My Favorite Photos From A Year Of Crushing Iron

I have officially hit 300 posts on Crushing Iron so I’ve taken the liberty of selecting some photos that illustrate highlights from what has been a fantastic year filled with great friends, family, and races. 

This is a screen grab from the first Fab 5 Interviews in February.  We had a dream of landing PBR as a sponsor for the documentary and Kevin unwittingly became our spokesperson.  Kevin and Jim had a side battle going on throughout training and this picture is when Kevin said, “I have no predictions for this group, other than I will beat Jim Schwan by at least 10 minutes.”  See video here.KevinPBRI could build an entire library of “Jim photos” but this is probably my favorite.  I can’t remember why he went to the Lamb Chop look, but he said he’s planning to bring it back soon.  Let’s hope he’s serious.  882_4614175104691_258020759_nThis is my buddy Roger Badger (in the background wearing white) with famous marathoner Bill Rogers in the foreground.  It was Roger’s first marathon in Huntsville and I just think this picture is hilarious because we were both a star struck by our childhood idol.  And no, we didn’t talk to him. 2012-12-07_16-07-14_606This is coach Robbie the morning of Ironman Louisville posing for a shot in front of the adult novelty store on the way to his race.  Loose and ready to hit the water.IMG_0478This was from the X3 Christmas party and the first photo of the Fab 5.  But what most don’t know is that Mark wasn’t actually there so I Photoshopped him over my shoulder.  It’s just so ridiculously awesome.  FabFivex3I have no clue what race this was, but for some reason Daniel wore full-on business gear and it seems like it should be a commercial or something.  I especially like the look of the guy behind him who seems to be thinking, “I gotta catch that guy in the suit.”  More great shots of Daniel here.

Daniel, proving it's all in the mind

Mark battled more injuries than Greg Oden but kept showing up.  Here he is rubbing a knot out of his shoulder before the Muncie 70.3.  He trained most of the year with a double hernia and a torn bicep, then took Madison by storm.  markmuncieHere you can see Jim asking me if I’m going to make it to the end of my first 5K in April of 2013. Always a classic shot for the ages.  I think my answer was, “If you stop asking me questions I might.”

Coach and Mike

This is Daniel, Lee Wilson and Season Kaminski from Nashville Running Company.  I think I just asked Lee if he was going to sponsor the Fab 5.

LeeReactsThe photographer at Rev3 Knoxville nailed this shot.  Me battling for dear life as this guy in the green put me away at the finish line.  Rev3finishCUA huge group toes the line for one of our many open water training sessions.  There is nothing like starting your day at 6 am in the open water.  andersonbeachlineThis is Wasky in the white shades with Allie and Jim in the background.  I’m pretty sure Wasky would call this legit.waskyshadesThis me with Dr. Oz in after our 5K face off in Las Vegas.  Oz has become a lukewarm fan of Crushing Iron over the year and even posted several pictures of me on his own blog.  It doesn’t get much more ridic than two middle aged guys posing for a selfie.IMG_0082Corey and his wife, Donna, after he crushed Louisville in under 12 hours (including 6 course meal transitions), giving me something to shoot for.  He beat me by a minute and don’t think I haven’t lost sleep over this.  1149030_10151893079204973_1013265973_nAnother legit shot of Wasky after Ironman Louisville.  He was in great spirits despite having 4,565  leg cramps on the run.  4febb808-e929-4e1e-970e-23ff8ccd34f3Robbie took this shot of me Friday night in Madison.mike capitolMe and Rebekah in front of the Wisconsin State Capitol.  She played a huge role in my training and gave me endless support the whole way through.  She was always there to push me out the door when I didn’t feel like it and encourage me to go after my highest goals.  mikerebekahMy mom was probably my biggest fan after she finally figured out what the heck Ironman was all about.  Here she is in full glory on the IMWI course with the best sign of the day.1277461_10101494407053210_901633716_oWhat a great feeling and relief this was.  Me and Robbie after the race celebrating the hard work.mikerobbieMe with my dad after the race.  It was amazing to see how he slowly came alive about Ironman and it meant more than he knows to have him there.  It was a flashback to all the days he spent cheering for me in sports when I was a kid.1270491_10101494431399420_714549893_oThis is me and my bro after the race.  We have spent many hours together playing sports in our life and it was especially awesome to share this win with him.  He was definitely one of my biggest supporters along the way and hopefully one day we can both cross an IM finish line in the same day.mikechrispsdAnd, of course, this classic shot by Carolyn Petredis Wasky of me hugging my sister after IMWI. Amy traveled from Dallas to see the race and it was truly emotional to have her around.  We don’t see each other that much and having her there to create this moment was special.1277431_10101494421738780_417964137_o

