Ode to the Ironman Triathlete

Every year on this day I get a little bit nostalgic. This year is no different. Seven years ago today I did my first (and only) Ironman Triathlon. I hope you won’t mind if I reminisce with you about a day that changed my life forever.

For those of you who don’t know, an Ironman Triathlon combines a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride and a 26.2 mile run.

One hundred and forty point six miles.

When I informed my boss of my intention to do this, her first question was, “And how many days do you have to finish?”

Participants have 17 hours to cross the finish line.

In training for this day, I swam 120 miles, biked 2,640 miles and did 488 miles of running. I arrived at the gym at 5:00am and trained for 2.5 hours, and on weekends my workouts consisted of four to six hour bike rides and long runs of 12 to 20 miles.

I rode in winds so strong that my bike speed, which was normally around 18 mph, was in the 4-6 mph range, rain so cold that the hottest bath imaginable didn’t even begin to warm me, and was chased by dogs on more than one occasion. One time an enormous Rottweiler actually got so close that his teeth bit the outside of my pedal.

Along the way I incurred several injuries, the worst of which was a severe hamstring strain that prevented me from running for nearly three months.

IMBrazilRun

I experimented with various nutrition sources, some of which left me on the side of the road cramping and vomiting, and I learned how to find a restroom when there was none to be found (this involved carrying copious amounts of toilet paper in my camelback and becoming one with nature).

And because I’d heard it said that doing an Ironman is 10% physical and 90% mental (how can that be?), I developed and practiced my mental training.

IMBrazilSwim2

On Race Day, I stood on the beach in Brazil (because, hey, if I’m going to suffer, why not suffer in paradise?), the sun just beginning to emerge from the Atlantic ocean, and cried. My tears were a culmination of all the frustration and painstaking work I’d endured over the past six months, and the doubt as to whether or not I was actually going to be able to do this.

Would my body hold out? Or would this be the day that I died (I seriously wondered). After all, my longest training session had been 8 hours and I was about to push my body twice that far.

Fourteen hours and forty minutes later I hobbled across the finish line with a grimace on my face and a smile in my heart the size of Texas.

 Ironman Brazil Finishline

There are no words to express the feeling of accomplishment (and relief) I felt, but this poem, sent to me by a fellow triathlete, pretty well sums it up.

 Close Your Eyes
Author: Unknown

The water laps your toes and envelops your skin. Close your eyes. The masses become silent and your heartbeat thunders. You have planned for today, talked about today, trained for today, imagined today, dreamed today, and yet you still don’t know what to expect.

A cannon blows and you remember, as you dread the uncertainty and the harsh duration to come, to savor every second because your memory of it will be over in the minutes it takes to recount or reread from your journal.

Move, breathe, drink, eat. Move, breathe, drink, eat. Move and move. One hundred forty and six-tenths miles. Know tenderly, intimately every fiber of your being that propels you forward only because your brain says, ‘Don’t stop.’ And don’t stop. Move, breathe, drink, eat.

Manage your day. Stick to your plan. Be flexible. Just finish. Float when your mind and body detach and watch your body move without you–pushed by the crowd, the volunteers, who lust for your finish as if it were their own.

But it hurts. And you don’t know for sure why you’re doing this and what it will mean when you do. And then you see it. A banner, a clock, a frenzy of applause. And you know you made it happen through whatever means and power source you draw strength from.

Ironman will trivialize past hardship and prepare you to minimize those to come. It makes dreams come true. You have what it takes to bridge aspirations into accomplishments.  Crossing that line embraces self:  confidence, sacrifice, reliance, invention, worth.  Finishing makes you your own hero.

 * * * * *

Crossing the finish line was one of the greatest achievements in my life.  I learned more about myself from this single experience than I had in my entire life leading up to it. I learned what I am made of, and I am far stronger than I ever gave myself credit for. And I learned that if I want something badly enough, I will never ever give up until I’ve achieved it. Failure in life is inevitable, but quitting will never be an option for me.

What about you? What is your greatest achievement? What has it taught you about yourself?

13 comments on… “Ode to the Ironman Triathlete”

  1. That is indeed an amazing feat! So glad you were able to participate and explore the boundaries of your physical body and mental strength. I figure if you can do that, you can do just about anything you put your mind to.

    I learned some interesting things about myself when my mom was suffering from and eventually died from cancer. It’s a pain so deep that I truly feel nothing, but I bleed a little bit every single day. While it was a relief that her suffering was over, I felt like my suffering had just begun. It is indeed another life-changing experience that pushes a person to their extreme limit. I learned how to endure the loss of a very close loved one and still find a few minutes of joy and happiness despite the loss. I didn’t think that would be possible, but I’m learning to find those times.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

    • Patricia – I can totally relate to what you’re saying. No matter how prepared you think you are to lose them, once they pass, you realize how ill prepared you really were. We share that mother loss–the worst possible loss for a woman (save for losing a child)–and it’s something you never get over. Thanks for sharing that very personal experience.


  2. Will Vince


    It was truly a wonderful day and accomplishment. What a glorious moment watching you come to the finish line. One proud husband!

  3. Way to go, Suzanne. I’m a lifelong runner, but never had the urge to try Triathlon–too much work! I’ve seen what training and completion have done for others, though. My greatest “I don’t think I can do this/Oh wow, look what I did” moment was definitely having my first child. Anyone else out there hear that?

  4. Wow. Nothing I’ve done compares to that. I would never be able to do a triathlon. Congratulations in finishing your goal.

  5. Suzanne, you are amazing. You look so strong and dedicated in your pictures. The very thought of attempting a feat like this makes me stand in awe of your commitment. Congratulations!

    • Thanks, Margaret. And thank you for nominating me for the Sunshine Award (and mentioning me in your blog)! I owe so much to #MyWANA.

  6. Pingback: The Sunshine Award | Margaret Miller's Blog


  7. Roxanne Junio-Moody


    I remember this time so well. I hardly saw you at work you were so busy with your training on top of all of the other responsibilities you had. Just wanted to say “YOU DID IT!” Not many people can say they accomplished something this great but you sure can.

    By the way, I love the pictures! Keep the blogs coming…

  8. Pingback: The Sunshine Award | Margaret Miller's Blog

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