Journey to Ironman

Shortly after I woke up this morning the countdown ticked off to only three days left until I hear the cannon fire indicating the start of Ironman WI! It will be the start of my first ever Ironman! I’ve been training hard since this past January, and some weeks that training has totaled almost 20 hours or more. The truth, however, is that I’ve actually been waiting for this day to come for the better part of 35-40 years!

This experience of training for an Ironman, while daunting at times, is one that I’ve rather enjoyed. I still recall watching the World Championships in Kona on TV as a child. I was mesmerized by the idea of these athletes swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles and then completing a 26.2 mile run. I often wondered how in the world they could ever do that and believed it was something that I probably would never achieve.

You see, when I was a young child, I don’t even remember what age, we were at a party with an indoor pool. We were all playing in the pool and I remember going down a slide and into the water. The pool was very crowded and somehow I go caught underwater directly at the bottom of the slide. I couldn’t get out. As a young boy, it seemed like I was under there for an eternity. I eventually got myself out and spent the next minute or two coughing up water on the concrete deck next to the pool. I’m not sure anyone even noticed what had happened.

From that moment on I was terrified of the water. I wouldn’t go anywhere near it, let alone in it. Fast forward to when I was a teenager at summer camp for scouts. Again, I can vividly remember watching other scouts completing the mile swim in the lake and marveling at how incredible that was. They were swimming a mile!! Again, I put the notion of ever being able to do that myself out of the realm of possibilities.

Then, one of those summers at camp, the instructors at the lake decided I needed to get over my fear of the water. This may sound harsh but basically, they threw me in the water and worked with me to overcome my fears. I left that week no swimmer by any stretch of the imagination but I was able to put my fear of the water behind me. I could now get in the water without having a full blown panic attack. From there I slowly got more comfortable in the water but most certainly would never classify myself as a swimmer. I’m not even sure when or how it happened, but eventually I was comfortable enough to be just a recreational type of swimmer.

About eight years ago I began running. My first race ever was a half marathon. Just like swimming, I never really considered myself a runner and truthfully, for a number of years after that first race, I still didn’t. Do you sense a theme here? As part of my run training I began cross training on the bike and, because of different injuries, found myself in the pool trying to keep my fitness up and recover. Eventually, because of the cross training, I decided to enter a triathlon. I can’t say I ever got the triathlon bug but continued to do one or two every year.

Last year, I made the “mistake” of going to watch and cheer on a friend at Ironman Wisconsin. Many other friends, taking advantage of the adrenalin rush from watching this event, “encouraged” me to sign up for this year’s race. What can I say, I gave into the pressure and signed up.

Training for my upcoming Ironman this weekend has been tough. There have been obstacles and setbacks that I had to overcome. Trust me, the emotions over the past 9 months have been all over the board but one thing was always constant, not matter how good, how bad or how tough a workout was going, I NEVER QUIT! I showed up for every workout and performed to the best of my abilities on that day! Was it enough? I don’t know. I’ll let you know on Sunday night. I do know this though, whether I hit my goal or not, I have already won and received a valuable gift. I have grown and learned things about myself that I very well may not have had I not taken the risk and set out on this journey.

I’ve discovered two lessons during this process that apply to life just as much if not more than Ironman training. The biggest lesson I can take away from this Ironman journey is not to let your perceived limitations hold you back. I watched those Ironman events taking place in Kona and was in awe of the athlete’s abilities but never imagined the possibility of myself ever competing in an actual Ironman. I wouldn’t allow myself to think that it was even possible. I was putting limitations on myself for no other reason than I didn’t believe; I didn’t have faith! I was giving into my fears and not allowing myself to dream big enough. I think we do that a lot in our lives. We don’t believe we can accomplish something, no matter how small or large, and so we dismiss it.

The other lesson is that we can’t do this alone. I am forever grateful to the many people that I had the privilege and honor to train with over these past few months. I’ve grown some new friendships, rekindled old ones and further strengthened others. These are all amazing individuals that are going to crush it come Sunday. This lesson applies to life as well. We need each other not just to help us through our trying times but to celebrate our victories as well!

In the last eight years since I began running and competing in endurance events I’ve learned I am capable of much more than I ever once could imagine. It’s not just athletic endeavors either. I have grown and done more things in these recent years than I had probably done in the previous 39 years combined. Why is that? Because I began to believe that I was capable of anything I set my mind to. It made me realize that even the things I was scared of couldn’t stop or control me unless I gave that fear power to do so. Was it always easy, no? But, many things that bring us joy and fulfillment are often times not easy.

All of us, each and every one of us, venture out daily on our own Ironman journeys. Some are stronger than others and can face those journeys, the journey of life, easily and without much strain. For others it’s a little more difficult. No matter what, though, if we try, if we put forth the effort to keep moving forward, in the end we will win. We will succeed.

When the cannon goes off this Sunday at 7:00 am I will be ready. Ready to conquer the 140.6 miles that lie before me on that day. More importantly, ready to conquer what life has to throw at me beyond those 140.6 miles.

Be Great!  Be Strong! Be Determined!

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