How Triathlon Changed My Life

Ten years ago I moved to Nashville and my goal was a new beginning.  I didn’t know anyone and wanted to change some harmful patterns I had created.  I wanted to “clean up” my act and actually do things, not sit around and talk about them.  It only took about three days for me to get derailed.

My new company put me up in the Marriott Vanderbilt for two weeks while I looked for a place to live.  The new job was stressful and every day felt like it could be my last.  I had jumped over 100 market sizes, which was  pretty rare in the television business, and most nights I needed a release.  Luckily the general manager of my temporary hotel residence had a key to the fast lane.

This guy was a bad ass.  He was dialed into everything and surrounded by the hottest women in town.  One night he asked me to join him and his friends at Happy Hour and I was hooked.  From knowing nobody to being connected with everyone overnight.

There is a major lure in being popular and I got sucked right in.  Suddenly I was going out 4 nights a week.  Women, wine, and song lathered me like a hot shower.  I couldn’t get enough.  My new friends were throwing huge parties and made me feel like the guest of honor.  The problem was, I wasn’t fully vested and couldn’t always fake that fact.

Some nights were great, others were rough.  I drank a lot and felt worse than ever.  I was even drinking on off nights at home while surfing the net looking for ways to escape the world.  It wasn’t a happy time, but I’ve always been good at projecting content.

While I would go on short stints of sobriety and even attended ACA meetings, the overall pattern continued.  I was in my 40’s, living in the heart of Music Row, and frolicking in dangerous territory on a nightly basis.

Eventually I moved to East Nashville and thought I might find another new beginning, but it was just a new world of isolation.  It was a quiet neighborhood and I was bored.  Fortunately there was a new bar gaining popularity just up the block and it became my “Cheers.”  I got to know more and more people.  A fresh start with new faces.  I was engaged and once again loved the excitement of building a new “life.”

It was a different vibe than West End.  East Nashville is loaded with creative people.  Artists, musicians, photographers.  The conversation was different.  My level of engagement rose, but I was tired.  Tired of using beer to lift my energy only to fall back into the cracks.  It was getting harder and harder to get up for work and exercise was an afterthought.  I was putting on weight and my energy level was non-existent without loads of caffeine.

Something had to change.

Jim and I had been friends for years, and I knew he was doing triathlons, but never thought much about it.  He’d even done Ironman, and as much of an athlete as I had been, and as much as I’d marvel while watching Kona on TV, his accomplishment didn’t click.  It was other-worldly-shit and I never let the reality settle in my mind.  Till this day I still feel bad about not going to watch him in Louisville.

One day he told me he was coaching a Couch to 5k program and challenged me to try.  Deep inside I craved being a runner.  I lived on the Country Music Marathon route for years and always went out for a jog after the race.  It never panned out.  So after reading about the walk/run strategy Jim’s plan included, I decided to give it a shot.

I made a pledge to myself to follow the program to the letter.  No more, no less.

On the first night we gathered at Nashville Running Company and set out to do a 5 minute walk warm up, 6 sixty second runs between ninety second walks, and a five minute walk cool down.  It was all I could do to run 60 seconds.

Eventually that 60 seconds built to 10 minutes, then 20, then 30.  I was ready for my first 5K and ran it in around 27 minutes.  That was just the beginning.

I signed up for a 5 miler, a 10K, then the 1/2 marathon.  I truly enjoyed my new challenge, but it was never easy.  I kept putting races on the calendar to make sure I stayed the course.  My muscles were in a constant state of ache, but I always felt great when a run was over.  I kept going and trusting the process to change my health, habits, and outlook on life.

