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Reflections on The End of a Season

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Ironman Arizona marked the end of my third year on the ironman "circuit." What a difference time makes. Before the start of my first full, Ironman Canada, I watched the sun rise while sitting under a tree and awkwardly yanking my wetsuit up over my thighs. My hands were clammy, and my brain was spewing a series of "I hopes." I hope I make the cutoff time, I thought. I hope I don't wind up burping Gu. And, of course, I really hope I don't drown. 

Later that day, I became an ironman.

Since then, I've survived races with close to 10,000 feet of climbing on the bike. I've made it through freezing water temperatures, high winds, snow, and heat. I've been that dude with the really pained expression on his face just trying to  make it to the next mile. I've also been that dude floating along making the whole thing look easy. I've learned that you never quite know what is going to happen. I've learned that I loved that uncertainty.

On paper (or, it may be more accurate to say, on computer screen) Ironman Arizona was a well executed race for me. I did well, stayed consistent, and set a new PR. The swim was cold; the bike was rainy; there was wind. When water started to fall from the sky I heard people around me grunt with worries and "uh-ohs," and I thought back to Ironman Canada. I thought about how unexpected weather during my first race might have played with my head, or made me more nervous than I needed to be. But with more than three under my belt already, the rain did little more than make me smile. 

That ability to smile in the face of uncertainty -- to smile in the face of stuff going wrong -- is how I know I've grown as an athlete and as a person. Sure, I've gotten faster, but that matters much less to me.  And that sense of growth -- not  a sense of getting faster -- is what motivates me to stick with it, to keep signing up for races, to keep training even though squeezing in 2-6 hour workouts is not as fun as sleeping in and eating piles of ice cream.  Back when I first started running for marathons, I got addicted to the feeling of being able to run a little further each time. Then, it was about running faster. Now, the addiction comes with the sense of equanimity that I get from showing up at the start line and knowing that there is simply no way to predict what is going to happen. 

I've been told that I inspire people (thanks, guys!), and I'm humbled by that description. The truth is I draw most of my inspiration from others. With less of my mental energy during races going to worries and "what ifs," I've found I have more time to think about the amazing people in my life. I think of other friends who have overcome adversity, or of people I know who are dealing with hard times. I think about the parents and friends I know who work so hard to try and achieve balance with all that they do. And I think of all the kids at the gym - about their enthusiasm, and their awe and excitement at the idea of people just showing up and finishing an event, with little to no concern about how long it took them. 

With Thanksgiving around the corner, I give thanks to my family and friends, to my fellow athletes, and to everyone whose path I have crossed so far on this strange little journey. Ganbatte -- what it means, and how to do it -- has been my focus for the last few years, and I realize now that there's no big secret to getting it done. Work hard, accept the unexpected, and don't forget to smile. With that, anything is possible. And for the time being, it's offseason. Time to play!






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