What is one thing you think you would never dare do? Jump from a plane? Join match.com? For me, it was signing up for the Santa Cruz Half-Ironman triathlon in 2019. This race includes a 1.2-mile ocean swim, a 56-mile bike ride and a 13.1-mile run. And two transitions, where you are timed on how quickly you swap your gear between segments. For someone who has always been pokey with transitions, this was perhaps the biggest challenge. What is holding you back from trying to conquer a new goal? Thomas Edison once said that failure is a success that gave up too early.
The very FIRST TRI I ever did was a short TRI-4-Fun. I was passed by silver-haired ladies and wilted in 90-degree weather. Afterwards, I collapsed on the couch for the rest of the day. And I did not find it fun at all! I quickly scratched that off my bucket list. One and done! Then four years and a dozen TRIs later, my friend challenged me to think about the 70.3-mile distance. Hmm….
Could I do this, I wondered. Did I even want to? In “The Last Lecture,” the late Professor Randy Pausch wrote: “Sometimes you need brick walls: So you can see how badly you want something.” But even the most daunting walls can be scaled if broken down one step or one stroke at a time. I hope to outline a few pointers to help you SCALE YOUR WALL- whatever that may be.
DARE to Dream
To dream big, you might need to redefine success. For years I was more motivated by a fear of failure than a confidence to succeed. When I was ready to “fail,” by missing the course time limit or getting kicked off the course for being too slow, I was ready to register. Why should we not even try because we feel too old, too slow, or too inexperienced? We might surprise ourselves. What IS success or failure anyway, other than society’s arbitrary measure? Each of us is on our own journey: no one will know what it took for us to reach the start. Once a woman lamented to me, “I used to be fit.” Yet I could barely trot around the block before embracing triathlons in my 50s. And no, I wasn’t always as active as I am today. It is never too late to take the first step.
Just remember, like Winston Churchill used to say, “Failure is not fatal.” It is the courage to keep going that counts. In 70.3 miles you have a lot of chances to keep going. But ask yourself: do you keep your wall small and safe to ensure success? Are you the type that runs right at it, let it stop you in your tracks. Or do you just proceed with caution. There is no right or wrong way to reach the top- as long as you keep moving forward. How will YOU reach the finish?
The best way is by making smart goals. These are: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. To train for a half-ironman, I broke the distance down into a lot of little steps, increasing my mileage very gradually, to build a cardiac base. I then started combining swim bike run segments- we call those called bricks. Maybe because your legs start to feel like bricks!
I focused on a goal for each training session, like breathing in slowly through my nose on the run and rolling my hips in the swim, to take strain off my frozen shoulder. An Olympic swim coach, Richard Quick, once told me, “Successful people are willing to put in the steady work without immediate gratification and believe that any setback is temporary.” Over the years, I overcame a lot of setbacks!
Before my 2nd triathlon, I had just recovered from a rare nervous system disorder called Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, now better known as CRPS. I had gone from completing a 2-day 200-mile bike ride, to training myself to walk again without major pain and swelling. Even being in a wheelchair was too jarring at first for my damaged nerves, but I worked up to hobbling down the street on crutches. No, this condition was not caused by all my biking; I had an arteriovenous malformation of arteries and vessels in my leg, which I was likely born with. If they rupture, they can cause major circulatory problems and even death. When friends invited me to complete the bike portion of a sprint, I felt elated to be back in the saddle.
How to Get F.A.S.T.E.R
When I could first fit back into bike shoes and balance on one leg, I had graduated from my bike trainer to the road. “Only 3 miles,” my physical therapist had ordered me. Oh, did you mean three miles ROUNDTRIP?” I asked her later, pretending to look innocent. Sometimes our biggest asset is knowing when to slow back and scale back. I learned to go slow to go faster. There will always be SOMEONE stronger than us. And people who will be proudly sporting their finisher medals when we’re just starting the run. At those moments, I just thought back to where I had come from. Along the way, I learned to:
- Focus on what I CAN do.
- Accept what my body gives me on any given day.
- Stop comparing, even to myself!
- Train at my happy pace.
- Enjoy the process!
- Remember to celebrate- and to recover.
To meet your goal, ask yourself: Where can I carve out the time to keep life balance and maintain family and work responsibilities? While working 10 hours a day the summer of my half-ironman, I found time to train during lunch hours, after work and on weekends, alternating with long and short workouts.
And decide, what Is your main purpose– to win your age group or maintain fitness? My goal was to make the course cutoff time. Why are you doing this? Be ready to answer the WHY question, for those hard days. It doesn’t have to be deep. My ‘why’ was to get out of the shadow of a fear of failure.
How do we begin with such a big goal? I started out very gradually, working my way up through various distances. And I slowly built endurance. I started wearing an Garmin activity tracker watch to help me stay in low heart rate zones-to avoid injury- and I followed a weekly workout plan. I paid attention to the 5 workout zones and tried to stay in the easy and aerobic zones-only going up to the top zones of 4 and 5 during speed interval work. Over time my cardiac ability improved, and my heartrate stayed lower at higher efforts.
I built up run distances slowly but steadily to protect my knees- one of my legs was run over by a school bus as a teen and was vulnerable to arthritis pain, having lost a lot of muscle around the knee. I kept 80% of my workouts in the slower zones and 20% at the race-pace and max heart rate zones. It took many months to reach that fitness level. But at some point, you just had to toe the start line. When you are ready to trust your training, you’re ready to TRI!
Are You Ready?
Before arriving at the start, I put the steady miles. Many of these were solo, but I also found a group of like-minded fitness friends and teammates. Finding the right training or accountability partner sure makes the miles feel shorter! Don’t worry about being less skilled than others. Celebrate any new feat you pull off. If it’s a first-time achievement, it’s a personal best! And get the right cheerleader. At one of my biggest races, God helped me reach the finish line, but my brother-in law helped me leave the transition area! He has one of the loudest voices I know. HURRY UP Yvonne! Or be your own cheerleader.
Did I complete the half-ironman race and cross the finish within the time limit? Yes and no: I hit all the time cutoffs. But I missed the official course time limit by twelve minutes. Perhaps that was my biggest victory- letting go of perfectionism and feeling proud of my efforts. I pushed to the finish, despite struggling with stomach issues. Since then, I’ve met new goals, overcome more setbacks, and trained in a way that worked for me.
Since I lingered too long in transition before- that’s like the fourth part of triathlon- I made it a goal to improve that segment in my next race. And I finally reached the podium, winning third in my age group. This time I remembered to undo my running shoe laces before pulling off my bike shoes and slipping on my HOKAs. And I had all my nutrition in my pockets ready to go, instead of leaving a buffet of energy supplements on my towel, to see what I had a craving for. I also gained energy from the volunteers and participants on the hilly course who spurred me on. Find what makes you turn on the throttle. And decide today: Which brick walls are you willing to climb? What dream will YOU dare to try?