In any athletic endeavor smashing through the pain barrier is getting past the point where you think you can’t carry on. It’s about physical and mental toughness and success in managing pain comes incrementally to those who persist.

My first swims where from Manly to Shelly Beach, a 1.2 km dash through the breakers at the point and across beautiful protected reefs to the popular Sydney picnic spot, Shelly Beach and back. As scenic as it is, done at pace it can hurt and the first pain barrier I recall in my open-water swimming career was the wall of colder water that always greets you just off Shelly.

The ‘bolder dash’ came next, Manly to Queenscliffe return. It’s 3 km and done in under an hour. The pain barrier on that swim was different; it was of the mind and we called it North Steyne syndrome. Manly is a concave beach and swum straight from point to point the optical illusion of passing the yellow monolithic North Steyne Surf Lifesaving Club up to three times on the way home is a heartbreaker –until you learn not to care.

Tired of racing each other home from Queensie, Freshwater was the next beach to be taken. First done stopping to regroup at Queensie before the final push, it became an express run to the ocean pool on the northern side of the beach. The lights of the swim clubhouse above provide useful navigation when done at feeding time.

Then came North Curl Curl, Dee Why and so on etcetera. The swims became bigger, the conditions more challenging, the waters more dangerous and the pain more intense. Gradually my fitness improved and so did my belief that I would get through the next pain barrier, however high the bar because of the confidence that comes from having done it so many times before.

Real or imagined, it doesn’t matter, pain barriers are everywhere in life. They hold us back or propel us forward, if only we persist.