Recently I’ve given several public speeches and intertwined lessons and stories from my Ironman triathlon experiences. I’ve been getting asked at almost every presentation if I have a blog about it. I’ve never thought it was a topic that would interest anyone so I’ve never written about it. Perhaps they’ve inquired because of the stories I’ve shared that personally connect with them.
With your permission I thought I’d start to share some of the stories of Ironman. If you’d rather not have them, just shoot me an email and if I get several “don’t write about that” messages, I’ll stop.
One reaction that I almost always receive when someone discovers that I’ve finished 15 Ironman’s after the age of 50 is look of disbelief. Everyone is always supportive though and I appreciate that.
I suppose like you, there was that first thought of doing something you’d never done before too and it grew and grew until you actually did it. It was that way with me too, I had only heard about the Ironman mostly from watching the replay of the race in Hawaii on NBC Sports. For you doing something special grew out of some experience you had had or heard about. Something you saw on TV or even witnessed a friend doing and you said, “I’m going to do that!”
It’s hard to explain why I ever get that “first thought” and over time it grows into reality. Every special thing (at least special to me) I’ve ever done started this way. For me in 2006 I had just started to ride a bicycle and the endurance aspect of riding over 100 miles interested me. I’ve always thought of my self as enjoying the longer length of things. To continue to quench my thirst for endurance sports knowledge, I bought a book called, “Becoming an Ironman” by Kara Thom. She wrote about everyday average people who completed their first Ironman. That spoke to me. I had that itch that I might be able to do it too. Even though I didn’t know how to swim and I quit running years and years ago. I said to myself, “If those athletes can do it, I can too.”
Little did I even understand how to train for one or even sign up for one. Thankfully in 2006 the internet was a useful tool and I soon found Ironman.com. This was late June 2006. I discovered that many of the events were already sold out but discovered that Ironman Arizona in Tempe was still open for April 15, 2007.
As a former tax CPA I had a big grin on my face when I saw the date. I thought that no way would any CPA active in their business be doing it on that day, but I would, and what a cool story to tell (see I’m telling you now!). “Hey did you have a mess of extensions this year?” or “Gads the 15th was a zoo this year for me, how about your firm?” I might be asked by a fellow CPA. Then I’d answer, “No it wasn’t bad at all but the 140.6 miles I swam, biked and ran was a trip!” I’d answer!
After a some research and pondering, I went for it! On July 4, 2006 I hit the submit button on the online application and was an official participant in Ironman Arizona 2007. Now the 4th of July has an additional meaning for me because it was my personal Independence day; independence of poor health, overweight, being tied down in an office all day and now living my life on purpose.
Talk about jumping off a cliff and not knowing how to fly! As I look back I wonder what I was thinking (or not thinking). I had no clue how to train for an Ironman. I did not know how to swim. Never ran anything other than maybe a mile and only owned a bike for the prior few months. As I look back, I realize the importance to me of acting in faith with no knowledge what this experience might bring. Of seeing the clear vision in my head and then each day moving towards it by making it up as I went. I’m definitely an early adopter and willing to try new things but an Ironman triathlon was over the top.
As grace would have it, I learned that there were many tools for me to use to be able to train. I taught myself to swim from a book called, “Total Immersion: The Revolutionary Way To Swim Better, Faster, and Easier.” I remember going to the pool and just doing their drills. The pool was only 4 foot deep and many many times I’d have to stop in the middle of the 25 meter lap and stand up because I was taking on water! “Throw me a rope I’m going under!” I can’t tell you how many times I felt frustration and disappointment because I sucked at the drills. “This is swimming?” I kept reminding my self of the faith it would take to keep going. That if those athletes in the book could do it, I could. It took about two weeks of drills when one day I pushed off the wall and I was swimming! I can remember that lap even today. I’ve swum endlessly thousands of laps since that one but I can still remember how I felt on that one. I was swimming!!! I kicked butt! Look out Mark Spitz, I’m coming for your gold!
Then I had to learn how to really run. And not just a little ways. A complete 26.2 mile marathon. From a coaching tool I bought based on training using my own heart rate as a training guide, my first run was only 30 min. Surely I could do that at the recommended heart rate. NOT. I had to actually walk to keep my heart rate low enough to qualify. I was sunk in a mini-depression as I finished my glorious first run by walking. The thought occurred to me that I might have to walk the 26.2 miles (something I’ve done a few times in my 15 Ironman finishes). Thankfully, my faith was enough and grace was sufficient that my body became stronger and I was able to actually run and not have to walk anymore in training. I even ran the LA Marathon five weeks before my Ironman, something I’ve learned was really ill advised because I would never recovery enough to run another one after swimming 2.4 miles and riding 112 miles in the Ironman. But as a self-coached athlete, I was rather proud of myself! By the way, my pride has screwed up a lot of stuff in my life.
Fast forward to April 15, 2007. It’s race day. I had massive anxiety! I was totally scared to death. I think I sat on the Porta-potty for what must have been an hour. I had knocks on the door from other athletes needing to go asking if I was done. “Not yet. I’m still scared with anxiety. Maybe in another hour.” I’d yell and laugh!
Then I had to get in the water and get ready for a mass swim start with 2,500 other athletes. I could hardly breathe. It felt just like pre-game jitters playing in big basketball games during my basketball career. When the start cannon (It’s a cool mini-cannon and it’s loud!) went off all that changed. No longer was I worrying about every tiny detail that had plagued my mind the week before or the endless question, “Do I really think I can do this?” Doubt is a killer for me. Thankfully, I wasn’t worried with doubt after the start cannon went off, I was focused on swimming in a lake being beat up, tossed, punched, kicked, slowed down, speed up, dog paddle with what seemed like 100s swimming in my lap lane at the pool. They were in front of me, to each side of me and even behind me and into my legs. That sucked. I was not prepared for this mess. I didn’t remember ever reading about that in my coaching books. Remind myself to send in a book refund request! How can the authors not tell me this was going to happen? Losers!
I had several other great and wonderful experiences that day and thankfully I finished my first Ironman 15 hours and 55 minutes later!
I’ve reflected at times the importance of that first Ironman experience. It taught me a lot about myself. That faith in God was a key aspect. That consistency fueled by a vision can conquer the self defeating thoughts. That I was worthy of this and any endeavor I could dream up. I had a friend who was aware of my attempt at age 50 to do an Ironman triathlon as my first ever triathlon. He told me later after I had finished that he didn’t think I could do it. I asked him why he thought that. He said honestly, “My pride. I’ve done a few small distant events and know how hard that was for me. I was projecting my own limiting beliefs on you. I’m proud of you and it was a great lesson for me. I now understand the power of faith and commitment. Thank you!”
I suppose his response might have been a reward for me. But truthfully, I didn’t do the Ironman for him. I did it for me. If it inspired someone then I would be happy for them. I’ve come to believe that there is nothing I can ever do or say that would motivate or inspire another human being. I can only motive and inspire myself.
It all starts with a small spark. A small thought. A feeling that grows within. Feed that with daily faith and action and for me, I know that anything is possible!
Our Ironman for 2017
We head back to Arizona to race the 5th time there on November 17, 2017. When I say we, I want you to come with me! It’s a great venue for me because it’s close to my home in Las Vegas and I have so many friends there. It’s an easier race compared to the other Ironman’s because it’s a flat course. The weather is usually very nice that time of year. The swim start is not a mass start anymore (too many complaints from new triathletes). It’s a wave start based on my anticipated time. I like wave starts because it’s actually a swim and not a punch fest.