Throughout my brief time as an athlete, I’ve heard the phrase “focus on the low hanging fruit.” This was advice intended to help athletes to get faster at a specific discipline by paying attention to an “easy” solution. For example, fixing your body position on the bike would be low hanging fruit because it hardly requires any effort, but makes a dramatic difference in speed.
I think many people are reluctant to look at the low hanging fruit in their own lives. They are so focused on looking at the entire tree as a complex organism that they fail to focus on the branches right in front of them.
Perhaps they think to themselves “wow, that fruit at the top of the tree looks really good! I think I’ll try to get that one!” Then they fail, and then they give up.
Or maybe they look at the whole tree and think to themselves “how do I get all of the fruit off that tree?” That’s too hard, so they give up.
When you approach a staircase, do you try to jump to the top in one fantastic leap? No, you take the lowest step first. Then the next lowest step… Then the next lowest… Until the top step is the next lowest step.
The same is true for the fruit on the tree. As you start picking off the low hanging fruit, the fruit on the higher branches seems to suddenly become reachable. All that low hanging fruit is out of the way.
There was a time when there was a lot I wanted to change about myself. I found all of my flaws and character defects overwhelming, and it led me to believe that I wasn’t really a good person. To fix everything would be too challenging, and the big things I wanted to change seemed too far out of reach.
But there was low hanging fruit. I started to change little things about myself, such as my perspective on life in the morning, the frequency at which I communicated with God, the type of food I ate, my appreciation for little joys, my attitude, my gratitude.
One by one, as I picked off the low hanging fruit, it became clear that the fruit on the higher branches was not so far out of reach, and the entire tree began to come into focus. I wasn’t a bad person with a set of overwhelming character defects. I was a human being on the path, picking fruit.
In order for athletes to improve, they must pick off the low hanging fruit which takes the least amount of effort so that they can begin to more clearly identify and set a course for ways in which they can improve. The same is true for all of us humans walking on the path.
As you look at the tree, don’t be overwhelmed by the volume of fruit. Don’t be discouraged by fruit higher up on branches which are out of reach. First grab the fruit right in front of you. All you have to do is reach out and grab it.
Let me start off with a simple equation:
- Dream = Something desired, but seemingly unattainable
- Goal = Something desired, and attainable with effort
- If “Dream” = “Goal”, then the “Dream” becomes attainable with effort
We all have dreams, but all too often fail to pursue them because we are stuck on the first part of the equation above. We fail to go through the practice of transforming our dreams into goals. To tie these equations together, it takes some planning and effort, but when that happens, our “dreams” begin to fall within our reach.
So how do we turn our dreams into goals? As with everything, we must plan.
The first important step is to lay out the destination. This is the seemingly unattainable dream that you want to one day achieve. Right now, this looks impossible. But it’s important to write down this dream. This is the fun part, because you can let your imagination run wild! Additionally, your brain will be firing on all cylinders telling you “No way!”, or “That’s impossible!”, and the worst four letter word of them all “I CAN’T!”. These are necessary birth pains for our goals, but it’s important to get through this exercise.
The Starting Point
Next, it’s time to be honest with ourselves about where we are now. Identifying our baseline is a key component of identifying a series of goals that will gradually lead us to the destination. Discipline, grit, and focus are what it will take to propel us through the process. But first things first. Take a mental inventory of our present state. Is the journey we are about to embark upon physical? Mental? Spiritual? A combination of all three? It’s time to start listing out your present feelings, your present physical state, your motivation. For what purpose are you undertaking this challenge? It is vital in this process to be clear on what is driving you toward the dream. Maintaining focus on this motivation will be a critical element of staying on the path.
So now we have a starting point, and a destination, so our path looks essentially like this:
|This simple diagram was stolen from another of my posts, “Change is Never Easy…“|
Now it is time to define what we do in the “desert” section. I call this “the desert” because this is where the Hebrews spent 40 years wandering while waiting to enter the promised land. While we may not be on nearly that extraordinary of a journey, it still helps to demonstrate value of the exercise. The desert represents a barren wasteland, and nothing will get us through it unless we take action. If you would like to read more on this, go to my previous post, Change is Never Easy…
I mentioned in the previous section that the journey takes discipline, grit, and focus to propel us through. Without these elements, we simply remain isolated in limbo, left to ponder what could have been had we only…
The dream at this point still seems unattainable, but the creation of a path to that goal is simple through the process of assigning mini goals on the way to the dream. These mini goals in relation to the dream are easily achievable. And we achieve each mini goal, we get closer to the dream. The dream then begins to come into view as an achievable goal. Our view of that dream is no longer far fetched. Instead, it is a realistic goal which can be achieved through action. Action is the critical step which will leapfrog us from one miniature goal to another.
