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#MyTri: How Training For An Ironman Was My Antidote To A Pandemic

Even though his race was canceled, this athlete reflects on the parallels between the pandemic and training for an Ironman—and how one helped him work through the other.

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Before I jump into how my antidote for a pandemic was training for an Ironman race, let me provide some perspective and context. Rewind 10 years and I had finished my first full-distance Ironman race. I was on top of the world.

Then life happened. My father passed away, grad school, second child, quit my job, forged a new career path, coached my kid’s youth teams, supported my wife’s growing business, and one year, two years, five years and more passed by.

I had officially settled into my “dad bod.” Unfortunately, my “dad bod” caught up to me and began to play tricks with my health. When your body talks, you should listen. I learned the hard way. My back gave out and the muscles throughout my body went berserk. The worst was yet to come. The pain got worse over the next few months. Late nights, early mornings, unpredictable times during the day would cripple me, leaving me on the floor with no ability to stand up and walk.

Let’s jump back in the time machine and fast forward. I was able to pinpoint the pain and work with many doctors and health practitioners, who got me back upright and moving again. It took about nine months, but eventually I could walk and move without fear of another episode.

All the while in the back of my head, the drumbeat, like in the movie Jumanji, kept nudging me towards taking a chance at another race. Yes, that race—an Ironman race! Why not? Set aside life changes, health issues, and who would have expected a pandemic…

Which leads me to how training for an Ironman has been an antidote for the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic has presented a variety of challenges and obstacles—ultimately, leading many to check in and ask themselves, “What matters to me?”

Preparing for an Ironman presents a similar set of challenging scenarios and obstacles. It also forces one to ask themselves, “Why?”

I believe when you prepare for an Ironman event you are not just training for the swim, bike, and run. You are also training your mental muscle and your nutritional gas tank. Inevitably, when you hit a wall during hours of training, isolation, or when you bonk during the race you are forced to look within and ask yourself: “What’s my why?” “What matters to me?”

Under typical circumstances many people play a great game of poker and can mask or bury their response to adversity without others noticing. The pandemic has made it difficult for even the best poker face.

An Ironman will reveal every hidden secret you have when it comes to adversity. No poker face needed.

Simply put, it’s either going to be the greatest 8, 10, 12, or 16 hours of your life—or it’s going to be the worst decision you ever made. The race takes place in your mind and sweats out through your emotions. How you experience adversity along the way will determine if it was all worth it.

The pandemic has also forced many out of the habit of autopilot. It has pulled many out of the vacuum of their own world to see and witness the broader things taking place and the impact we have on one another.

The world did not stop during the pandemic, rather it turned up the volume on a number of extremely important topics. The pandemic offered us an opportunity to stop, look, and listen to the world around us—an opportunity to take inventory of what attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors we want to amplify. All the while it has become an opportunity to also reorient and re-calibrate attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that have become incongruent with ourselves and the world we live in.

The circumstances have created an opportunity to do something that is bigger than yourself. Be in service of others. Think about the impact you have on others in the smallest of ways. Make a difference, be a difference.

Fiction: An Ironman race is an individual effort. Fact: It takes a village of support to show up at the starting line and to persevere across the finish line.

No Ironman finisher does it alone. There are hundreds of people that set up the venue, hand you a bag, strip off your wetsuit, give you water or nutrition, cheer you on, or catch you in their arms when you stumble across the finish line. It takes a village to cross the finish line. No one does it alone.

During preparation and training, we develop habits, routines, and behaviors to maximize our potential. A by-product of those habits and routines is that one can plateau, burn out, or lose perspective because of the rinse and repeat nature of training—which is why it’s important to intentionally disrupt those routines and habits. Create healthy discomfort.

The purpose is to shock your mind, body, and spirit into new territory. When we experience something new and different, we grow. You grow through what you go through.

Lastly, an Ironman race presents a unique opportunity for individuals to identify a purpose greater than just crossing a finish line. There is an opportunity to demonstrate and model for others that we are capable of great things, that they can push beyond what they believe they’re capable of.

The pandemic finish line is not necessarily clearly ahead of us. The physical, mental, and emotional obstacles continue to present themselves.

Which brings me back to how training for an Ironman race has been an antidote for a pandemic.

Training for my Ironman provided a purpose, it clarified my “why” on many occasions, it was a force to confirm, question, and re-calibrate my beliefs, attitudes, and behavior. On many occasions, circumstances due to the pandemic or just life disrupted my routine and challenged my flexibility and my openness to adapt and grow.

My goal was to cross a finish line 10 years after the first one. Well, that did not happen. The week of the race, it was canceled due to COVID-related concerns.

But all the time, effort, and investment culminated in something greater than a finish line or medal.

I recaptured my physical health. I cultivated a healthy mental muscle. And I filled my emotional tank by demonstrating to myself and my family I can be strong. I can be great!