President and Founder at CTS Consulting
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In my mid-50s, I decided to take exercise and fitness to a whole new level and completed the first of six (and counting) Ironman triathlons.
My life as an endurance athlete has continued unabated as I enter my late 60s.
Last year after completing my sixth Ironman, I decided to devote the next two or three years to racing half Ironman races.
I find covering half the distance of the full Ironman is not only easier to train for but the 70.3-mile distance (a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike, and 13.1 mile run) involves much less wear and tear on my body.
In addition, after finishing second in my age group at the 2016 Raleigh 70.3 race, I suddenly realized I could actually be competitive with my peers and had a good chance of making the podium reserved for the top five finishers.
As we have a summer home near Lake Placid, all my Ironman finishes have been here.
Because I love and know the course like the back of my hand, I enthusiastically signed up for the September 10 event.
While I love being in great shape and competing, over the last few years I have grown to really look forward to the life lessons I’ve learned during these events.
Race day is always memorable, and this day would prove to be no exception.
Herein lies the tale of that day, some lessons I learned and how you might apply those lessons in your own life.
Lesson #1- Life is Full of Surprises
At the beginning of the day most of us have an idea of some of the things we want to accomplish.
On race day, I too had an idea.
I would set up my bike and running gear in the transition area, go to the body markers and get my race numbers on my arm and leg, put on my wetsuit and proceed to the swim start.
This plan did not include discovering my front tire had gone flat overnight and I would quickly need to find bike support before the transition area closed.
How often does life surprise you?
A coworker has supposedly completed their part of a project but in fact has not.
A phone call that was supposed to be returned hasn’t happened.
Your spouse told you they were going to fill up the car but you turn on the ignition and see the “E” staring you in the face.
Life is full of surprises.
Our ability to adapt and adjust to those unexpected events often determines how the rest of our day goes.
Lesson #2- Things May Sometimes Get Worse Before They Get Better
One of the reasons I was so excited about doing the race was that the weather in Lake Placid is normally in the low 70s in the beginning of September, which would make for ideal racing conditions.
What was not ideal was the cold front that had arrived a few days before the competition.
As the week before the race unfolded, temperatures at night were dropping into the low 40s and the lake temperature was dropping as well.
I decided to try to acclimate my body by swimming the 1.2 mile loop a couple of times before the race.
The cooler nights continued to cause the water temperature to fall and during my workouts I found myself getting increasingly colder and my swim times increasingly slower.
Race day morning arrived and the air temp was a chilly 38 degrees and the water was hovering in the very low 60s.
With more than 2,000 athletes participating, for safety reasons they would enter the water every few seconds in small clusters.
I was lined up toward the rear with the slower swimmers.
After standing around in the chilly air for over a half hour, I was now a cold swimmer entering cold water.
Although I was dressed like an aqua mummy, the neoprene cap, booties and arm warmers plus my wetsuit did little to ward off the cold.
I exited the water with my slowest time for that distance and to add insult to injury, I couldn’t feel my fingers.
It was much worse than I had ever expected.
Has that ever happened to you?
You’re late for an appointment and the bad traffic you normally encounter is suddenly horrendous.
Your boss calls you into their office.
You know business is slow, but you’re not prepared when he informs you you’re being let go.
A loved one gets an unexpected diagnosis of an illness only to find out the prognosis is much worse than expected.
It can be hard to stay positive when things seem to be spiraling out of control.
Lesson #3- Stay Focused
As I exited the water and removed my wetsuit, the now 40-degree temperature began to grab hold of me and I was shaking like a leaf.
I tried to put my clothes on but could not stop shaking.
Person after person was leaving the transition area to begin the bike leg of the race.
Even though I was moving unbelievably slow, I continued to concentrate and eventually put on the multiple layers I felt would be necessary for the cold morning ride.
A transition that normally takes a few minutes had taken 25 minutes, but I had stayed focused.
How often in your life have you had to block out distractions and stay focused to successfully complete a task?
Maybe it’s an overly talkative employee who makes getting work done difficult when they’re around.
Maybe it’s the dog, the kids and the phone all going off simultaneously.
Maybe it’s the nice day on a weekend bidding you “come outside” when there is work to be done indoors.
Staying focused can be tough!