Dream Big, Plan Small
As an example, when I began thinking about doing an Ironman, I went through this process. As a reminder, at that time I was only one year sober, had just quit smoking a month earlier, and I was an avid “breaditarian” – meaning that most, if not all, of my food needed to be breaded and fried.
My dream became “To qualify for the Hawaii Ironman World Championship”. This was an absolutely ridiculous idea because a) I had never done an Ironman, let alone one fast enough to qualify for Kona, b) I had never done a triathlon and did not know how to swim, and c) as mentioned above, was only one year into sobriety, one month free from smoking, and completely unhealthy. I had no business thinking I could qualify for the Ironman World Championships. I could barely watch them on TV without getting winded.
But, a plan came together, and even though my dream was big, I was planning small. I was setting goals which would progress me toward my dream. Here is an example of how my goal hierarchy looked:
- Get my butt off the couch
- Begin practicing healthy habits, including consuming a healthy diet. (Read more on that here)
- Research and learn about Ironman triathlon and how to train.
- Learn how to train (you can read my post on how I started training here)
- Bike 10 miles without stopping
- Swim 100 yards without stopping
- Run a 5k
- Run a 10k
- Run a half marathon (race report here)
- Swim 1k in the open water (open water fears reported here)
- Complete a sprint triathlon (race report here)
- Complete an Olympic distance triathlon (race report here)
- Swim 2.4 miles in the open water
- Complete a half Ironman (race report here)
- Complete a full Ironman (race report here and here)
- Complete an Ironman in under 12 hours
- Qualify for Ironman Hawaii World Championships
- Podium in an Ironman as an age grouper
- Win my age group in an Ironman
- Win an Ironman overall as an age grouper
- Win the Ironman World Championships as an age grouper
As this season draws to a close, I look forward to a few weeks of recovery and a few months of base-level maintenance training as I gear up for 2015. It’s also a time to reflect on this last year of racing, which has really been two seasons rolled into one. When I first began training, I was overly optimistic about my season. I began training in February, 2013 on the heels of a major shoulder surgery, started racing my first triathlons in July, did my first 70.3 in December, and then immediately started my build to my first Ironman in Cabo in March, 2014. The fun didn’t stop there, as I quickly began setting my sights on Ironman Boulder in August, with a handful of races in between.
I proceeded to race an Olympic triathlon in San Diego a month later, and definitely felt the effects of my recovery from Boulder. My final race of the season(s) is Ironman Silverman 70.3, which takes place on October 5, and should not be taken lightly. Unpredictable weather (likely heat), no wetsuits, and endless climbing await me there. But after that? Recovery.
That’s a year and a half of constant high volume training, which isn’t necessarily the smartest thing for an elite athlete, let alone an amateur starting from zero. But I wouldn’t have done it any other way. I set out to accomplish something I had no business participating in while in my particular state of physical health and injury. But huge transformations can happen quickly with the right motivation, willingness, and care.
From there I became an Ironman finisher 2 times over, both in under 11 hours. The ridiculous “dream” of becoming a qualifier for the Ironman World Championship suddenly became a realistic “goal”. With the guidance of top coaches at MarkAllenOnline (now doing business as Smart Triathlon Training), I was able to exceed my expectations and turn distant dreams into realistic goals. Below I am posting a picture of a trendline from 2013 when I first started this training. I was so happy that my paces were improving, but they were still slow at my aerobic heart rate. With patience, I was able to bring my paces down even more, and hold those paces for over 20 miles of running (all at a relatively easy pace). On a good day, my long runs can be between 7:45 and 8:00 miles.