By that summer Jim had convinced me to do a triathlon and that’s when everything fell in place.  I did the Music City Sprint and it was the first time in years that my body screamed, “Yes!”  I was on my way.

Next thing was to watch Kevin compete at Ironman Louisville and that’s when heart skipped a beat.  I knew I had found my next challenge.  I would sign up for Ironman, but not before struggling mightily in the NashVegas Olympic.

Shortly after NashVegas, the Fab Five agreed to sign up for Ironman Wisconsin and the rest is history.  Well, not quite, but the intensity of the training and team was the new beginning I had been searching for for 10 years.  I was now on a genuine path that would change my mind, body, and hopefully my meaning of life.  It has.

It’s hard to understand until you do it.  I’m sure it’s like jumping from a plane or scaling a mountain.  You’re not really sure why you’re doing it until it’s over.  But, Ironman training is real progress.  It isn’t the end, in fact, it’s always the beginning.  The new beginning I seem to crave.   Fresh, new starts that activate my enjoyment of life.  New people, friends, challenges.  New attitudes, new accomplishments, new love.

And while all of this is moving the right direction, it is far from complete.  My body will shiver, my thoughts will waiver, and my actions will be inconsistent.  But endurance training is a metaphor for life.  The perfect stroke, spin, or stride is rare.  You have to practice the motion thousands of times before it becomes natural.  Before it flows free and easy.  And it’s the same with life.  Bad habits don’t just stop, they are pushed out by better ones and it’s up to us to make sure that momentum continues.

$650 For Ironman And All I Got Was . . .

“You paid $650 to do a race?  What do you get for that?”

ironman wisconsin medal 2013

I heard those questions a hundred times when I was training for Ironman and always responded meekly with something like, “Well, a t-shirt, a medal, and the right to say I’m an Ironman.”  I knew I’d get a lot more, but it was hard to express in the beginning.

As I sit here today without a race on the calendar, it becomes a lot clearer.  It’s the first time since I started running in January 2013 that I have not had a firm goal on the horizon, and I can already tell how easy it would be to fall out of pattern.

Signing up for Ironman felt like the epitome.  I would do many races along the way, but that big gorilla was always hanging out in the corner.  I couldn’t escape him, and in a twisted way, I didn’t want to.

He was my nemesis and my guiding light.  He was the one I feared and craved at once.  It was a love/hate relationship for the ages.

ironman wisconsin finish line state capitol

There were many days I hoped it was a nightmare and others when it was my only dream.  Ironman is living on the edge.  It is exciting, painful, alive.

It’s a strange paradox because I believe humans were built to move, but we are also becoming lazy creatures.  We don’t have to write letters, we just roll over in our bed and type notes on our phone.  We don’t go to the bank or the library or the football games.  We make them come to us.

So what did I get for my 650 bucks?

Motivation

Ironman doesn’t budge.  It just waits for you show up.  And you’d better be ready when you get there or it will eat you alive.

What did I get for my $650?

Great friends with positive attitudes

I can’t tell you how amazing it is to see the same people lining up on the beach at 6 am, three days a week to “practice” swimming.  We are not professionals, we pay to do this!  And we don’t get paid to ride 6 hours on a brutally hilly road in the rain or run hill repeats past aging couples holding hands on the Greenway.  We embrace the challenges because they are there.

What did that 650 dollar investment get me?

A better connection with the people that matter most

Like most, my Ironman declaration didn’t initially resonate with my friends and family.  I’m sure it was an afterthought, or at the most, “Mike’s got another crazy idea.”  But as time went on, they saw the dedication Ironman demands.  They saw changes in me.  Positive changes, physically and mentally.  They saw passion, determination, and commitment.  And it was contagious.

My Ironman training piqued curiosities and inspired change in others. I can’t tell you how many people told me, yes ME, that what I was doing inspired THEM.  More proof that what you do really does matter.  People really do care.  And when you break it down, isn’t that what we really want from our relationships?

What did I get for $650?