Lesson #4 - Have a Specific Plan
As I finally exited the transition area, I looked to my wife Nancy and youngest daughter Jane and shouted, “It’s not a swim meet!”
The longest parts of the race were still in front of me.
I had a 56-mile bike ride to complete and it would be hours before I began thinking about the 13.1 mile run.
There was literally no one on the road as I began the bike--no fans, not even another cyclist.
I might as well have been out on a training ride.
And that was when I hatched my plan.
I decided to count how many people I could pass on the bike.
I didn’t know how many racers that would involve, but at least it would give me something to do and some way of measuring my progress.
And off I went.
What about you? When you make plans, are they specific?
Is your goal, for example, to exercise three times a week for at least 45 minutes or is it simply to “get in shape?”
Do you just want to “communicate better” with a spouse or coworker, or have you set a goal to spend 15 minutes a day of uninterrupted time to talk and listen to each other?
Your brain likes specificity.
How specific are your goals and plans?
Lesson #5- Stay Positive and Make Things Better
Though I was one of the last people out of the swim to bike transition, I had reason to be optimistic.
Over the last 11 years, I had ridden literally thousands of miles on this bike course.
I knew almost every one of the twists and turns of the roads that lie ahead.
I knew when to speed up, when to slow down, when a hill was coming and what gear I needed to be in.
I assumed that most the riders were unfamiliar with those twists and turns.
I would begin to put that advantage to use.
If things were going to “get better,” I reasoned I was going to have to “make them better.”
And that’s exactly what I did.
Within ten minutes I saw my first group of stragglers, and I took off in hot pursuit.
As I passed that group, I took aim at the next rider.
And the next.
And the next.
I suddenly realized, “This is fun!”
When life throws you “lemons,” what is your plan to make “lemonade?”
Maybe you didn’t get off to a good start in a job, but it ended up being a great career move.
Perhaps you choose a college you didn’t like initially, but it turned out to be a fantastic experi
Or you might have moved to a new area knowing no one and ending up with lifelong friends.
Focusing on the good in any situation can make all the difference.
Lesson #6 - It’s Not How You Start; It’s How You Finish
Here is how my day unfolded by the numbers:
Approximately 2,164 athletes started the race.
Coming out of the water I was 2,034th.
By the time I got on my bike, I was 2,134th as 100 people passed me in transition.
Then I got rolling.
I passed over 300 people on the bike.
All told, including the bike, the second transition and the run, I passed over 650 competitors.
After beginning the bike as one of the last people in the race, my finish was good enough for 5th place and a podium spot in the 65-69 age group.
So, what about your starts and finishes?
Maybe your marriage got off to a rocky start.
It doesn’t mean you can’t still have a great relationship.
Maybe you’re struggling getting your business off the ground.
It doesn’t mean you can’t turn it around.
Maybe you and that client got off on the wrong foot.
It doesn’t mean you can’t repair it.
Lesson #7- Success in Large Measure is Based on How You Handle Adversity
As my friend and fellow endurance athlete 76- year old Murray Sarubin notes, “Adversity fosters success.”
I have competed in 95-degree heat, pouring rain and now freezing cold.
I have raced with a torn rotator cuff and tendinitis in both knees.
Overcoming the adversity that these circumstances have created has made me mentally tough in ways I would have never imagined.
My ability to focus when circumstances are difficult has served me well in my races but more importantly in my life.
Where have you had to dig deep and how can you use those successes moving forward?
The adversity could be financial.
You might have worked your way out of debt.
It could be related to your education.
Perhaps you went to night school for ten years to get that degree.
Maybe a professional or personal relationship was just not for you so you mustered the courage to leave a situation where you were unhappy.
The great thing about going into a dark place and coming out on the other side is what you learn about yourself.
There is a quiet confidence that comes from knowing you overcame a difficult situation.
Well that’s my story.
What about you?
What “story” do you need to write?
What lessons do you need to learn?
If you enjoy these stories about the world of endurance athletics, I would love to talk to you about bringing my signature presentation, Iron Lessons, to your next professional conference or company event. This keynote presentation follows my 12-year odyssey as a late-blooming Ironman competitor. The stories will make your audience laugh, think and, most importantly, question what is possible in their personal and professional lives.
For more information, you can contact me at go2ctsonline.com or at firstname.lastname@example.org.