So now the question becomes “why stop now? You have the momentum to continue pushing to even greater results?” First of all, I’m not stopping after Silverman. I have goals to exceed for 2015. But before 2014 is out, I am going to spend the bulk of my training time maintaining my fitness, recovering from a year and a half of racing, and focusing on techniques I’d previously rushed through so that when I reach the time that I have to build for my next event, I am prepared to crush it.
All of this is to avoid burnout. It is possible to overtrain to the point that you are doing more harm than good, and then you are under prepared for a race. The results start to suffer, the frustration sets in, and the motivation wanes. Mark Allen drives the point home, “Over prepare, under train”.
As I sit here writing this post about my own need to step back my training, I am feeling less and less anxious about other decisions my family has made recently. For example, our daughter has become burned out on piano, and we have really struggled with trying to rekindle her passion. Finally, we decided that maybe it is best for her to take a break, a very difficult decision for us. Our daughter’s teacher was not happy with this at all, and pleaded with us to reconsider, making us feel tremendously more guilty for our decision. But as I think about my own training, I remember that, like my training, we are not quitting, we are simply maintaining a “base” level of fitness for when the time comes to rebuild. Then the passion will be rekindled. Secondly, it is literally a marathon, not a sprint. Healthy habits are sparked by a healthy body, mind, and soul. If you push one too hard, the others will suffer. But all three in balance will produce tremendous results.
This season is nearly done, and I am looking forward to the break, to recover my body, mind, and soul. These last couple years have been about becoming healthier, finding passion in life, and inspiring others to do the same, while writing about my experience as it happens. I am tremendously joyful for what I have accomplished during this time, and my life is much better for it. Furthermore, I look forward to the coming year, where I take these steps to the next level, to achieve goals that were once dreams, and to dream bigger for the future!
To see my race schedule for next year, please visit my new website at www.adamhilltri.com
A friend of mine introduced me to this TED Talk a couple weeks ago, and it really hit home for me. Not just in the sense of how it applies to my athletic life, but also my personal and professional life. It helps demonstrate that our brains are amazing, confusing, and deceiving pieces of machinery.
Yes, our brains can trick us into (and talk us out of) anything. It is the source of our dreams, our fears, our joys, our anger, our happiness, our thoughts, and our aspirations. It helps us understand what is right in front of us, and sometimes shows us things we can’t possibly understand. It communicates with every fiber of our being and relays instruction and feedback to every part of our body. You would think that it is always operating at maximum capacity, and that it is always out for our best interest. But one thing we don’t always consider is that the brain often blocks us from our true potential.
The TED Talk I’m referring to is David Epstein’s “Are Athletes Really Getting Better, Faster, Stronger?” While the bulk of this talk is referring to what is actually making athlete’s appear faster, better, and stronger within recent history (and is definitely worth fully watching because it is mighty fascinating), the part that caught my ear began around minute 11:55. This is where the discussion of a brain as a limiter began, as a discussion of why professional athletes can compete on an entirely different level. Have a watch…
Now, before you start running up the Matterhorn, let’s put this into perspective. Our brain acts as a limiter for a reason. Within our physical bodies, it acts as a limiter so we don’t injure ourselves. Think about the example provided in the video of the person receiving an electric shock. Sure, they were able to jump across the room using all of their muscle fibers, but imagine how sore that person would be the next day (assuming they survived)!
While it’s not mentioned in Epstein’s video, the brain also acts as a limiter in non-physical circumstances. Feelings of stress are often supplemented with feelings of exhaustion or anxiety. This is feedback that we may need to rest our minds lest we descend into madness, strap a pair of underwear to our foreheads, and start yelling profanities at strangers (is that a little too specific of an example?).
The key, therefore is finding the balance of how to control the limiter, to set the governor up or down based on the required output. As with an endurance athlete, this takes training. While the endurance athlete will build their endurance and push through their mental limitations to achieve their goals, so too can anybody push through their own mental limitations. Here are a few steps on how to raise the bar on our own mental stamina.
- Take breaks as you need them, and actually use them as breaks. Don’t use these breaks as an opportunity focus on other things that are stressful. Remove yourself from a stressful environment and regroup.
- Meditate. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to get in your pajamas, light a bunch of candles, and turn on some Enya (but more power to you if you do!). It simply means finding a quiet place and quieting your mind. It’s like hitting the mental reset button. Remember: meditation is a practice, it’s counter productive to get frustrated because you can’t quiet your mind. Do the best you can, but just keep at it.