A memory of a lifetime

The first day of school, high school graduation, going to college, getting your diploma, your team winning the World Series, your wedding . . . then most start the cycle over by re-living those memorable moments vicariously through their own children.  We need those sparks to keep us going.  And, for me, the one without children, that’s probably why Ironman was so important.  It was a big, juicy reminder that life doesn’t have to fade away without memorable moments that seize every fiber of your being.

A couple hours after the race I finally got around to reading my text messages.  The first one I read said, “Congratulations!  You must feel dead!”  I replied with this simple line, “Actually I feel more alive than I have in 10 years.”

And that’s what I got for my $650.

mikerebekahfinish

Catching Up After an Ironman #IMWI

In the fury that was the week of and week after Ironman Wisconsin, many amazing things happened, but sort of fell through the cracks.  One was my selection as East Nasty of the Week, which is a high honor doled out by my running club.  I was very grateful, but had a difficult time enjoying it because of the race and recovery period.  I just sat down to read the article again and am especially humbled by what the guys I trained with for IMWI wrote about me for the article.

1233165_735817175799_432170694_oDaniel Hudgins, “Mike has been a key supporter for Ironman as the “Fab Five” has been training. He is so much more than your average athlete, though. He is tenacious, and I think we’ll see him continue to improve throughout the years. When we first met last year, I remember him coming to a triathlon I was also doing to watch Jim. He was so interested and the best way I can describe his demeanor was quietly excited. As time went on, and he decided to do Ironman Wisconsin, we became closer and closer as friends. Mike and I battled for who would show up last for our morning workouts in January, and he often won. We joked that he’ll write a book “How To Sleep Your Way To an Ironman”, and it will probably be a New York Times Bestseller. After seeing his consistency, his success in racing, and his talented writing on his blog, it’s much less of a joke now. He’s one of the first people I called when I had a bad ride or something was bothering me. I’d also call him after a great workout or a successful race. I knew he would listen and want to talk about it in detail – and at the same time, he’d provide some comedy in the reality of all the craziness we were putting ourselves through. I’m so proud of him, and I know after this Ironman, he will continue to excel at whatever he pursues.”

1176325_735090951159_602081995_nJim Schwan, “Tarrolly is truly an inspiration. Watching the transformation he has made from his first day at the couch to 5k program to his completion of an Ironman has been astounding.  From the first day I met Tarrolly I knew he was someone I wanted to associate with. I mean, he was wearing cool shoes and seemed like he really had it going on. This was years before either of us attempted any kind of endurance sports. Little did I know we would one day end up training together for an Ironman. He is one of the most creative people I know. He has won film-making awards and authored several fantastic blogs.  His chronicling of his training via Crushingiron.com, as well as the upcoming documentary, will cement his legend.  If you don’t know, act like you know.”

1186007_10152424848012080_1549022374_nKevin Gammon, “I’ve had the pleasure of training with Mike for the past nine months.  During those nine months, I’ve watched him change his entire life style and dedicate himself fully to reaching a goal.  It has been one of the most profound changes I have seen in the three years I have participated in running and triathlons.  He has become a strong athlete and person.  I constantly seek out his advice because I have nothing but respect for him and what he has accomplished.  I anticipate we will see some great things from Mike, both athletically and in other areas.  I will also say I look forward to kicking him during the open water swim in Wisconsin.”

1185411_153292491545387_1272383167_nMark Scrivner, “Mike?  What can I say about Mike?  Dude is gonna crush it.  He’s a beast.  Started running last year and now you can’t contain him.  He’s extremely focused and sleeps more than anyone I know.  I can tell you this much, the only thing stopping him will be himself.  Dude shoots video, plays drums, eats PowerBars and blogs.  It’s been a pleasure training with him, when he actually shows up.”

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imageI spent a TON of time with these guys over the last year and every minute was inspirational.  Each of them connected with me in different ways and it was truly a blessing to meet them and train together for a goal I thought was impossible.

I’ve said it many times before, but Jim is the reason I am in triathlon . . . and for that matter, not a whale laying around on the couch.  He patiently led by example until I figured out that I should probably follow in his footsteps.  Jim made many sacrifices to make sure I stayed engaged with endurance sports, and I will forever be indebted to his efforts.  Maybe one day I too will be getting up at 3:45 every morning.

