Tag Archive for Triathlon

The Danger of Achieving Big Goals: The Other Side of the Finish Line

Back in November 2011 I attended a seminar in Saigon delivered by professional development trainer Brian Tracy. At the time I was unfit and overweight, but inspired by the talk I decided to set myself a number of disciplined health, fitness and career goals. My immediate focus was on losing weight and getting into shape. After a year of gradually stepping up my exercise regime I decided to take the plunge and signed up for 10km race and then a half marathon (21km). I continued with a strict training programme and in July 2013 completed my first full marathon (42km). As the day of the marathon drew closer I began to become worried about what would happen after I’d crossed the finish line. Would I lose my motivation and drop back into old bad fitness habits like sleeping in late, not eating healthily and making excuses for avoiding training sessions? Would I be tempted by pizza, pasta and burgers as well as too many late evenings with my mates at the pub?

The answer was to think bigger – triathlons. With this in mind I bought a bike and started to take swimming lessons. At this point I didn’t know whether I would complete a marathon, let alone a race that also included swimming and cycling (I couldn’t swim crawl at the time and hadn’t been on a bike in more than 15 years!) But as life coach Bob Procter teaches, it is important to set a goal that is so big it scares you. I set my sights on the ultimate triathlon race – the IRONMAN. After getting in touch with Stephane Laporte, a triathlon coach, we developed a long-term training plan to make sure I reached my goal.

It was the start of an amazing journey. I gradually stepped up the intensity of my training and increased my speed and distances. My confidence was growing and in August 2013 I signed up for IRONMAN Sweden, a race that was to take place a year later in my hometown of Kalmar. On 16 August 2014 I completed my first full IRONMAN race – a 3.86km swim, 180km cycle ride and 42.2km run, all of which needed to be completed in less than 16 hours. I crossed the line in 12 hours 28 min.

I managed to reach this fitness goal by being focused, disciplined and having a very clear plan that allowed me to move forward one step at a time. I firmly believe that if I can do it then any healthy person can complete an IRONMAN. The problem is that many of us cannot visualise ever crossing the finish line of such an arduous race. We are unwilling to commit to the disciplined training. We find it hard to say no to dinners, or parties or the television. Completing anything takes commitment and with something like an IRONMAN one is either in or out, there is no half-way.

During the 12 months of training I was often woken by my alarm at 4.30am. It was dark outside, I was tired and it was extremely tempting to turn over and go back to sleep. It is the easiest thing in the world to come up with a reason not to do something at 4.30am. So I forced myself to think of the bigger picture – my ultimate fitness goal and crossing that finish line in Sweden. Whether I had slept just a couple of hours, or not at all, I would force myself out of bed and stick to my training plan. This “no excuses” attitude sometimes included a 35km run, even though I had arrived home at midnight after a business trip. I am proud to say that I only cancelled my training sessions on a handful of occasions. As I became fitter and healthier it became easier and easier to get out of bed. I was losing weight and gaining energy. My daily exercise regime was paying off. My natural endorphin levels were up and I was actually becoming “addicted” to my new routine.

And then it happened. On 16 August I crossed the IRONMAN finish line. I had completed my ultimate fitness goal. But what now? I had been focusing so hard on completing the race in the 12 months leading up to it that I’d forgotten to think about what life would be like afterwards. Although I had signed up to other marathons and triathlons my motivation had left me. I felt empty. The month after IRONMAN Sweden was a real struggle. I began to cancel training sessions and eventually gave up completely. I had post-race depression; something I have since found out is commonly referred to as “IRONMAN blues”. Although I have managed to pull myself together and get some of my training motivation back, it is not the same as before. I simply feel there is no point; after all I’ve already achieved my ultimate fitness goal.

The finish line in Kalmar was a stopping point. But I’d worked so hard to get there. Such a huge and inspiring goal gave me the motivation to push myself through all that training, healthy eating, early morning runs and the race itself. Even though crossing the finish line was an amazing experience, and well worth it, Kalmar was like a brick wall. I now have to climb over it and start all over again, and starting over seems harder than ever starting in the first place. It has been said that achieving success can cause people to stop moving forward, like writers or musicians who fail to deliver that second novel, or second album, after the huge success of the first. We reach a feeling of completion, and that is bad news for creativity and maintaining discipline, or in my case keeping fit.

I now have to push myself much harder to get out of bed. I have cancelled more training sessions over the past five weeks than I ever did during the 12 months I was training for the IRONMAN. I consider those five weeks a personal failure despite achieving a personal best in the Bali half marathon on 14 September.

I have decided that I need to stop thinking about crossing the finish line in Kalmar and the training I put in during the months before the race. I need to set new goals and find fresh and exciting new targets. As my friend Doug Anderson reminds me: “A person is defined by how well he rises after he falls.” I am already registered for the Jakarta marathon on 26 October as well as the Phuket Half Ironman on 30 November and three full distance Ironman races in 2015.

I am also determined to explore bigger goals such as 100km ultra-marathons and more challenging Ironman races. Although I am still concerned about how I will feel once I complete these more difficult races, I have decided to focus on improving my times in the races I have already run. I am aware that I need to find new ways to motivate myself. Perhaps I will concentrate on health, strength and stamina rather than focusing on my time at the finish line. But one thing is certain, I need to get back into training and stop making excuses!

Pain is Temporary. Quitting lasts Forever

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…?”