- Ignore the voices in your head telling you that you can’t. These voices exist in everyone at varying levels and it is a prime example of how our brains act as a limiter. When we are conditioned to think this way, we will also perceive the actions and words of others to be aligned with what our brain is telling us. It becomes a self fulfilling prophesy. You have to take contrary action to overcome these negative thoughts.
- Get plenty of rest. Sleep is important to everyone. Make sure to get a good night sleep every night.
- Keep your brain interested. As long as your commitment to your goals is greater than the limitations you put on yourself, you will keep striving to achieve your goals. It is a battle, but make sure you continue to remind yourself of the purpose of your pursuit. Every. Single. Day.
After having some time to really reflect on Ironman Los Cabos, and how the experience shaped out, I wanted to lay out some of the things I learned along the way which I found important, and can be applied to any passion project a person may seek to accomplish. In a nutshell, completing this race was absolutely glorious. The finish chute was a blur of afternoon sunlight and mental fog, but it was absolutely glorious. Will I do it again? Absolutely. What did I learn? Read below to find out.
- We human beings really are capable of more than we give ourselves credit for – Yes, I know it’s cliche, and we can read this any number of times a day on inspirational Facebook posts, but it’s also very true. We tend to give up too quickly or too easily. By our very nature, we are conditioned to conserve. Conserve our pride, conserve our welfare, conserve our energy. In other words we are conditioned to be “safe”. After all, as we evolved we had to develop mechanisms to keep ourselves from harm – to run away from Sabertooth Tigers, or survive through cold winters or famine. I’m certainly not endorsing those, but there are ways that we can channel those additional stores of energy in non-stressful ways (I want to stress “non-stressful”) to go the extra mile in any endeavor with which we are involved.
- Understanding and acknowledging our limitations is a beneficial exercise – Is number 2 contradicting number 1? Yes!… In a way. But you see how I mentioned channeling energy in non-stressful ways (I guess I want to re-stress my stressing of “non-stressful”). That is where understanding our limitations can benefit us. We all know how we feel when we hit a brick wall. Our energy immediately depletes, we lose sleep, we get sick, we get irritable, we crave sugar (ok, that one is tough to gauge). When I felt any of these symptoms during my Ironman training, I knew that it was my body telling me that I was pushing too hard. When that happened I had to take a step back and make rest my priority, refresh my mind and body, and recover the passion and energy I had for pursuing this goal. Often times the best offense is a good defense. Additionally, knowing our limitations gives us a good indication on where we can improve, and whether it makes sense to refocus our energy in more positive ways.
- “No pain, no gain” is some of the worst advice ever given – In fact, pain is most often an impediment to progress. Alternatively, some of the greatest gains happen with little or no physical pain, and very little discomfort at all! When I first began training using heart rate as a guide, I didn’t even feel like I was working out at all. I barely broke a sweat, pulling 11-12 minute miles on runs. Gradually the pace improved and the effort felt much the same. It’s only with the greater gains that more discomfort becomes required, the “last 10%” so to speak, and even that should be done sparingly. It all comes back to understanding limitations. Pain is different from discomfort. Our ability to suffer through discomfort is part of a growing experience. Pain, on the other hand, is biofeedback telling us that we are overdoing it and have to take a step back. This advice would be better read as “No pain, KNOW gain!”
- We can make the experience of achieving a goal much more fulfilling by finding a way to be in service to others – When I first considered training for an Ironman, I thought of all the hours I would have to put in, the money I would have to spend, and the emotional capital I would expend and it made it seem like a very selfish endeavor. To be fair, it was. I was looking to better myself. But how can we benefit others unless we focus first on improving ourselves (something about removing the plank from one’s own eye comes to mind)? In my case, I chose to set an example for those that may have always thought of achieving a far reaching goal, but who may have talked themselves out of it numerous times (after all, I was like that). I wrote about it openly in the hopes of inspiring others through my experience. This requires conquering the fear of being vulnerable (spoiler alert: that’s number 5 below). Additionally, I raised money for charity to hold myself accountable to the goal. After all, it is much more difficult to quit when times get tough if you have more eyes on your progress and a charity goal depending on your achieving the goal.
