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What I Learned from Ironman - Part 1

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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

One Step At A Time....

I've had quite the journey over the last few years from the couch to finishing my first Ironman. Along the way I've learned alot about myself and about endurance training in general (as well as a whole lot of unpleasant things about saddle sores, chafing, various ways in which the body can give out on you...none of which I'll share here...:))

I was never athletic growing up - not at all. Never joined teams, never ran for pleasure, not much of a biker - nothing. It took me almost fourty years to discover that there is a bad-ass, stubborn, strong, relentless, tough athlete inside of me. She's not skinny. She's not fast. But she can accomplish things that would take your breath away.

Five years ago I struggled to finish a 5K and if at that time someone had told me that I could run a marathon, let alone run a marathon after swimming 4KM and biking 180KM, I probably would have died laughing. It was small steps (and a few audacious leaps) that let me to Ironman. Doing a terrible 5K where I had to walk huge sections of it turned into wanting a do-over and running a slightly better 5K, that led to a 10K and the next year a half-marathon. Fast-forward to three years ago and some friends and I went down to Lake Placid to volunteer at the Ironman. As I stood about 200 metres from the finish line watching the last few dozen athletes drag themselves to their moment of glory before the midnight cut-off I realized that some of them looked like me. They weren't freaks of nature with 8% body fat (most of those people had finished hours before). I had a lump in my throat and goosebumps on my arms. The first seed was planted - I could never do a full Ironman - but maybe a half?

So, I signed up for a sprint triathlon and an olympic distance triathlon that Summer as well as a half-Ironman the following summer. In training for those events I discovered that I was a decent swimmer and a very strong cyclist. The running still sucked, but at least it wasn't the only thing I was doing. When I completed that half-Ironman last year I was completely exhausted, but somewhere in my brain I knew that if I trained hard enough I could do a full one.

It all came together one step at a time. Achieving one goal led to the next. One long training session led to another. Distances built. Speeds increased (sometimes). And suddenly the unimaginable became attainable.

My darkest moments on the Ironman course were when I would let me mind get ahead of me and think..."I've already been at this for 6 hours and I'm not even half done!!!! I still have 2 hours on the bike and then I need to run a freaking Marathon!" When those thoughts came I would settle in and follow the advice that a friend who has done multiple Ironmans gave to me. Just get to the next aid station. Don't think beyond that.

In weight loss I think there is a lesson there. Don't think about the 50lbs that you have to lose - just get to the end of the meal, to the end of the day, to the end of the week. Bit by bit you will get there.
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