My Lunch with an Ironman

Have you ever just listened in awe as someone shared their story? You know, those lean-in-a-bit-closer moments of life when you soak in the encouragement of someone else’s story. I had such a chance the other day when I sat down to lunch with a friend who competes as professional  Ironman athlete.  As she shared incredible stories from her many competitions, I hung on her words . It was so encouraging, I couldn’t wait to share!

If you’re unfamiliar with the Ironman Competition – it’s a triathlon covering 2.4 miles swimming, 112 miles biking, topped off with a full marathon of running 26.22 miles. You don’t need to be an athlete to appreciate the wisdom she shared.

Jelly Fish and Sharks Happen

Imagine competing in a grueling triathlon. Now put the first leg in the choppy waters off of South Africa, where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet. Large swells taunt even the most seasoned swimmers by making it necessary to dive into the waves between strokes just to make forward progress. But, the waves are far from the only distraction on this unique swim. Jelly fish and sharks abound. “Do they come close?” I asked trying to imagine the courage to swim in such infested waters. “Yes.” She said. “I got stung in that race!” But when I asked if it was terrifying to swim in such conditions, she said you don’t focus on the jelly fish and sharks. You know that they’re there. But, you focus on your swim. She and the other competitors know that if you focus on the dangers and the distractions, they’d never finish what they came to do.

How many times in life do we allow our focus to drift? We focus on the noise of life, the things that worry us, the “jelly fish and sharks” of every day. How much more ground could we cover if we more carefully choose our focus?

The Best Decisions are Pre-Decisions

In an Ironman Competition there are countless decisions. Racers monitor their pace, their hydration, their caloric intake in addition to a number of mind-numbing decisions necessary to complete the race as efficiently as possible. In fact, competitors can suffer decision fatigue finding that making choices becomes harder as the race progresses. The antidote – they make as many decisions before the race as they can, while they are in training. They pre—decide everything from when they will eat or drink to sustain energy and hydration to what pace they’ll maintain during the various stages of the race. They know that when they are tired and weary in the midst of the challenge their decision will not be made with equal clarity.

This simple act of discipline hit home with me. I’ve learned that the time to decide to stick to your diet isn’t when your stomach is growling and you haven’t planned ahead. The time to decide is before you’re in the situation. The time to decide you will act with integrity or courage is before you need it. Lives are changed when people decide that no matter what happens today, they’ll choose do the right thing in the situations that come up, no matter what they are. Marriages are saved when men and women decide before a situation occurs that they will not entertain thoughts or actions counter to their commitment. The best time to decide how you will respond in situations is before you are in them. There’s power in the pre-decision!

Not here, Not Now Attitude

On my friend’s first overseas Ironman, she was the first out of the water onto the bike portion of the race. The middle leg seemed to start out well until her tire slid on wet pavement throwing her and her bike into a heap. Other competitors sailed past her as she assessed her situation. She had a pressing decision. Throw in the towel or instead say ‘not here, not now.” She had trained for months. She had been leading the pack just minutes ago. What would it be?

Not here, not now. She dug deep and said this is not where it ends. I didn’t come this far to stop here. She decided she would try to ride her bike. She challenged herself to ride just a bit but gave herself permission to reassess down the road. At each juncture when she reassessed, her resounding answer came back ‘not here, not now.’

She tapped into all of the decisions she had pre-decided including the pace she knew she could maintain with her not here, not now attitude. She gave up focusing on other competitors and focused on her pace, her routine, her race, what she had trained for.  Maintaining her focus, one by one, she passed the other competitors who had sailed by while she recovered from her fall.  With one mile left, she dug deep and pushed past the last challenger. She would be the first to cross the finish line, giving her her first international Ironman victory – all because she chose to not be taken out, not here, not now.

Running Our Race

How many days do we take ourselves out of the race we’re called to run? Our egos are bruised because of our mistakes or our falls, or perhaps because of the words or actions of someone else. We see others running harder or stronger, or further ahead than we are. We forget that we’re not called to run against them. We’re called to run. Our finish lines are not in the same place. Typically our races are often not even on the same course. And, our race is not a competition against others but rather one of purpose, the purpose God has for each one of us. We must dig deep on the days that sting, the days that try to rob our progress or steal our momentum. If you have breath in your lungs friend, your race is not over, not here, not now. Press on!

This weekend my friend will be competing in another Ironman Competition. As she sets out, I’m inspired to lace up my sneakers – not my actual sneakers, but my sneakers on this journey of life. I hope you do too. Be encouraged. Some days are far from an easy jog in the park. Look past your jelly fish and sharks, decide ahead of challenges what your response will be, and decide your journey doesn’t end here or now. You’ve got breath in your lungs which means there is purpose in your soul. It’s time to go run your race!

As always, I’d love to hear from you. If this resonates with you, let me know which of these nuggets hit home the most. And, if this post encouraged you, why not share it with your friends so that they can be encouraged too.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy: When You Feel Like Quitting: 3 Tips to Fuel Your Motivation