- The experience can become more meaningful if we can conquer the fear of being vulnerable – I used to be a bit of a cynic, often becoming critical and nay-saying in many situations. I now understand that that was a defense mechanism for me so that I would not be the subject of criticism. If I can be critical of other peoples’ desires to fulfill a dream, I could justify my own lack of inspired confidence. Too often we put up this armor of cynicism, and neglect the great potential for self improvement that comes from being vulnerable. Brene Brown is an expert on vulnerability, and goes into great detail of it’s importance in this TED talk and in her book, Daring Greatly. Making myself vulnerable by writing about my experience, especially at the beginning when I had no experience whatsoever, made me extremely uncomfortable. However, it made the experience of getting to my goal and achieving it that much more meaningful.
- You CAN find the time – Yes, you can. No seriously, you can. I know you have kids, I know you have a job, I know you have that thing on Thursday nights (I’m not stalking you, I swear). Regardless, the time is there. It’s just about inventive time management. I know waking up earlier is hard, but that is a solution. You can also take your lunch breaks at work to focus on the goal. The point is that there is always a way to make the time. Within my training plan, I had to find 20+ hours a weak during the peak weeks to train. I would wake up earlier, use my lunch breaks, and use the actual commute to work to work in training hours. I still found time with the family and took care of all my obligations (in fact my family appreciated it more because I was setting a good example).
- The right perspective changes everything – I know what it’s like to fall into a downward spiral of despair and self loathing. The feeling that everyone is against you and the hard work is meaningless. These are the great demoralizers. The worst thing about these feelings is that they are overpowering, and they feel absolutely legitimate. However, I have found in my life that these are mostly problems with perspective. I’ve learned through this experience that, for me, one of the big differences between being happy and being miserable is my perspective. When I turned my negative attitude around and focused on the positive, things became much brighter. Ironman training was a great practice in perspective. Instead of saying things like “I have to run today”, I would say “I get to run today”. How lucky am I, that I am capable of getting myself up every day and working toward a dream? Truly we are fortunate if we allow ourselves to believe we are, and overcome the power of negative thinking.
- Humility is vital – There will be setbacks. There always are. Many times these setbacks may seem like a death nail into achievement of a goal. But when these setbacks occur, it is important to practice humility. Allowing our egos to get in the way of clear thinking will only make the situation worse. For example, as I was training during the summer months last year, I hit a plateau which wouldn’t allow me to get any faster at my assigned aerobic heart rate range. This gave me two options. Run faster and train over my heart rate range (which would have potentially destroyed my training progress to that point), or humble myself and keep it slow. Sure, I wouldn’t be able to run as fast as I wanted at that point, but checking my ego would allow me to be faster at that heart rate over the long term. A setback, yes. But the long term goal was still on track. Eventually I broke through the plateau and got faster. Humility ties a lot of these things I learned together in a nice little bow. Accepting limitations, practicing vulnerability, finding the right perspective, it’s all about humility.
- It’s worth it – Whatever “it” is, as long as the effect is positive, it’s worth it. Because “it” is important to you, “it” will build your character, “it” will give you fulfillment beyond your expectations, and in turn the act of achieving “it” will inspire others. And when we inspire others, we can inspire ourselves, constantly improving, always reaching toward higher and more lofty goals. An upward spiral. Take it from me, you can.
A year ago, when I waved the forefinger of my one good arm in the air and proclaimed confidently to the heavens that “I would complete an Ironman”, a year was a long way off. So far off in fact, that I needn’t let March 30, 2014 worry me at all. It was a lifetime away, and certainly enough time to be adequately prepared to survive a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26 mile run. My daughter would be in Kindergarten by then, my son with a healthy vocabulary. Here we are a month away, with my daughter in Kindergarten, my son already talking back to Mom & Dad. About a month away from the race, and I’ll admit that I’m terrified. It turns out that regardless of how well prepared I may be, I’m are still venturing into unknown territory. And most fear is rooted in the unknown.
