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.
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.
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.
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
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?