Back in October when my friend Christian asked me to train with him for an Ironman less than 10 months away, naturally, I responded how any decent man would.
“I’ll rupture a testicle. Pass.”
Well, after much cajoling – including a free bottle of Chris’s home-brewed kombucha – my disdain abated and we launched into the great unknown of Ironman training.
And, yup, it was initially the unmitigated disaster you’d expect. I couldn’t swim more than 25 meters without the perpetual feeling of drowning, my right I.T. band nearly snapped during a “light” jog (there are no light jogs), and I quickly discovered that spending $1,600 on a bike does not guarantee you won't fall off of it even when idling in an empty parking lot. #toeclips
But six weeks into training, soreness, ignorance and fatigue gave way to a certain joy and optimism. And less than 10 months later, Chris and I actually crossed the finish line.
And while I'm tempted to fill this post with a sufficient tirade about how I got two drafting penalties on race day (Don't know what drafting is? It's O.K., apparently neither do I.), instead here are 5 things the Ironman taught me that I hope will improve your life journey.
1. Live like a German and a yogi
Ahhhh, the Germans. Is there another group of people more committed to efficiency and all that is quantifiable? I say this because Chris is German. Very German. Me? I'm a tree-hugging yogi. That means I value metrics ... but only for someone else.
Amid abrasive reminders to “Stay in zone 3!" and "Get an F.T.P. test," Chris did his best to instill in me a love for metrics. Eventually, I saw the light (sort of.)
I realize that numbers are important. I understand how essential they are for monitoring progress. And I have great respect for the athlete who tracks numbers and charts graphs to arrive at whatever personal algorithm they need to up their game.
But the yogi in me searches for deeper meaning. My relation to the road. The water.
I think about the race as a pilgrimage to arrive at a higher sense of self. And a transcendence of space and time.
In day-to-day living, there are many ways to achieve success. And that means studying ancient wisdoms and modern technologies to grow physically, emotionally and intellectually.
If you don't like something, it's often because you need it. So, don't disregard metrics just because you're not a "numbers person." Likewise, never assume that something that can't be measured doesn't have merit.
Let us learn old and new, big and small, eastern and western methodologies to find whatever finish line our hopes and desires point us toward.
2. Connections matter more than competition
I realize competition is healthy. And maybe if I actually had a shot at winning, I would have obsessively analyzed how to shave off three seconds during the bike transition. But, frankly, it was the communal aspect of training that drove me to compete in the first place.
I joined an awesome club to find training tips, hear lectures and meet triathletes of all types of backgrounds. I talked to coaches and attended workshops and clinics for ideas. And on race day, I stopped at every aid station to meet volunteers and even pet dogs on the running trail. Ultimately, it was a deep connection to other beings that gave me the energy to keep going.
It may come as a surprise that community plays a fundamental role in our health and well-being. But it's no shock to health experts and investigative reporters.
Remember the introduction of Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers? He talked about a village in Italy where people live longer than most other places on the planet - not because of diet or exercise - but because they have strong family and communal connections.
So, stop and meet people. Pet animals along the way. Say hi to the locals when you travel. Join clubs for things that don't necessarily interest you.
And you can pet cats too. Doesn't have to always be dogs.
3. You (really) can do (almost) anything
Why are we so conditioned to immediately discount ourselves, especially when it comes to physical feats? I've met men who fought in wars and were afraid to swim. I've met women who gave birth to twins yet were afraid of a spider.
All sorts of people compete in the Ironman. Obese people. People with disabilities. Seniors. I'm sure each of them were told not to do it. But they discovered a universal truth that every great coach professes ... the mind gives up before the body does.
What if we changed the false narrative we tell ourselves about human capacity? What if we first told ourselves that we could do anything and then relied on scientific rationale or reasons related to safety to then logically keep us from pursuing our passions and interests?
Maybe F.D.R. was right when he said "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself."
But I think there's a better explanation from Marianne Williamson:
"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? ... Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine."
Shine in whatever you're doing.
4. If you're ever lucky enough to have a buck nutty friend, just do whatever the hell they say
As I mentioned, I initially had no desire to train or compete in an Ironman. But Chris did. Why? Because he suffers from a rare psychological phenomenon called "Why not?"
Whenever someone tells him he can't do something, he simply says "Why not?" and then does it. What a mother-loving gift.
If you're ever fortunate enough to have a friend who's willing to do the absurd or brave the impossible, take the journey with them. Because they always make you stronger. Or stranger. But usually stronger.
5. Butt butter does not go on bread
Just Google this one ...