Within the last year, I have fully healed from an injured shoulder, cleaned up unhealthy habits and unhealthy thinking. I have surpassed my goals with training and racing, and believe I am well capable of completing the Ironman in 17 hours. In fact, I have been close to the front of the pack in most of the races I have run. While I’m not the tip of the spear, so to speak, I am closer to being the string that ties the pointy end of the spear to the stick that carries it. I could not be more prepared than I am right now. But the feeling of fear still grinds at the pit of my stomach.
So what exactly am I afraid of? Well, to make it easy, here’s a fun little top ten list of things which may make a triathlete fearful before their first Ironman, some far fetched, others… fetched?
- As odd as it sounds, there’s the fear of being afraid. There is a lot of standing around and waiting before the gun goes off. That leaves a lot of time to be in my own head, which never ends well. For example, getting to the start line and succumbing to my fear in the form of a storm of gravity pulling all my blood from my head, at which point I collapse in an embarrassing heap, ending my race before it begins. Here comes the stretcher, making its way through the throngs of swimmers, now delayed in their start because some poor schmuck couldn’t harden up. All eyes on me, as I’m carried off the beach in the opposite direction of where the race is to begin.
- The fear of getting sick right before the race. Thus far this year I’ve been lucky, but I don’t want to tempt fate as chances are if I do get sick, it will happen just as I’m getting ready to race.
- The fear of being halfway through the swim and then having to go to the bathroom. I mean, “grab a newspaper and some matches” go to the bathroom. Although, this may help me swim faster, or clear away any congestion from other swimmers.
- The fear of other people around me having similar “bathroom issues”.
- The fear of panicking mid-swim. It’s a long way out, and it will take a lot of effort just getting through the beach start, or as I call it the “Braveheart Start”.
- The fear of being skewered Crocodile Hunter style by a giant stingray. Heck, defiled by any sea creature, big or small, would be unpleasant
- The fear of getting one mile into the bike and realizing “crap, this is really hard.” Well, duh.
- The fear of blowing out multiple tires, dropping a chain, breaking a pedal, hitting an armadillo and exploding… any number of mechanical problems which would not be able to be fixed.
- The fear of having a diva-esque meltdown at around mile 20 of the run. At this point it is possible that some racers are so worn out that they may lie down prostrate in the middle of the road sobbing uncontrollably, chastising poor volunteers for running out of Snickers bars.
- Of course, the dreaded “DNF”. Could be for any number of reasons, catastrophic to simple. But the result is the same: Failure to accomplish a much sought after goal.
I will say that I do have some of these fears to varying extents, and even some others not listed, rational and irrational. But look at all of these fears. What do they have in common? They are all things that are out of my control. Funny how fear grips at us when we don’t have the ability to pull the strings. It is an interesting sport, triathlon, which people subject themselves to, where there are so many variables which can affect a result which is out of the athlete’s control. It requires a lot of humility, of which I have done my best to try to learn and practice over the past couple years.
|Christmas in Salt Lake City. A winter wonderland|
As I mentioned in a previous post, I always love this time of year. The lights, the crisp air, the generally more pleasant attitude coming from everyone (while there may be some exceptions of course). The culmination of the holiday season, Christmas Day, is not necessarily my favorite day of the season. More so is the lead up to Christmas, when goodwill is at the forefront of our minds, and we are more frequently aware of the grace we are offered by God. At least this is true for me, especially in more recent years. Giving gifts is great, but it’s the empowerment of the soul and the rejuvenation of the spirit which make this holiday special. As the Grinch himself expressed:
We’ve all heard pontifications on “the True Meaning of Christmas”, so I won’t wax on. However, I will say that it is fitting that Christmas falls at the very end of the calendar year. If we choose it to be, we can make it a celebration for the blessings we have received over the course of the year. A chance to reflect on what we have achieved, and prepare our positive attitudes for blessings to come in the next year, beginning a week later.
I, myself have been profoundly blessed. Blessed to have a wonderful family, blessed to have another year of sobriety, blessed to be healthy, blessed to be motivated to perform at my absolute best, and blessed to have been given the opportunity to set an example for others, including my family.
Early in 2013 I was struck with an insane, uncharacteristic, and seemingly impossible idea. With my arm in a sling, and a gut hanging over my sweat pants, I somehow had the motivation to do an Ironman triathlon. Somewhat of a “New Year’s Resolution”. I had never swam any significant distance, didn’t own a bike, let alone know how to ride a road bike, and the chronic abuse of my lungs and liver made the idea of participating in any endurance sport a laughable proposition. However, the idea struck me with such force that I had no doubt that I would achieve it, and I went about planning for success.