Kevin’s gutsy performance at IM Louisville 2012 was the final straw that lured me into Ironman.  Watching my first IM was an emotional and motivating experience.  I barely knew Kevin at the time, but I was so moved by his effort that day, I knew I would sign up to race sooner than later.  We didn’t bike or run together often, but our lake battles were undeniably the catalyst to me becoming a confident swimmer and rejuvenating my competitive nature.

Daniel is one of the most positive and compassionate people I know.  He overcame a lot to get where he is today.  His passion for triathlon shined bright all year and his results proved it.  He embraced every experience like it was his last and smiled before, during, and after each competition or workout.  Ironman was a first for both of us and we loved to speculate about how it would feel to compete, then finish.  We dove into every detail along the way and I think it made us both better racers and people.

Mark showed more guts than just about anyone I’ve ever known as a competitor.  It seemed like he was injured the entire training season, but he kept pushing on.  And I’m not talking about hang nails.  He had a double hernia and a torn bicep, but didn’t let either get in his way.  Despite these setbacks, having a family, and owning a business that was exploding, he kept his eye on the prize and peaked with a great performance at Wisconsin.  He showed a lot of confidence in me and that became a big source of motivation.

It was, is, and always will be the Fab 5 I think of first. We committed to a journey and each other.  We followed through with a major challenge and came away with far more than medals.  We are great friends who shared deep and meaningful experiences that no one can ever take away.

Running The Asylum

The last two days I was in Knoxville for a great social media workshop and wanted to get in a run.  I stayed at the same hotel I used for my early season Rev3 race, so I thought I might slide down to the river and run the course for old times sake.  My coach had a better idea.

“You should hook up with some of the Knoxville athletes and run at Old Lakeshore.  Some nice hills.”

Oh, he had me at hills, but little did I know what else was waiting.

I agreed to meet Elyse, who I met at the Muncie 70.3, and qualified for the Vegas World Championship that day.  She lives in Knoxville, is training for Ironman Florida, and hadn’t run at Old Lakeshore either . . . but knew much more about its past.

As I pulled through the cyclone fence that surrounded the complex, I was immediately captured by the drab structures.  I felt like I was literally driving onto a Stephen King set.  The buildings were brick, with faded white paint, and one was charred black from fire.

Old Lakeshore was a mental institution and many refer to it as a “haunted asylum.”  You can read about its “complicated” history here.

20110423-ATM8I weaved up and down narrow roads with no idea where I was going.  I landed on a gravel parking lot next to an abandoned building and decided to change out of my work clothes.

I can’t explain how strange this situation felt, but about halfway through the change I realized I was in my car, naked, smack dab in the middle of an insane asylum.  I kept waiting for glass to shatter and a security guard, dressed in all white, to yank me through the windshield and put me in a straight jacket for a long walk up the hill into a lifetime of obscurity.

Safely in my running gear, I eased from the gravel parking lot and looked for anything that seemed like a normal place for runners to meet.  I finally spotted an empty soccer field and parked next to a long line of about 20 cars.  Cars everywhere  but I didn’t see a soul, other than what appeared to be a man in a powder blue jumpsuit leaning halfway out an open window of a rundown building simply labeled “The Cottage.”

A chapel rose on a hill in the distance, surrounded by an endless sea of sterile buildings and zero life.  The sky was gray and the entire scene was eerily quiet.

I called Elyse and she was coming toward me as we spoke.

“This place is creepy.”  420111119155126001_t607

Yes it was, and I was fascinated!

We took off on a slow jog and finally found the path which was a 2 mile loop around the grounds.  I’m not gonna lie, my eyes were on a swivel as we rolled up and down steep hills, and in and out of buildings.  It felt like at any minute a stray patient in a flowing robe could have toppled us into deep brush.

There was also a deserted concession stand and I stopped to use the restroom while she waited.  When I came out I told her there was a guy dressed like Jesus in the bathroom handing out cologne samples.

