As an ultrarunner, an 11-mile race should neither be scary nor inspire fear. Yet, since signing up I have not been able to shake the feelings of fear and doubt. The problem isn’t the number of miles. The problem is it is a lot of miles, of swimming!

The Portland Bridge Swim is an 11-mile swim, down the Willamette River, through downtown Portland on July 9th. Swimmers have a kayaker accompany them for safety, navigation, and helping with nutrition needs. Some swim it as a relay, some swim solo; despite my furthest swim being only 2 slow open water miles, I signed up as a solo swimmer. Since signing up I have alternated between hating myself for spending money on such a dumb mistake and feeling like it was exactly the thing I needed. So as a coach, I had to share, as many athletes training at Evolution Healthcare & Fitness are in a similar place. Feeling overwhelmed and scared by a looming event is commonplace in sports.

Listen to the Inner Voices that Won’t Shut Up

I heard about the Portland Bridge Swim two years ago and since hearing about it, I have not stopped thinking about it. Could I do that? I know about endurance, but can I translate it to swimming? Can I really stare at a pool bottom all those hours I used to spend on the trail and in the mountains? This event will probably take me 7 hours and that is a long time to do anything, especially swim. But I haven’t been this nervously excited to train for anything in a long time and I am so happy to be in that place. I may not think this everyday in the pool, but I am happy to have signed up rather than keeping it on some never done bucket list or thinking…one day.

Embrace Being an Amateur (Swimming or Otherwise)

I ran my first 10k in college. It was almost 8 years of running later that I ran my first half marathon. 5 years or so after that I attempted my first ultra marathon. Suffice it to say, I didn’t jump right into running long distance. I have no memory of being an amateur, scared of a running distance. It turns out, being an amateur is scary. Having never done something makes you feel like you can’t do it. It’s a battlefield of emotions with self-doubt versus all your confidence, and handling it all is both terrible and wonderful. It helps you learn and read and ask for help, and try new things and have the healthiest of fears.

Take Advantage of Fear Gear

For me, fear is accompanied by fear gear, a state of mind that feels like motivation on caffeine and sugar. Operating under the influence of fear helps me get up early to swim, helps me stay in the pool for extra distance and keeps me pushing towards big goals. Fear gear motivates me to listen closely to those who may know something, anything that might help. Fear gear motivated me to hire a swimming coach. As a coach, hiring a coach has already taught me a lot. Fear gear has moved me to seek out a mentor for swimming that is kicking my butt in the pool and helping me do the things I think I cannot do.

It is just over 1 month until the swim, I am sure in this time I will never stop feeling fear, feeling like an amateur or feeling like I want to fake an injury come race day. I know now that this feeling I have is something I wouldn’t trade for anything.

About the author: Dana Katz is the coach and owner of UltraU. She coaches endurance runners using heart rate based training to maximize runners’ potential. Dana teaches Strength Training for Runners on Wednesday nights at Evolution and hopes you will stop in and do some squats with her.