When you set yourself a challenge that is outside of your comfort zone, you will need commitment, determination and dedication and most importantly you will need a ‘Why’ that is strong enough to keep you going through your journey when times get tough.
An Ironman is a perfect example of such a journey.
If you are not a triathlete then you are probably aware that it is a big event but just how big?
The distances are 3.8km (2.4mile) swim, 180km (112 mile) cycle followed by a 42km (26.22 mile) run (marathon); these disciplines combined together, completed by individuals, are considered as one of the most difficult one-day sporting events in the world. The swim starts at 7am and competitors have until midnight to cross the finish line (within 17 hours).
They don’t call it Ironman for nothing!
Each of the distances for the respective disciplines are epic, none of which can be achieved without a lot of hours of training. You can’t ‘wing it’ when it comes to an Ironman so when you sign up you are committing to consistent training and an empty bank account. Apart from the sign up fee (this takes commitment in itself) you will need a wetsuit, a bike or two (a roadie and/or a TT (time trial)), approximately three pairs of running shoes, along with nutrition, hydration and recovery potions, and don’t forget the kit, cap and sunglasses.
Training hours are constant and long, these need to be scheduled around ‘life’ however the last twelve weeks in particular requires total commitment, with no room for wavering from their desired outcome and ticking off the required training program each day (often training includes multiple disciplines in a day).
You would have to be an idiot to consider it, wouldn’t you?
The ‘Why’ needs to get you up every day, and through the long lonely training days and most of all when ‘Ironman’ tries to challenge your commitment either by fatigue, feelings of self doubt, bad weather, wind, sun, injuries, hitting the wall;your ‘Why’ must be strong.
When I did Ironman the two hardest weeks were back to back and saw me clocking up 7k/8k swimming, 270km/300km on my bike and 54/60km on my feet. Looking back it is hard to believe how my body coped with this type of endurance, I was fortunate that my husband feed and watered me at the end of each session, a task that I repaid him with when he did Ironman two years later.
When you make it to the start line then the job is 90% done, but this is when the ‘Why’ really needs to be strong because on the day things will always challenge you and your brain may to saying ‘just stop’, ‘no one will notice’, ‘you don’t have to push through the panic attack in the swim’, ‘the wind on the cycle’ or ‘the blisters on the run’ without your ‘Why’ you will listen to your own self doubt and your day will end.
The atmosphere will help, as event day is a huge festival, but it is not enough to get you through any major challenges, so along with your ‘Why’ you also need strategies.
The key to the swim is to know your limits, don’t over estimate your pace and if you are nervous then count to fifty after the gun goes and let the two thousand other swimmers start without you, this may help you avoid the inevitable hit from a fellow competitor.
The bike however is usually a solitary journey, 180km of concentrating on the road and the rider in front, keeping track of the distance between the cyclist is essential as if this is less than 7 m (23 feet) penalties can occur. Drinking and sustaining the body with carbohydrates and electrolytes is the key to this leg ensuring hydration is up and fuelling for the marathon that awaits. Wind will almost always be a factor. All this and no supporters during this section of the race.
During the run the competitors are supported by crowds of cheering strangers, family and friends. People call your name (fortunately they are all printed on the race bib) and say things like ‘looking good’, ‘not far now’, ‘keep it up’. Coke and chips are your friend.
The Ironman finish shoot is like no other, there are plenty of people high fiving the finishers, music is pumping and the atmosphere is electric, this is where you can celebrate your ‘Why’; after all you have spent a huge amount of time and money getting here so enjoy hearing Mike Reilly (the voice of Ironman) say those magical words….You Are An Ironman!
The medal will be draped over your head and the towel wrapped around your shoulders, spirits are high, then off to the recovery tent to replenish the body with lots of food and have a massage before you go and get lots of hugs from the family.
The next day, compression tights are worn my many, some are seen spinning out their legs on the cycle whilst others are limping with stiff muscles or sore feet but everyone is a winner, having committed to the challenge.
What was my personal ‘Why’?
To celebrate turning 50 and challenging myself beyond what I had thought possible.
I had started with small triathlons eight years before (300m swim, 21km bike and 2km run) and more recently completed three half ironman’s and I wanted to take the next step up to a full Ironman. To support my ‘Why’, I used the following mantra’s ‘If 70 year olds can do Ironman, I can do it’, ‘If you do the training anything is possible’, ‘The wind is your friend, it keeps you cool and makes you strong’ and ‘Easy effort’. I was also inspired by the fact that my son had spent the past three years struggling with constant pain with a back injury following an accident; when my body hurt, I knew unlike my son, my pain was temporary so ‘Harden the ‘F’ up’
Did I need my ‘Why’? You bet I did.
My training was hampered by a sprained ankle bought about by our dog knocking me over when he was chasing a rabbit. The reduced training for the run meant that in the limited time the longest distance I could jog was 17kms so I elected to walk, to prove that I could do this on the day, I completed a 36km walk as part of my training by myself walking 9 times around a 4km circuit.
Mother nature caused a major roadblock for me and my fellow competitors the year I did Ironman, with a weather bomb which was significant enough to cancel the race and a half ironman was scheduled for the following day. We had all racked our bikes and had to retrieve them from transition then sit out the day of the storm and return on the Sunday. The lake was very rough as a result but the swim remained on, a couple of panic attacks bought about by the sideways motion resulted in my brain and body battling against each other around the urge to stop and pull out.
This situation tested the ‘Why’ of many that day, some were so affected they pulled out before the start, or went so hard on the half that they didn’t complete it.
My ‘Why’ was strong and it got me through and I enjoyed every minute of the challenge, one of my best day’s ever! I was also lucky enough to have my journey documented by the television crew throughout the day so I have a video which I hope to use to inspire my grandchildren in the future. So I didn’t get to do the long day but I still got the medal and the towel and coped with what I was dealt on the day. Winner!!
So when you want to challenge yourself in life, choose your ‘Why’ carefully as it will be needed often throughout your journey.