We ran about 7 miles, all surrounded by history and mystery.  I kept trying to talk her into exploring some of the facility, but she would have none of it.  And after watching this video, I’m glad we got the hell out of there, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like to gather a group and do a night time run at Old Lakeshore.

Ironman Lake Tahoe Pt. 2

I watched the Lake Tahoe Live Stream for a while last night and that’s when it really hit me how brutal this race must have been.  The time was around 13 hours and the flow of competitors (not to mention spectators) was sparse.  It was dark, and frankly, felt lonely.  But this is exactly why the finishers of this race will have a bond like no other.  I would love to hear from anyone who did this race.  Please contact me if and when you do a race report and I will gladly link to or post it here.

I found this excellent breakdown of IMLT and it confirms everything we thought.  A couple of stats from the article.

– Nearly 25% of racers who started didn’t finish  (average IM DNF rate is about 5%).

– Only one M 40-44 age grouper broke the 10 hour mark.

– 385 people on the bib list did not even show up to race.

I really do commend those who jumped in that frigid water.  I did the Rev3 Olympic in May of this year and the conditions were similar, but I can’t imagine doing a race four times as long with mountain climbs and weather so cold the downhills hurt as much as the climbs.  It’s likely no consolation at this point, but I really feel like my Rev3 experience made me a much better and tougher racer.  Congrats on being a part of the race that will go down in history as one of the toughest Ironman’s of all time.

Edit:  I just found this great video and would like to adapt my early observation of the IM Lake Tahoe finish line.  On the stream, the spectator support looked very thin, but this clearly shows that a lot of people were out there toward the end cheering for these athletes as they completed their epic journeys:

Epic Ironman in Lake Tahoe

Edit:  If you took (or know who took) this photo, please let me know and I will give you credit.

It is an absolutely gorgeous day in Nashville.  I just rode my “other bike” a 2008 Triumph Bonneville around for a while, now I’m at the coffee shop writing on my new Chrome Book tracking Ironman Lake Tahoe (which is sure to go down in history as one of the most memorable) on my phone.

I was watching the weather leading up to this and the forecasts were brutal.  31 degrees at cannon time?  Seriously?  Unbelievable.  And so AWESOME.  Look at this Swim Start photo!  image

I just can’t imagine what was going through their minds at this moment.  Well, on some level I can.  There is a switch that must be flipped or you’re doomed.  This sport is very mental and this kind of day will stretch your capacity to the limits.

I have to admit, even though I know most racers must have been pissed or downright frightened by the cold, there was a big part of me that really wanted to be in the race because it will surely go down in the IM annals as epic.

Aside from the awesomeness of the freakish swim, I’m tracking the bike and there is a section of the course where the PROS are averaging 8 mph.  Must be a brutal hill because the next splits are in the mid-30s.  Here’s Chris McDonald’s @IronTrac about halfway through the run.  Image-1

I guarantee you that, no matter how much they’re hating it right now, everyone that finishes this race will look back as one of the most prideful moments of their life.  Racing Ironman is “survival enough” without having frozen feet for most of the race.  I just hope there’s a nice fireplace in the ski lodge to enjoy a hot coco with friends and family when they’re done.

To all the new Ironmen that sucked it up to scrape and claw your way to the Finish Line today, congratulations . . . we are watching in envy, respect, and awe.

Edit:  I just realized that Maik TWELSIEK, who won IMWI took 2nd at Tahoe just two weeks later.  Nice work, man.  I am seriously impressed.  I remember seeing Maik on the run and while we didn’t really exchange high fives or anything, I could tell he was thinking, “Man, Mike needs to work on his running form in 2014.”  You got it, man!

A Coach’s Ironman “Miracle”

This is the latest submission from my coach, Robbie Bruce.  I love it when he gets inspired and sits down at his phone to bust out a blog.  This one is especially close to my heart because I just experienced everything he’s written about and I’m pretty sure some of this piece was influenced by my family on September 8th in Madison.  The journey, the struggle, and how it impacts everyone who trains for Ironman. 

The Miracle of Ironman Coaching
By Robbie Bruce

I sat down on the couch this evening to watch one of my favorite movies, “Miracle.”  If you haven’t see it, you should.

