For growth to happen, we must leave the safety of our caves, the shoreline, or wherever it is that you feel warm and cosy.
I've read 10 books so far in preparation for my Big Atlantic Row.
(In 2025, I’ll be rowing across the Atlantic Ocean: La Gomera to Antigua. 3,000 miles – solo.)
I’m finding new books, blogs, and podcasts, all the time from people who’ve attempted similar feats.
From early on, after I’d made the decision to do this row, I knew that spending time on, in, and around the ocean would be a necessary part of building psychological and physical resilience for what lies ahead.
To give context around just how unnatural an environment the sea is for me – I grew up right in the middle of the Midlands in a new town called Redditch.
It’s physically impossible to grow up anywhere else in England besides Redditch and be further away from the sea.
The sea to me was like a vast sandy desert would be to a polar bear.
And so, knowing that I’d need to spend much more time on, in, and around the ocean to even begin to be ready for this expedition, I purchased a Rannoch Explorer – a five-metre, 50kg coastal rowing boat.
It's wider and heavier than the pencils that traditional rowers seem to glide so effortlessly along in at 5 o’clock in the morning (why so early?).
A coastal rowing boat should be able to handle much more of the elements than its more lightweight river peer.
Trailer in tow, I ventured off to Tenby, West Wales, to begin my first time spent on the sea – crucially, on my own.
I left the safety of the beach – a couple of relatives waving me off encouragingly.
And, if I’m honest, as I pushed out 50, then 100 metres offshore, I began to feel extremely isolated and scared.
As you row out further and further, the sea gradually changes from an inviting shimmering turquoise colour – as light bounces off the sand – to menacing, ominous shades of dark navy.
I’m not ashamed to say that the deeper I rowed out, the more terrified I felt.
Momentarily, thoughts of dread, and drowning, flooded into my mind.
How on earth am I going to overcome this fear if I’m to row a boat across an ocean??!
Fundamentally, rowing is all about entering a state of flow, an efficient action from the beginning to the finish of the overall sequence.
It should look effortless.
Well, let’s just say that when you’re contemplating your mortality and impending doom, you do get a little tight in the shoulders.
Despite it all, I got through the first session, rowed the boat back in, and made it back into the warmth and comfort of my apartment.
Then I said to Jane, "The boat went out and the boat came home. Tomorrow we go again."
A mantra I repeated each day.
And what happened the following day?
Well, I still felt extremely uncomfortable in what is, to me, a very unnatural and hostile environment.
But I did pick up a bit of rhythm.
There was a little clench of the fist when the boat 'began to run,' as they say in rowing terms, which is where it lifts out of the water and starts to pick up speed.
I was rowing.
There was a little glimmer of hope – a feeling that, yes, I can do this.
A healthy dose of fear is never a bad thing at sea, but at the moment, I'm too conscious of everything around me. I'm expending far too much energy by worrying.
Regardless, by Friday, while still not over my fear of the deep sea, I felt more resilient, more accomplished, and more prepared – whilst still acknowledging how far I’ve yet to go to really be ready.
It's at those margins – where you take yourself out of your comfort zone – that’s where the magic happens.
That's where the real growth is to be found.
It's horrible, it's scary.
But all positive adaptation in life comes from moderate levels of stress.
The body is fascinatingly good at experiencing stress.
Whether it's lifting weight, public speaking, skydiving, whatever your fear may be – with persistence in the face of it, and sufficient rest and recovery time – you can integrate and evolve to become bigger, stronger, and more capable.
Well, in July, I’ve booked myself in for a day’s training in an R45.
An R45 is a purpose-built ocean rowing boat, a bigger boat than I will use.
This boat is built for multiple rowers, so it's bigger, probably about 1,800 kilos.
This time, I'll be rowing with one other rower.
We'll cover 18 miles in the day, further than I've ever rowed before in one day.
To put that into context, I'll be aiming to cover 60 miles a day in my row across the Atlantic.
Find the edges of your comfort zone, and push yourself away from the shore.
Each time you do, say to yourself...
"The boat went out and the boat came home. We go again tomorrow."
Thanks for reading.
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