The shore is a nasty place to hang out: What my first triathlon taught me about unknowns.

Ironman Louisville happened this past weekend, and the preparations have given me triathlon brain, which means I can’t stop thinking about my first triathlon. There are a million metaphors in a triathlon-as-life comparison, but for me, it’s all about the unknowns. My favorite lesson from my first triathlon is to embrace the unknowns. It’s an uncomfortable place to be, but learning to channel the energy from embracing unknowns, that’s gold to me.

Dayna_raceMy first Triathlon started on the banks of the Ohio River. More highway than waterway, the Ohio River is a wide, fast-moving body of water that sometimes has bodies in the water. Eww. It’s nasty. People make this scrunchy face of horror when I tell them I’m about to swim in the Ohio River. While preparing for my first triathlon I knew it was going to be gross to SWIM in the Ohio River, but somehow I didn’t factor in the slow WALK into the river. Wait, what?! No deck? No boat? No glistening Greek Adonis to carry me lithely into the river for my swim? All of the training, all of the mental prep, the vision work to picture my transitions and my events. Out the window within the first 10 minutes. Major freaking unknown. Walking into the ding dang river.

There I was, standing with hundreds of strangers on the edge of the Ohio River in my bathing suit, bare feet, Pepto-Bismol pink swim cap and goggles on my head. Totally vulnerable. Cold. Not even thinking about the swim, bike, run ahead of me, but focussed only on this unknown – walking into the Ohio River. Uncomfortable. Exposed. This is how I felt at that moment. It’s also how I feel right before I public speak, and right before a big presentation, and right before I ask for the work, and right before I say “no” to someone…and every other time I find myself staring down an unknown.

With nearly 100 other women in my age group, all gathered up in our matching Pepto caps, we slowly make our way to the edge of the water and start walking in…one deep, sludgey, sightless, unknown step after another. Ewwwww!!! It was every bit as horrifying as I imagined 10 minutes earlier. Breath. Panic. Breath. Panic. Breath. Feel the muck and guck squish between my toes, up to my calf, over my knee. OVER MY KNEE!!! Panic. Breath. Breath. Breath. Look forward. Move forward. Laugh. Wait a second. This is fun! This nervous energy, this crazy thing I’m doing, this totally uncomfortable situation, all of this not-dying I’m doing, I’m OK. This feels awesome!

Whenever I’m about to do something that is fraught with unknowns – public speak, ask for the work, tell a client no – I think of what it took to walk into the Ohio River that brisk Sunday morning. And I muster that same courage from that same place where all of those unknowns lurk and I start walking in … into the unknown. Then I dive in head first. Which I do. Every time. Because let’s be honest, who wants to hang out on the shore up to their knees in guck?

Dayna Neumann

boundless. curious. renegade. founder @ execuity

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