I completed my third half Ironman yesterday. It was the end of a busy six weeks of races that included a marathon, 5k, Olympic triathlon, sprint triathlon and yesterday’s Half Ironman. A lot of things didn’t go as planned yesterday beginning with setting up transition in a downpour. Rain was forecasted all day and I was nervous about the bike. That apprehension had been building from earlier in the week as the weather forecast gradually increased the chance of rain every day as the race approached. From the moment I woke up race morning, to waiting in line in the mud and rain to get into transition, and then hurriedly setting up my gear, I allowed myself to get more and more worked up about the day of racing ahead of me, and more specifically, riding in the rain.
Shortly after I took my prerace nutrition another athlete shared with me that the start had been delayed by 30 minutes. An announcement I had clearly missed. That didn’t help my apprehension. So, there we were, 2,000 competitors waiting in a stead rain just wanting to get started. There were a lot of blank stares, nervous conversation, people shivering and more athletes than I can count that had decided to pull their bikes out of transition and not even start the day. As I stood there, waiting for the delayed start, I made the conscious choice to end the nonsense in my head and instead change my attitude to one of gratefulness. I truly am blessed to be healthy enough and have the means to do all the, what some people would call crazy, things I do.
The swim was rough. We were pounded with waves and it was quite the ride as the lake pitched us up and down. However, at one point, as I would turn my head to take a breath, I could see a patch of beautiful blue sky. It would be the only blue sky I’d see all day and it only lasted for probably a few strokes. It reminded me of the decision I had made on shore; to be grateful to be in that place at that moment. From that point on I knew that regardless of the day’s outcome I would be just fine.
Once out of the water we had to go through a literal mud pit to get to our bikes. Had Ironman added some obstacles in we could have had the first ever Ironman/Tough Mudder combo! I had a decent bike even though I was off from my overall time goal. I was OK with that given the wet pavement at the beginning of the ride and a really sloppy and slow transition area.
The run is where I like to hang my hat and yesterday was no exception. I began the run faster than planned as my legs felt really good. I knew I hadn’t pushed the bike as hard as I should have so I went with the faster pace, assessing it every three miles or so, and continuing to feel good, finished the run well ahead of my intended goal.
When I had crossed the finish line I was pleased with my effort and felt really good with how the day went. A couple hours later, however, I have to admit I was disappointed when I saw the final results and realized I had missed qualifying for age group nationals again by only one percentage point. (I missed by one percentage point at my first full Ironman last fall as well.) The difference; 10 measly little seconds! Immediately, I began to question specific points in the race. Had I been more strategic in the transitions would it have made a difference? Why did I stop at mile two of the run to use the bathroom? Especially since I never stop in a running race. So many points along the way could have made the difference.
After an evening and morning to reflect on it all I can say that I am very satisfied with the outcome. Compared to my first half Ironman three years ago I improved by 45 minutes on what was arguably a much more difficult and technical course yesterday. How can I not be encouraged by that? How can I not see that as a blessing? I’m not sure anyone who knew me growing up would believe that the small, scrawny, unathletic kid from Northwood Ct. would someday be knocking out endurance events on a regular basis and doing it well.
The lesson from yesterday for me is to make every possible moment in life count for something! We don’t know what is around the next corner, or what we may be faced with tomorrow, so make every second matter! Ten seconds certainly isn’t that long but in the case like yesterday it can seem like an eternity. That near miss of my goal just drives me to want to become even better, and not just athletically, but in my all aspects of my life. It reminds me that I need to put the same kind of focus and intensity into my relationships, as well as my intellectual and spiritual growth, as I do with my race training.
The choice I made to change my mindset prior to the race wouldn’t have happened in the past. It took a lot of work and even more mistakes to get to this point. I still don’t always get it right but I try and surround myself with some of the best people on this planet. Whether it be in my training, deepening my faith or sharpening my mind, I’ve discovered you can’t even begin to improve yourself if you aren’t willing to first put yourself out there and learn from other amazing individuals.
I recently saw a movie about Jerry Schemmel and Brad Cooper, a two man, first-time race team that won RAAM, a bike race across America. Not only was the race grueling but the weeks leading up to the start were tough as well. Brad had a serious bike accident just six weeks before the start of the race suffering several fractures. Incredibly, he made it to the start line. One of the things they repeatedly focused on during their training and the race was this: Better Than Yesterday! That has stuck with me and if yesterday taught me anything it is that I need to take every advantage of every moment in life, every 10 seconds of life, to be better than yesterday.
Be Great! Be Strong! Be Determined!