I have pointed out many times the fruitless nature of comparing yourself to someone else, but sometimes at five in the morning my brain isn't thinking straight and the negative thoughts creep in. He seemed like a harmless enough guy, he even took the time to say hello, that is until he took off like a bullet. Now I know I have a way to go to consider myself a "good swimmer," but this guy made kicking my @$$ in the pool look like a walk in the park. I had barely made it half-way across the pool when he was passing me coming the other direction. I honestly felt like I was swimming in the same pool with Michael Phelps or Ryan Lochte.
At some point I reminded myself of the fable "The Tortoise and the Hare." Slow and steady wins the race, right? Well, what if you are the tortoise racing against some hybrid mix of the Energizer Bunny and a Teenage Mutant Ninja who seems in no hurry to slow down for a nap while you race by and win? And yes, these are the thoughts that run through my head as I swim--what else am I going to do while I swim back and forth for an hour and a half in a 25-yard pool?
That's when common sense finally kicked in, or maybe it was the two cups of coffee I had before heading to the gym. Don't compare yourself to anyone else (especially someone who could probably still win an Olympic medal with his arms tied behind his back). And this is where I come back to the importance of reflection. I keep very detailed notes of my training for just such occasions as this. So when I got home I looked at where I was this time last June. I was swimming 1400 yards in about 50 minutes, and that included using flipper and pull paddles to help me. At that time it was also not uncommon for me to cling to the end of the pool gasping for breath sure that I was going to die. Today I completed 3300 yards in 90 minutes, no flippers or paddles, and not once did I cling to the edge in fear. That is progress!
The funny thing is that when Olympic swimming guy finally came up for air, I complemented him on his swim speed and he told me I was pretty good myself. He also shared that he swam in college, which accounts for the fact that I probably could not have kept up with him even if I had my own propeller. But the real lesson to learn from this is that it is important to take time to reflect on your progress. It does you no good to compare yourself to anyone else. That does not move you forward--it only builds the frustration.
Take the time to journal where you are, so that as time goes by you can look back and see how far you have truly come. Now I know there is no such thing as perfection (but heck, reflection and perfection rhyme), but each time you look back and refine your practice, you will be getting closer to your own personal perfection.
“Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Do not bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.”