Everymans’ Ironman

June 29, 2011

When I arrived at the pool today, between second breakfast and first lunch, it was already filled with swimmers doing there “thing;” some were moving faster than others, some were floating, others were powering through their workouts with big splashes and heavy breathing. I quietly found my lane, donned my cap and goggles and, without a word, set to work doing some long long steady state swimming. I started slow and tried to be smooth in the water – I had a long way to go.

As legs and arms paddle in my peripheral vision, bubbles rising from kicks and exhilations, I started thinking about the matter at hand in my lane, and the matters at hand in their lanes and, of course, I started talking to myself underwater. This is not completely uncommon, when you are by yourself in your own head for 45 minutes, 1 hour, 1.5 hours at a time with nothing but the black line on the bottom of the pool to watch and nothing to keep you occupied except for the broken record of thoughts in your head. I started counting, out loud, all of the benefits that were to come from being dedicated to this race, to this distance, and going the extra little way to make sure that each one of these sessions counts. And, as I announced them to my underwater self, I realized that they were the same for each person in that pool….no matter what they were aiming at.

Everyone has their “Ironman”- their goal, their objective. Maybe it’s a 5k or a marathon. A sprint triathlon, or just taking one foot and putting it in front of the other. Setting foot on the moon, or onto the Norte Dame football team, into THE firm. Maybe the goal is to have a healthy marriage, or a healthy baby. No matter what it is that you have your sights set on, there are innumerable parallels with training for this oh-so-long triathlon.

There is the decision: you have focused, and you start to aim. You make a pact, set a deadline. Back in November, I decided that July was going to be it. I submitted. I was accepted. And we were on the way.

You start to digest your goal: How will you get there? What have you done? What are you going to do? This is the most exciting part. You are visualizing yourself already there. Its GOING to happen. With a race entry confirmation, the conversations about what to expect began. We talked about how I would crush my old times from Kona, how much stronger I was and how great it would feel to be that fast. We talked about how life would be different in the upcoming months. How we would deal with those changes. How we hoped not to deal with those changes. There was lots of excitement, many a whimsical smile. Bliss.

The process begins: you hire a coach, start a training program, begin studying, or changing. Slowly slowly, you start to make progress. Your goal seems further away now than ever. Come January, I was on a training schedule  and those early morning runs, rides and swims started. I would be up before dawn, frequently tired. The sacrifice had begun.

The closer you get to the goal, the bigger the sacrifice seems to be. The more you must focus, calm. Uncertainty will sweep in. But so will confidence. It’s a strange time. As the spring arrived, the excitement built and the magnitude of the challenge at hand grew in size and imposition in our lives. Over the winter, my body had changed. My appetite had changed. And my focus was sharp – I was going to ROCK this Ironman.

The home stretch: is this ACTUALLY going to happen?  Can’t it happen ALREADY? Summer is here. The training weeks are long, and I am tired. And that’s expected – that’s even the intention. Constantly hungry, sometimes cranky, but growing more and more ready to take on the challenge each day. I have shifted from being merely excited to being anxious. The race is so close. And 140.6 miles is so long. Why did I sign up for this again? Ohboy. Let’s get this over with. I wanna take a nap.

And then, it arrives. The moment you’ve been waiting for. There is some uncertainty piggybacking on your stoic drive. You know there will be pain, but you don’t know how much. You know there will be some heartbreak, but you don’t know why. But there will also be joy, and exuberance and they are smattered along the day as well. Certainly a smile and likely a few tears. And, in the end, you break through a wall onto the other side and you stare back at where you came from, never to return. You have this THING that you have created/achieved/earned. It’s yours. A  medal, or a promotion, or a beautiful healthy baby, or an honor.

But likely, and in the case of Ironman, it’s a confidence. And you hold it close, and cannot wait to watch what it grows to become, cannot wait to see where it takes you, or what having it really MEANS though you have been guessing for so long at what that might be.

The funny thing about an Ironman, or any of these goals, is that it doesn’t get more boring, more commonplace, less rewarding, or less interesting to aim and fire again – at a new goal, or at the same one. Because that thing that you are standing with at the end is always different, the amount of joy/pain/heartbreak/excitement involved is always different, just like the walls that you must scale to get there. Just like the process or arriving at those walls.

A smirk crosses my face when I think of what it will look like to finish 140.6 miles this time, what it will feel like to accomplish this crazy feat again. In speaking with other elite racers I know it’s true – that this mystery is what keeps us coming back for more; each time, we set our sites, and each time we are amazed to arrive where we have aimed. We love the journey, no matter how treacherous, and we love the destination, no matter how far.

And so, climbing out of the pool, I was secretly so proud of all those at the pool there with me. I may have just taken on those 3500yds alone, but they were there with me, making their way too.

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