On April 13, 2014 I completed my first IRONMAN 70.3 (Half IRONMAN). The race consisted of a 1.9km swim, a 90km bike ride and a 21km run. After a grueling seven hours, 13 minutes and 15 seconds beneath a clear blue sky in sweltering 35 degree heat I managed to cross the finish line. As I did so I collapsed in enormous pain, screaming at the top of my lungs.
In the weeks leading up to the event I concentrated on preparing myself mentally for the physical pain I knew I was going to suffer. Because of this I knew that no matter how bad the pain became I would complete the race.
Collapsing at the finishing line was not the first time my body tried to give up on me. Around 12km into the run I began to suffer from dehydration and crippling cramps and with just 800m to go I collapsed. The other runners, volunteers and medics were extremely generous in their support and helped me by stretching and spraying my cramped, aching limbs. That last 800 meters took me nearly an hour to complete, but when I look back I realize that at no point during the crippling pain and difficulty to keep myself moving did it cross my mind to quit the race. I even remember deciding that if my legs would not carry me, then I would crawl over the finish line. Luckily I was able to limp to the end.
As I reflect on the experience it is again obvious to me that we humans are capable of achieving so much more than we imagine. Just 18 months ago I could not walk up a hill on a golf course without feeling exhausted and out of breath. I was 25kg heavier than I am today on the verge of obesity. I had never even achieved so much as a fun run, was a weak swimmer and hadn’t ridden a bike in more than 20 years.
I decided I needed to take action. I started to write goals, not just for getting into shape, but for all areas in my life. But getting fit was a priority, so I joined a gym and found myself a personal trainer. I completed a 10km fun run, then a half-marathon and then a marathon. I also learned to swim properly and purchased a bike. This enabled me to begin competing in short triathlons and gradually join longer races.
For me the winning formula was simple. Set a goal, complete it and then set a bigger goal. I read the following somewhere: “Start by doing what is necessary; then do what’s possible and suddenly you are achieving the impossible”. By taking this advice I have just been able to complete what was once the impossible – an IRONMAN 70.3!
In August 2013 I wrote down that my ultimate fitness goal was to one day complete an IRONMAN. The race consists of a 3.8km open water swim, a 180km bike ride and a 42km run, in that order. The event has to be completed in less than 16 hours and is considered so extreme that it scares many professional athletes. I realized at the time of setting myself this goal the only way I was going to achieve it was through dedication, self discipline and lots of hard work. There could be no excuses. I am now half way to that goal.
But the IRONMAN is more than just a goal, it is a dream. Achieving that dream will lead to a fitter healthier life. It was never going to be easy, but I am proud that I have dared to dream. I have made sacrifices on my journey, some of them painful. Over the past 18 months I have pushed myself through more than 450 training sessions and completed a dozen races. But I am willing to put myself through temporary discomfort because I am constantly aware of the bigger picture and where pushing myself as hard as I can will eventually lead. I am aware that if something doesn’t challenge me, it does not change me. In life we constantly have two options – either we suffer the pain of discipline now or the pain of regret later.
Success in all areas of life is linked to determination. Too many people give up on what they want far too easily. If we want something badly enough then the price we pay for it is going to be high, but if you refuse to give up and continue to work towards that goal you will ultimately reach it. Even if you get knocked down along the way the key is to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and keep moving forwards. I may have suffered during the IRONMAN 70.3, but there is no chance I’m giving up when my ultimate goal is in sight.
Following the race I talked to people who told me that I had little chance of completing a full IRONMAN in just four months time. People will always tell us that we cannot do things. But how dare they tell me I can’t have my dream. It is important to shrug off these comments, pick oneself up and keep moving forward.
I understand that there are few major secrets in life. If we are willing to work hard then we can achieve nearly any goal we set ourselves. This is what life is about. We should constantly compete against ourselves, face up to our fears and follow our dreams and desires. We all grow when we strive to reach beyond the limits of our comfort zone and test our limits.
For me the next challenge is the official Swedish IRONMAN which takes place in August in my home town of Kalmar. I may not be ready to compete, but I will take my place on the starting line and no matter how the race ends, at least I will not have to spend the rest of my life asking myself: “What if…?”