7 Life Lessons I Learned from Doing an Ironman

2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run. It goes without saying that an Ironman is not for the faint of heart. But in spite of the daunting numbers, I decided to give it a shot anyways. After eight months and roughly 500 hours of training, over 300,000 yards of swimming, almost 4,000 miles of biking, and over 1,000 miles of running, it's safe to say that I had a lot of time to think. And while in the process I learned a lot about myself physically, I also took away some valuable life lessons, as well. Here are the top nuggets of wisdom I took away from the months leading up to the race.

1. Your reality comes from your perception of reality. When I was training, I would often get the question, “So, how do you think you’ll do?” And my answer was always: “I’ll finish. I don’t know when, but I will finish.” Whether I would complete the race in 13 hours or 13 days, that was another story, but the fact that I would somehow cover the distance of 140.6 miles and in one way or another—standing or crawling—physically pass over that finish line was never a question in my mind. There was no maybe or perhaps. I would finish—no ifs, ands, or buts about it.

And when race day came, I did. I finished the damn thing. The thing is, the same goes for life. If you think you can’t, that something sucks, that everyone is out to get you, that things are just too hard, then you’re probably right. The universe will slowly turn into a dark cloud of oblivion and things will probably start sucking. If, on the other hand, you perceive the negative as positive, so it shall be. Maybe that job that made you want to bury your head in the sand like an ostrich on a daily basis turned out to be a great experience and acted as a stepping stone to get you to where you wanted to go; or maybe your car breaking down was a great reason to upgrade; or perhaps a shift in your relationship might be the universe telling you to take a hard look at where you are in life and maybe make some changes. Regardless of what it is, we are what we think. So if we want to feel positive energy in our lives, a good place to start is with that big noggin of ours...

2. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Pain is gain. Pain is weakness leaving the body. Whatever you want to call it. The thing is, growth never came from easily gliding by, safely waving at passerby from the cozy confines of our comfort zone. It only comes from challenging ourselves every now and then. 

Near the end of my training, there were on occasion weekends where I would spend nine or so hours a day training. The thing is, in order to finish an Ironman, you don’t simply wake up one day and finish the thing. It takes time. It takes hard work and an eye-on-the-prize attitude. It takes being open to improvement. And in my case, it takes eight months of building on the previous day's work, in spite of sore muscles and fatigue, towards becoming faster and stronger.

3. Things don’t always go as planned. On race day, about nine hours into my Ironman during the bike, I was riding up a hill and somehow my chain fell off and got wedged into the space between the frame of the bike and the chain ring. I clipped out and tugged at the chain to loosen but the thing wouldn’t budge. I tried for a good 20 minutes to try to unwedge it, getting frustrated as the minutes ticked by and someone was sent to come help me. I had spent eight months training for the race, and now something as silly as a stuck chain happens? I eventually got it unstuck, annoyed at feeling my sore muscles as I picked up my pace to try to make up for lost time. But as I was racing off—in spite of the sore muscles—I noticed an extra kick in my pedaling. The time spent trying to fix my bike had given my legs a very needed rest—one that I think may have given me a bit of a second wind, one that I may not have had if I had just powered through the whole 112 miles and then into the marathon.

The take away from this? Things sometimes don’t go the way we want them to. Bike chains derail. We miss the bus. Keys get lost. But with the right attitude and an open mind, it might not always be a bad thing. Believe it or not, sometimes the universe isn’t conspiring against us, but rather giving us a helping hand.

Epic selfie photo cred: Dan Nguyen 

Epic selfie photo cred: Dan Nguyen 

4. You can’t do it all. As much as we would like to be, we are not superheroes. So we have to give it our best shot and run with it. There were times when I had to weigh on one hand going out on a Friday night for a friend’s birthday and on the other hand a 90 mile bike/45 min run/30 min swim workout the next day. As much as I wanted to make time for it all, sometimes something needed to give. Those were the moments that I had to take a good hard look at myself and ask what I wanted the most. Sometimes that meant skipping the night downtown and mapping out the next morning’s ride as I sipped on some chalky post-workout drink mix, pretending it was a mojito. And sometimes that meant going out with my friends despite the workout the next morning and then consequently licking my wounds for the next seven hours of training the next day. 

The same is true in life. Sometimes, we have to make sacrifices. Sometimes it comes to one big sacrifice or compromising a couple of things at once. Either way, it’s okay—and I think healthy—to accept that our bodies and minds do have limitations. All we can ask of ourselves is to do our best, in the most comprehensive capacity that we can. And with that in mind…

5. You are more resilient than you think. Alongside knowing your limitations, it’s also important not to settle for what you think you can accomplish. More often than not, when we put ourselves up to a challenge, we’ll surprise ourselves. It only takes pushing through a barrier of what we think we can do that we realize just what we're actually capable of.

I remember the first time during my training when I passed the 100 mile marker on a bike ride. I had never ridden anything that far up until that point, and what’s more, I did it on a solo training ride. The cherry on top? I also had my first crash on my new bike on that very same ride. Talk about an eventful training session... A few years prior if you had told me that I would have finished my first 100 mile ride by myself after a minor spill on my bike, I would have said you were nuts. But the thing is, we’re tougher than we think. We’ve just got to have the cojones to do it and prove to ourselves that we’re stronger than we thought.

6. Surround yourself with an epic support crew. While we often think we're running a one-man show, much of how we see and view and think about the world is actually influenced by the people we spend the most time with. So surround yourself with the doers and the thinkers. The people that get you stoked on your goals. The people that get shit done and who create positive, awesome energy and make you want to become a better, more badass version of yourself. Getting a crew together and building a support network for yourself to create positive, supportive energy can be a huge influence on whether you make or break that goal of yours. (Shoutout to all my friends and family for your incredible energy and support—I couldn't have done it without all of your good vibes!!)

7. At the end of the day, HAVE FUN. After I finished the race, people would sometimes ask me if I ever got sick of it during the eight months that I trained. And to be perfectly honest, I never did. Not once. Sure, there were some days that my body didn’t feel at its best or mornings I would wake up at 5:00am still sore from the previous day’s workout. But not once did I ever stop enjoying it. I promised myself before I started training that it would be a fun race, not one to race competitively. I wanted to enjoy the process, and that came with listening to my body and my mind in the process. If I needed to take it down a notch one week, so be it. If at any point I felt like I was totally losing a life, then it would be time to maybe skip a Friday swim and go for a couple of beers with friends instead. I wanted to make it a priority to get shit done and get after it, but make sure that I didn’t lose my sanity in the process.

Life is all about a balance. It’s about having the drive and knowing when to put on the brakes to give yourself a rest.  It’s about pushing yourself to grow and having the self-awareness to know when you need to give yourself a break. And when it comes down to it, it’s about enjoying the process. We all have goals and ambitions but they don’t happen overnight. And I think how we navigate and view that process is just as crucial as the process itself. So whatever it is you’ve got in your head as your next big thing—love it, kick ass at it, do what you need to do to get after it. But be sure to enjoy the whirlwind of a process while your at it, too.