take more strokes before each breath, find my rhythm, and keep the three swimmers in front of us at a close visual distance as their pace was sound. Then, repeat that plan.
Bang. At 1.6 km I was back baby!! The storm had settled and I was swimming right behind Happy, touching the souls of his feet with each stroke and listening to the bubbles of my slow, controlled exhale under water.
The thought of only doing one lap never even came back to consciousness. We had some time to makeup but we were on the move and swimming fast enough to finish the event.
To give you an idea, our first 500 meters was 16:55.8 seconds. Toward the end of the race, we were doing sub 10 minutes for 500 meters (1:57/100m).
We finished under time and raised $1, 330 for doing it.
Never give up!