Lessons From a Triathlon

Life is an adventure, but it’s not what you think until you get to the end. It’s full of challenges, sweat, tears and pain. But it’s also fun, a joy and a celebration. That was a bit what the road to my first triathlon felt like. From the pain I faced in my first training session with my trainer to the joy I felt crossing the finish line and my family waiting there to embrace me. The hard work and pain paid off. It would become one of the most memorable and cherished events of my life. And it’s still teaching me lessons about life. As you’ve probably heard, race day is just the sum of the preparation, you do to ready your mind, body and soul. I discovered so much about myself in the preparation for race day, and more than doing the race itself. Previously I had done a number half and full marathons, but nothing could prepare me for the complexity of a triathlon.

Preparation is always on your mind, so you prepare every day

Facing Giants

In early May of 2015 my niece, Flo lost a long three year struggle to Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA). It struck our family like a hurricane. I think we still question why God didn’t intervene. Meanwhile, I was trying to overcome my own personal challenges which had dug a hole in my psyche, bringing a great deal of hopelessness to my life. In the midst of this I was about to start training for my first triathlon. I had done a full marathon and a few halfs, but this would be different. What intimated me the most was the first phase of the triathlon, a 1.7 kilometer swimming component. If I didn’t make the halftime for the race I would be disqualified. That alone terrified me, aside from getting into rough and icy waters with swimmers far more advanced than myself. 

Lessons Learned

Preparation for my first triathlon required a lot of work. That’s actually an understatement. It required all of my. I would spend a minimum of an hour and a max of 4 hours a day training. Modest compared with the time invested by many of my fellow triathletes, I’m sure. Hauling ass on for 40 kilometers on a and running 10 would require some work, but swimming with hundreds of men in chilly ocean waters for a kilometer and a half would felt like Everest. Over the course of a rigorous 3 month training program I would need to overcome that defeating mindset. I would learn 5 valuable lessons that will forever stick with me. Lessons I continue to apply to every aspect of my life, to help me achieve the most impossible of goals, and overcome the biggest of mountains.

1. Set BIG Goals

Extraordinary things aren’t accomplished by sitting on your hands. Small goals are important, but the ones that can change your life and the life of others are big, impossible goals. The type that scare you. When I signed up for the triathlon, I felt way out of my depth. How could I possibly finish a race that involved a swim, bike and run? I felt it would take nothing short of a miracle for me to cross the finish line. But I knew if I didn’t do this, I would regret that decision more. I made a decision. Failure was an option, but not attempting this wasn’t. There’s always another event, but there’s only one life. With a plan and a lot of hard work, me crossing the finish line would become a reality.

2. Face Your Fears

Getting into deep waters with hundreds of other men far more qualified than you might not intimate you, but it intimated me. I had nightmares for months about the swimming component. This might sound absurd, but I overcame this fear by making completion of the swim component an essential life step. Whatever lay ahead for me was dependant on me completing the swim. It worked, a tactic I use regularly in life that works with some of the biggest goals I set.

3. Ask for Help

I think one of the worst things we can do in life is try to do anything alone. And when attempting to overcome a big challenge or goal, asking for help can be the difference between success and failure. Family, friends, teachers, mentors and coaches are what we bring alongside to help equip us, and help us overcome our fears. My personal trainer Kevin helped prepare my body for race day, my mentor helped prepare my mind and family and close friends were there to cheer me on on race day.

Crossing the finish line after 3 hours never felt so good

4. Breathe

Stop, and breathe. Step back and look at the situation. I felt overwhelmed about the idea of race day. It was on my mind frequently. To control the anxiety I would take moments out of my day to breathe and meditate. During workouts I made a point of breathing deep, especially when the pain was so great. It gave me the strength to go on. And on race day, deep breathing helped me reach thresholds that I did not think were possible. I finished the swim under the time I expected, and I had more energy during the bike and run than I could have ever expected. In life I use 4-8-7 breathing technique that can take a grizzly down. Four seconds in, hold for 8 seconds and 7 seconds out. I do this 5 times before bed. I rarely make it to the last set.

5. Never Give Up

I think one thing that will forever be my mantle is never giving up. My niece suffered with a terrible, paralyzing and life threatening condition. My sister partnered with a family in California that had supported a non profit to raise awareness and funding for SMA. Their motto that they put on their t-shirts and wristbands was Never Give Up. I wore that bracelet everyday, and I wore it proudly. It was a reminder of Flo, and the battle she fought. She never gave up, but her body did, but she was a fighter until the end. I’ll never forget the last few hours we spent with her. Gathered around her bed, even though her lungs were failing her and she was completely immobile she still had fight in her eyes. There’s a saying, “when the going gets rough, the tough get going.” It couldn’t be more true. Often times when I’ve felt the need to give up, there’s a little voice inside me that says, “don’t give up now, you’re nearly there!” And sure enough, once I push past that threshold, a breakthrough just around the corner.

My little nephew Teddy with his Never Give Up t-shirt and me after the race

So get out there and achieve your goals. Stand in front of those mountains, and say, “I’ll see you at the top!” Making those types of decisions you will never regret.

“In the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take.”

Lewis Carroll
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