What Ironman Has Given Me

What Ironman Has Given Me

Five years ago I couldn’t run a mile.  I could barely swim one lap in the pool.  And while I am a natural cyclist, I had no idea what real riding meant.

I was lost, sluggish, depressed.

I knew things were out of control, and it took a video of myself to realize it.

Something had give and it turned up in the form of a Couch to 5k Challenge.

I didn’t particularly like running, but somehow I stuck with it through all the pain.  There was a lot of pain that first year.

Soon, I began to understand that pain, even embrace it a little.  I’m not talking about broken bone pain, but broken spirit.  Four years later, I am amazed at the power of the body and mind to battle through pain.

This September, I will compete in my 4th Ironman.  I cannot begin to explain how impossible this sounded to me only four years ago.  Even with my cycling background, I had only ever ridden 50 miles and that took me most of the day.  Now I would add a two and a half mile swim and a full marathon around 112 miles on the bike?  Absolutely no fucking way could a guy like me do this . . . especially at 50 years old.

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to everyone, because it was hard.  Really hard.  Four hour spin bike rides followed by 40 minute runs in February?  Who wants to do that shit?  100 mile rides through hilly terrain?  It can really suck.

But somehow it all came together on a beautiful Fall day in Wisconsin about a year and a half after I started running.  Only one and a half years after I started running I finished an Ironman.

I don’t say that to brag (although I’m proud of it) I say it because it amazes me.  It plants an incredible seed of potential in my mind (your mind) about what is possible in life.

These last few months have uncovered a different kind of funk.  I’m sure it’s a familiar feeling for a lot of multiple Ironmen.  The challenge is no longer “can I do it,” but “how fast?”  That can be disconcerting.

I honestly feel like it’s time to take the lessons I’ve learned in Ironman, patience, belief, etc. and put that energy into becoming a more balanced person.  Maybe cutting those 10 milers in half and using 5 miles of running energy to create films, books, friendships.  Life experiences.

A lot of us have the habit of changing paths and dumping everything before it.  I really think the key to growth is to “transcend and include,” so I’m living with a new direction, but I’m not kicking Ironman to the curb.  There are too many valuable lessons and people in that world to walk away.

The more we see people “just like us” doing amazing things, the more we believe in ourselves. That’s really the thing about Ironman . . . it exposes us to endless possibilities, both on and off the course.

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Building Confidence For Your Ironman

Building Confidence For Your Ironman

Whether your goal is to crush Ironman, or just finish, you have to believe it’s possible.  But there are always little voices of doubt running through our heads.  So, how do we keep getting better, believe, and stay on path?

After college I started playing softball in my hometown with a bunch of talented friends.  We had big designs on dominating the local scene and taking our show on the road.  We were good in the small tournaments, but whenever we left the city, we’d crumble under the pressure.

At the end of our season, a traveling team from a nearby town picked up me up for higher-level tournament in St. Louis.  As we walked into the park with our gear, I saw some guys from a team that always beat my local boys and told my new teammates how good they were.  I’ll never forget our new coach’s reaction.

“Oh, those wimps?”

I was stunned because “those wimps” always pummeled us. But my new team was at a different mental level.

In reality, my small-town-team may have had more raw ability.  We were younger, faster, and more athletic.  But the new team had one thing we were missing:  real confidence.

There were 90 teams in that St. Louis tournament (most better than any I’d ever played) and my new team got 5th place.  That was the weekend I learned how to win.

There were three things different about my new team:

1.  They left their comfort zone to get better.
They played a lot of tournaments out of town against better teams.  They put in the work and challenged themselves in situations that were intimidating.  They’d get to the park early and warm up, take batting practice, etc.  They knew the only way to get better was to work on weaknesses.

2.  They didn’t panic when things when wrong.
My old team always struggled to score runs in tournaments.  When the pressure was on, everyone pressed, and if lucky we’d score 2 or 3 runs.  In the first game with my new team, we were losing 8-0 after the first inning!  I was demoralized and mentally packed my bags for the long trip home. But when I looked around the bench, the guys were laughing, seemingly without a care.  We promptly put up 6 runs and eventually won 26-10.  It all seemed impossible until I saw it with my own eyes.

3.  They stayed with their plan.
The guys on my new team knew their roles and limits.  Some guys were to get on base anyway possible, others were just supposed to hit the ball as hard as they could and trust it would find a hole.  They knew the odds of putting relentless focus on detail.  It didn’t “always” work, but 90% of the time, the little things paid off over the long haul of a game.

These are the simple principles I apply to triathlon.

Be Uncomfortable.
Whenever I train, I always try to do something new.  Something that takes me out of my comfort zone.  It could be wearing bad socks, veering off to tackle a steep grass hill, or riding in a harder gear for a while just to feel it.  It could be sprinting for 10 seconds to force a recovery, holding my breath under water, or experimenting without nutrition.  Nothing prepares you for the unexpected like challenging your comfort zone and trying to find peace in a new place.

There’s really no way you can be 100% prepared for an Ironman, and understanding that goes a long way toward remaining calm.  Whatever happens is just a temporary situation.  It’s like a friend told me once, “Never trust how you feel at anytime during an Ironman, because 20 minutes later it’s likely to change.”  Regardless of what’s going on, there’s usually a solution. Staying calm is the best plan.

Don’t Waiver.
I’d venture that 90% of triathletes screw up their race on the bike because they are nicely rested, amped up, and feel great that day. But, none of us ever cover the entire Ironman distance until the race.  Taking risks too early is why you see so many football or basketball teams kick the crap out of their opponent in the first quarter, only to watch their lead disappear over time while the other team sticks to their plan.  Keeping a “negative split” mentality* (though very hard to actually do) is probably the best approach to racing Ironman.

Winning is rarely about beating your opponent into submission.  The competition is always with ourselves.  It’s about preparing for the unexpected, remaining calm, and staying the course.  It’s a long race and understanding how to win it starts with removing voices of doubt.

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* Making your second half of each segment faster than the first.



IMWI 011 – Running Through The Pain

IMWI 011 – Running Through The Pain

One of my favorite topics regarding Ironman (Wisconsin) is pain. Specifically running with pain. Today I talk about a few strategies to practice pain and be prepared for the inevitable meltdown on the Ironman Run. I share a great run training tip from Dominant Woman Spartan Racer, Amelia Boone and talk about a few things I work on to prepare for the pain of an Ironman run.  Make sure to follow Crushing Iron on Facebook and @crushingiron on Twitter.