What does Ironman mean to me?

Well, it’s been a grueling but rewarding 4 months of hard training for Ironman New Zealand.
As I reflect on the experience over the last few months, I have thought deeply about what does finishing Ironman mean to me. These thoughts are:
1. The struggle for training was very high at times. My coach would give me workouts and urge me to push, using heart rate ranges to know when I have reached a certain effort level. Early on, reaching those ranges was fairly easy; my fitness was ok but not yet ready for the intensity that would follow. As I got stronger, my fitness would improve and it would be harder to hit the heart rate ranges. I needed to push even harder and definitely exit the comfort zone on workouts, needing to feel much more burn and discomfort in my muscles as I push more and more in my quest to grow and improve.
Exitting the comfort zone is crucial to increasing performance. When I think about exitting the comfort zone for muscular and aerobic fitness, I also think about exitting the comfort zone when facing the grim realities of life, the issues I have encountered with my personal and professional life, and the struggles to improve myself to better deal with these issues.
I could have retreated into myself, or ran away from my problems, or became frozen in the negativity confronting me. Instead, I chose to face these problems openly, enduring pain at times, and the incredibly uncomfortable feeling that there were things about me that were messed up, needed improving, or changing.
Ironman has come to symbolize the recent struggles I have faced, and my continuing quest to master and conquer these struggles. Although it pains me to say this (ha!), finishing Ironman isn’t important, but the journey for Ironman has been much more important to my psyche than I could have imagined.
2. Ironman has been about learning new skills. Continual learning has always been part of my psyche, and it is one of the reasons why I love triathlon. I have talked before about how I didn’t realize how technical swimming, biking, and running could be, and that there are tons of nuances to each sport and doing them the wrong way would lead to less than good performance to increasing injury risk. But, doing them the right way and reinforcing that through repetition and training leads to superior performance and much less injury risk.
At some point in my life, the learning slowed to a crawl. I acknowledged it but ignored it for a long time and I think it ultimately led to a lowering of self esteem and satisfaction in life. With my entry into triathlon, this learning part of me reawakened and I began to feel happier about myself again, as well as have a more positive state of mind, along with reaping the benefits of improved physical fitness.
3. Finishing Ironman has become a symbol for conquering my struggles. Even though I said in 1. that the journey was more important, I do acknowledge that finishing is also an important component. While not finishing will probably mean that I will just come back again (!), actually making to the finish line will have the added symbolism of winning the struggle against the negative influences within my mind and somehow mastering them.
Being in Ironman over the amount of time that I will take means that I will expend a tremendous amount of mental and physical energy to get to the end. I have encountered this in my two NYC Marathons where getting past mile 20 was a huge step; for some reason, this hits every marathoner sometime between mile 18-21 – your mind and body just starts getting into the point of wanting to slow down and quit. BUT, if you blast through this, the last 6 or so miles becomes incredibly straightforward and you never encounter this demon again.
Racing Ironman I suspect will be of a different flavor. How many times will I think of quitting in the 13 or so hours it will take me to finish? How disciplined and determined will I be to knock these negative feelings down and keep moving? (Important questions to ponder as I approach race day. I am sure I will have more to say on this topic in my post-race report.) Certainly throughout my recent life, I have at many times thought of quitting in some way, shape, or form and giving up. Breaking through these instances when not only your brain wants to give up but possibly your body running on fumes and your legs on the verge of cramping, muscles burning from lactic acid surely makes solving other life problems seem miniscule by comparison.
This is what Ironman means to me. Two weeks to Race Day.

Related Posts