A few months ago I wrote an article in for MindBodyGreen called Stop Abandoning Your Goals! In it I advised people to set smaller, more easily achievable goals as milestones to the greater goal. That would make the greater goal more easily achievable. This was part of my “success plan”, to create incremental goals leading to the bigger one. I signed up for Ironman Los Cabos set to take place on March 30, 2014, and then signed up for a number of shorter triathlons leading up to that date. Sure enough, eating a healthy diet and following a strict training plan, I was able to complete two sprint triathlons during the summer, where I was able to gain confidence in open water swimming, and get a feel for the race. Then I finished an Olympic distance triathlon, to get used to racing for multiple hours. Finally, a couple weeks ago, I completed a half Ironman. A far cry from the injured and unhealthy person dreaming at the beginning of the year.
So now after completing those distances, while still a significant challenge, the actual Ironman triathlon does not seem as formidable. It is just the next step. And with three months to go before the race, it’s the final stretch of training, so it’s getting real.
I know that was a long way from the original message of this post, but it brings us around from reflecting on the past year to how we can look forward to the next. I will no longer look forward to unfulfilled dreams and empty promises. I will continue to dream big and create a road map for achievement.
So this year, as you consider your New Year’s resolutions, consider this. Dream big this year. Despite what you tell yourself, you can achieve it. To get there, just take the next step. Set smaller goals to propel you forward. Finally, have a very Merry Christmas, reminiscing on the blessings of the previous year. And may God grace you with a prosperous and dream-fulfilling New Year!
|Image by Larry Maurer|
This is Chrissie Wellington. Yes, she’s smiling. She hasn’t won (yet). Heck, she hasn’t even finished. She’s still on the bike, which tells us she’s somewhere between a 2.4 mile swim and a full marathon. Not a lot of people would be smiling at that point! It seems to me that she is aware of something very important that a lot of people ignore; it is just as important to enjoy the journey, not just the finish. This understanding is clearly reflected in her attitude, and she wears it proudly on her face in the form of a smile.
I have found myself in this very spot recently. Training has become more difficult, as I begin to get into more speed work, longer swims, and earlier mornings. I found I was just going through the motions, but not becoming very motivated. I needed to step back and remember why I am working so hard. I want to set an example. To show that great joy can be found by honestly sharing your story and being in service to others. That joy can also be found in challenging yourself and following through. Yes, the training is hard work, but it is necessary work to experience the joy of the accomplishment. And joy is worth smiling about.
I decided to do just that this past weekend during my long run. I would try to maintain a smile for the entire 2 hour run, and see how I felt during and after. First thoughts? I felt absolutely ridiculous. I knew that everyone would be looking at me and wondering why this creepo had a wild ear to ear smile on his face. Further, it felt forced. It’s not easy to smile while you’re working out. That is serious business, of course!
However, as I drove on and kept forcing that smile, something magical began to happen. I began feeling a new level of joy with what I was doing. I naturally began thinking positive thoughts, rather than the typical thoughts I have, such as “I wish my pace were better,” or “man, am I tired!”. Gratitude began to naturally sink in, and I just felt thankful that I could be out on safe road on a sunny day with two working legs. The people I thought would be looking at me as creepy instead smiled back and often waved hello. The smile became part of my attitude, and was clearly affecting others as well. It was truly therapeutic. Ms. Wellington is definitely on to something!
That long run became my longest to date, at a little over 16 miles, and my pace was much better than expected. I ran this experiment on my next two runs as well, and one of them became my fastest hill workout. Likely this was a coincidence, as I don’t think smiling actually made me faster, but I do think it affects performance to some extent, as well as ongoing attitude. Exercise could be a form of meditation, and if you are happy and at peace during meditation, that peace continues throughout the day. At the very least I find myself feeling more joyful and positive throughout the day. I am also confident that over time I will be able to perform better because the attitude is already shaped toward success.
