10 life & career lessons I learned from racing Ironman - Part 2

Part 2 of 2: Race Day

(For Part 1: The Commitment & Training, click here)


7. You can't change the past - trust your training

The human mind can play games on you.

Standing at the start line of an Ironman, toes in the water, hundreds of fit-looking people around you, and your heart racing, you start asking yourself: "did I do enough"?, "I skipped 2 swims in the past month, is it going to affect me?", "I felt a twinge in my calf 2 weeks ago, what if it happens today?!".

If you let your mind run wild with these ideas, your body will flood itself with cortisol (stress hormone), your heart will race, you will panic, and you will have a miserable day.

Athletes have developed the only coping mechanism there is: "there is nothing you can do about it now!".

Once you toe the starting line, what you did in the past week, month or 6 month doesn't matter: you can't change the past. You have to trust your training, your coach, and your readiness.

Applications in "life": allowing your mind to "run wild" before a major event can actually be the "cause" of the event being ruined, not your "how ready you are". Whether you're about to walk into an interview for your "dream job", or sitting for your CFA Level 3 exam, or standing in front of investors to pitch your idea, etc... Your level of preparedness at that point in time "is what it is". The knowledge you've acquired over the past weeks and months is what it is. You can't add to it anymore. You have 2 choices: you clear your head, accept the current status, relax and "nail" whatever you're trying to do, or let your mind run wild, work yourself into a frenzy and panic. It's all in your state of mind.


8. Control the "controllables"

"This a massive hill! They didn't say there was a hill!".

"It's raining! I've never ridden my bike in the rain!".

"These are huge waves!!".

"Shit! My energy gels have all fallen out of my pocket somewhere!".

These (and 100s more) are common exclamations that pop up in the heads of triathletes on race day.

One thing I learned early on is to accept a clear fact of life: there are thing "you can control", and there are things "you can't control!".

One of the most important rules drilled by coaches into the brains of long-distance triathletes is: "control the controllables".

You can't control the weather, the terrain, a flat tire, your goggles breaking.

But you CAN control how you REACT to these "added challenges":

- yes there is a hill, slow down, go into an easier gear, and let others pass you on the way up, so what!

- yes it's raining: slow down on the corners, don't hit the brakes hard, and relax.

- yes the waves are big, but everyone is dealing with the same waves. Focus on your technique, don't lose your form or focus, and keep your head down.

Applications in "life": if there is one lesson from Ironman I value most it's this one. It's opened my eyes to the fact that you can't control everything, and the sooner you accept that, the sooner you'll be able to focus on what you CAN control.

Your boss is a nasty SOB - you can't control that, but you can control how you react and how you feel. Your partner cheated on you - you can't control what he/she did, but you can control how your actions, thinking before acting, not seeking revenge, etc.

Analyse every challenge in this context: list down what you CAN control, and focus 100% of your energy on those, and 0% on what you clearly cannot control.


9. Adapt, improvise, overcome

I get beaten up badly on the swim, and swallow a lot of water. I eventually get out of the water, get on my bike, and try to make up some lost time.

10min into the bike, I grab my water bottle, take a sip... it comes back out. Weird! I let my stomach settle down and try again in another 10min: no luck! can't drink, stomach in complete cramp!

That was how my second Ironman (Challenge Roth) started. You can read the full race report here, but suffice it to say that I finished the race in a dangerously dehydrated state, a dangerously low blood sugar and blood pressure, and it took me months to recover... (stupid).

But what I wanted to highlight here is the following: when things started to go bad so early in the race, my Plan A was out the window. In fact, so were my Plan B, C, and D... I had not planned for a disaster such as this one. I had to "think", throw all plans out the window, and "adapt and improvise" a new plan to "overcome" this new challenge.

Applications in "life": this is the kind of mindset that's allowed me to deal with severe financial difficulties, crushing relationships challenges, and whatever life throws at me: I sit down, assess the situation, force myself to accept and adapt to the new "rules of the game", improvise new solutions, and finally overcome.

Whatever the challenge in your life (personal, career, health), take the time to sit down, assess, adapt, improvise, and then crush it!


10. The "post-race blues" - rediscovering passion

"That's it???".

That was the first thought that went through my mind as I crossed the finish line of my first Ironman: an anti-climax like no other...

And that's quite common among "first time" Ironman triathletes: you've put months of hard work, sacrificed so much, and it's all over in 1 day...

In the triathlon community, we call it "post-race blues": for days following the race, you feel "empty", with no goal, nothing to aim for, and so much free time on your hands you get restless... You start snapping at people, you're terrified of gaining weight, you start looking for something to fill your time with.

Applications in "life": this feeling of "emptiness" is not limited to sporting achievements. In fact, a number of successful entrepreneurs complain to me about how they almost slip into depression every time they sell a successful business they started.

It's not enough to be successful and to accomplish something: it's important to have a plan, as detailed as possible, of what you're going to do AFTER you achieve your main goal.

This is why I make sure that an athlete I coach for Ironman continues training AFTER finish the race for a couple of weeks, while we discuss other goals. The worst thing you can do is to "sit down" and let your mind run wild.

No matter how big your goal is, make sure you think of it as an "intermediary" goal on the continuous journey towards higher and higher achievements.

And remember: #neversettle.