It’s the story of the US hockey team’s remarkable and shocking journey to a gold medal in the 1980 Olympics.  It became one of my favorite sports movies originally just because of the unique story, it involved sports, and I am just a giant patriot at heart, so I loved every second of it.  Each time I watch the movie, I absorb more and more of the coaching aspect and how it relates to the athletes I coach who compete and train for Ironman.

Training for an Ironman is not like competing in the Olympics from an “athletic” standpoint, but both training processes have a lot in common from the approach of the athlete and coach. Both make a choice, a sacrifice to train, and go all-in for something far in the future, something unknown . . . all of it for one day.mikerobbie

Their friends and family are supportive but still wonder “why?” Why are you giving up so much of your life for such a long time, all for just for one day.  One race?  Then what?

In the world of instant gratification this is the opposite.  It is counter intuitive in every way possible.  It is giving up everything for the unknown.  It is giving up everything today for something so far away that may actually never present itself.

From a coaching standpoint you take on athletes with all different backgrounds, personalities, goals, and experiences. It is your job to get them to buy in to the process.  Every day will make “your day” and your day is Ironman.1270491_10101494431399420_714549893_o

Still, every time someone comes to me saying they want to do an “Ironman,” I know they have no idea what they are getting in to.  They are changing their life, not just signing up for a race. They don’t know it at the time, but they aren’t just signing up alone, they are about to embark on a journey that takes friends and family with them.  It is what makes coaching Ironman athletes so much different.

You know you are not only holding someone else’s dreams in your hands but also the hopes and nerves of parents, spouses, friends, co-workers and sometimes even strangers.  They believe in the one who is racing and wonder “who is this person coaching them?”  They have to believe in you without even usually setting eyes on you.  They look to their athlete and if they believe in their coach the others will too.  Belief by proxy.1277870_10101494432157900_1687841008_oIronman competitors become magnets.  You follow their training.  You follow their previous races.  People follow them.  The “Crushing Iron” following is a great example of that.  You actually give others something to believe in.  To hope for and to find joy in just from following or watching and even just refreshing an app.  They mentally race it with you.  They emotionally endure it with you.

I have had the honor to spectate and coach 2 Ironman races in the last 2 months.  I imagine most people think the most gratifying part of my job is watching the athletes cross the finish line with their goal time.  “MAN THEY CRUSHED IT,” as some people like to say.  I am still not sure what you “crush” or “kill” but whatever.  Yea, I used to think the same way from a time stand point.  They meet their goal and it’s a win.  Now, I watch them finish, glance at the clock with momentary elation, then watch them greet their support crew for the first time.  Their families.  Their friends.  The expression on their faces, the tears of joy, the hugs, the smiles of relief….. Man. That is what it is all about.1277431_10101494421738780_417964137_oYou realize you weren’t just coaching a person.  You were coaching a crowd of believers all standing behind one soul.   A person who goes off in the distance alone at 7 am and returns after most of the day is done.  You share in a their nerves during the race, absorb them and when its over…. You let it out.  The athletes stories, their wants, why they signed up.  You know exactly what they are thinking when they cross the line.  It is a community that brings you to tears.

Being responsible for having such a small part in an athletes journey to Ironman is an honor. Although stressful at times, it is the most rewarding job I could ever imagine.  Watching the first hug they give as they finish…. It is the tightest and most relieved of squeezes….”I knew you could do it.” – ” I am so proud of you.”- “That was amazing.”- I cant believe you did so well.”- “I love you.”- and the “You did it’s.”

You cant imagine it or recreate it any where else or in any other sport.  It is the sight of so many different people coming together as one.  There might be one person walking away with a medal and the title of being and “Ironman” but everyone around feels like one.  Proud.  Smiling. Energetic and so happy.  You may have “coached” 3-5 to “be one” but 25-30 walk away feeling like they too are an Ironman.

That’s the journey.  That is what makes it so amazing.  If the movie Miracle taught me anything it is that you can do anything once and take everyone else with you on the journey. Whether it is a gold medal or an Ironman, maybe it is time for you to take a trip………….1277373_10101494421698860_31971843_o