I have talked about how listening to your body is important to physical and mental fitness. If you monitor your heart rate you can have more success at burning fat, becoming more fit, and becoming healthier. I now believe that a smile can be the return feedback you are giving your body. When you smile, you may just be telling your body “I am enjoying this activity and the results it offers. Let’s keep it up!” You’re body will abide.
Upon seeing Chrissie Wellington smiling during an Ironman race for the first time, I thought she must be crazy. Now I think I get it, and I’m buying what she’s selling. I would highly recommend to anyone, in an effort to reinvigorate your activities and bring life back into your passion, to force a smile. I am confident that eventually it will become natural, when you once again begin to experience the joy of your accomplishments.
Until next time, have a nice day!
All too often we use the “Superbowl” to describe an event which marks the apex of that particular pursuit. A culmination of hard work paying off in the form of a championship event. “It was the Superbowl of Texas Hold ’em tournaments”, or “this chili cookoff is like the Superbowl of all semi-outdoor culinary events”. Some people describe the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii in much the same way. However, I would argue that while it is a “championship” (and pros and top age-groupers treat it that way), for many I have read about it is a celebration of an achievement. The act of getting to Kona was the achievement in and of itself. For the vast majority of the people racing, they had to qualify at a previous Ironman event and place at the top of their age group. The championship race is the capstone to that achievement.
|Courtesy of Ironman.com|
The Ironman World Championships are taking place Saturday, October 12, and I would recommend tuning in. I have not had the privilege to have qualified or raced in this event, although I hope to one day, but it seems clear that “celebration” is what this week is all about. And rightfully so! The people that are there have accomplished an extraordinary feat. Not only did these athletes swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, and run a marathon, they did so faster than the vast majority of the other people racing in that event. Their reward? To do it all over again on a more challenging course against some of the best athletes in the world. In addition, many have overcome significant obstacles to get there. I have yet to find as many inspiring stories in other sports as I do with this one.
When it comes to the pros, there’s a couple examples which demonstrate this. First, was Julie Moss’ crawl to the finish in 1982, when her body gave out. Despite having nothing left in the tank and losing her lead, she literally crawled to the finish to complete the race.
There was also the “Iron War” between Dave Scott and Mark Allen. Allen had been chasing Scott for many years, but had come up short. In this race their splits were nearly identical, but Allen was able to pull it off with only a few miles left in the race. He then went on to win 5 more World Championships. Allen had adjusted his training style due to his previous performances, and was focusing on developing a strong aerobic base (through heart rate work). This is what allowed his fitness to improve dramatically, and it is one of the main reasons I am using his coaching services through Mark Allen Online.
This is not to overshadow the countless stories of inspiration which come from the age group fields. The amount these individuals have to overcome in many cases is extreme – training while having full time jobs, physical challenges and disabilities, and even terminal disease. My descriptions can not do them justice, and there are too many to count, but below are a couple videos. This embodies the spirit of the celebration of the Ironman World Championship.
This championship offers amateurs the opportunity to race on the same field as pros. It allows those with the desire to achieve a challenging goal to celebrate their accomplishment with other like-minded people. While in its simplest form it is simply a long distance triathlon, on a grander scale it serves as a platform to inspire people, to challenge people to give the best of themselves and to achieve greatness. It is the fact that this race tends to leave the world a little better than it was before that makes it so great. It is my goal to one day qualify, celebrate, and be a part of the positive energy that exists in Kona at that time.
To conclude, I wanted to share a few race reports from age groupers that qualified for the World Championships. They may be a bit long, but they are well worth the read. These are, for all intents and purposes, “normal” people, with jobs, responsibilities, etc. They were able to work really hard and achieve this seemingly insurmountable goal. As a snapshot in time, these individuals are fit, fast, and worthy of the top spot, but leading up to this they had to conquer their own obstacles.
The first is Christopher Borden who qualified in Ironman Canada (I’ll be racing there next year!) Here is the link to his race report
Next is David Rowe who has an entertaining race report about Ironman UK and his surprise Kona qualification (spoiler alert!). Here is the link to his race report
Finally, another race report from Ironman Canada by Elliot Kawaoka. Here is the link to his race report
If you would like to enjoy any of the coverage of this celebration, tune into www.ironman.com on Saturday, or wait a couple of weeks to see the coverage on NBC. You can also find previous years’ coverage by searching Ironman Hawaii on youtube.