*How an ‘Average Joe’ Became an Ironman Triathlete!


    “Could I do that?”

That was the phrase that I could not get out of my head as I stood in Madison, Wisconsin. It was raining as I stood there watching the finishers cross the finish line. It was my first ever experience with an Ironman and I was cheering on two of my friends from Omaha, Nebraska. They were, in my opinion, crazy. In fact, I couldn’t imagine that I actually even knew someone attempting an Ironman. It had never even so much as crossed my mind that one day I might be the one in the race. I stood on the water’s edge completely in awe as I heard the cannon fire and watched over 2,000 people start the swim at 7 o’clock that morning. The energy in the air was almost tangible. The atmosphere was electric. There was more human emotion in the air than I’d ever witnessed before at any sporting event. The rest of the day only got more intense.

    If you’ve never before watched an Ironman in person, you are missing out on the most exciting sport in existence. (This is a proven scientific fact and in no way an exaggeration). As the night gets later and the midnight cutoff approaches, the tension peaks.. Standing at the finish line in Madison, I watched as hundreds of folks poured across the finish line in a steady stream that went on for hours. Some of them did cartwheels. Some cheered. Some cried. There were those who limped, those who sprinted and those who puked. Some looked elated and others looked half-dead. I could not look away. These people had been swimming, biking, and running for nearly seventeen hours. The professionals that won had long since showered, eaten dinner and gone to bed. But for the Average Joe’s still out there on the course, the day was still far from over. I watched dumbfounded as fit twenty-something’s failed to finish in time, as senior citizens completed the race, and as wives, husbands, and children hugged and cheered with their family members as the announcer proclaimed, “You are an Ironman!” It was fantastic. It was the greatest show on earth and it didn’t even charge the spectators for admission.

    It set the bar high for sporting events, and ever since I’ve been unable to care about the World Series or the Super Bowl, all of which are now mere smoke and lights with silly half time shows and seventh inning stretches. No one blacks out, pukes, or crawls to the finish line. All I see is million-dollar deals, commercial breaks, and timeouts. These are not sports. These are just games. I had been spoiled by what I’d seen; I had become infected with the Ironman bug. As I watched the show of human emotion spill itself over the finish line, I heard the question in the back of my mind, and asked myself for the first time.

    “Could I do that?”

At first I dismissed the question entirely. There were plenty of distractions in my life, such as family and work, that I could use to help silence that haunting question. These were noble distractions. Certainly no one would think less of me for focusing on family and work instead of chasing an endurance event that is certifiably beyond all reason or good sense.

    For billions of fortunate people in the world, that seems to be sufficient. They are able to move on and live their lives and forget about the question, or maybe they are blissfully unaware that the question even exists. “Could I do that?” Unfortunately, I was not in that blissful majority that remains immune to the Ironman fever and its haunting, infectious question. “Could I do that?” I was, unfortunately, in the very small minority that must (for better or worse) have that question answered.

When I first got into the pool at the fitness center I could barely swim two laps before I needed a break.  How was I ever going to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, and then run 26.2 miles – all in a row?!  At first it nearly killed me to bike 20 miles.  Soon enough I could bike 25.  By consistently increasing just a little bit at a time, I was eventually swimming more laps and biking and running more miles than I ever had before.  

Whenever I looked at the entire event I would get overwhelmed and discouraged.  But I would force myself to just look at the small portion that was right in front of me.  I knew I could bike just one more mile.  I knew I could jog just a little bit further.  Large goals must be broken down and tackled one small piece at a time.

I often hear people say, “Oh, I could never do that.”  I want to tell them, “Of course not – you haven’t trained yet.”  That’s like thinking, “Oh, I could never play the piano.”   Well, you could if you took lessons and practiced a little everyday. 

There is not one single, huge workout that prepares you for an Ironman.  It is only through many consistent investments over time that we accomplish anything great in life.  Whether we are earning a degree, learning to play an instrument, or saving for retirement, we can easily become discouraged if we try to take on the entire mountain at once.  But with gradual change, anything is possible.  

By focusing only on the small goals right in front of me and tackling one at a time an Average Joe like me was able to finish an Ironman Triathlon.  I answered the question, “Could I do that?”  And I learned a lot about breaking down large goals into smaller, more manageable pieces.  It’s amazing how everything changes when we start to view our marathon as merely a series of one mile jogs.  

*David Mills is the author of The Distance: An Average Joe’s Path to Balancing Family, Work & Triathlon.  Pre-order your copy today at www.TheDistanceBook.com.

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One thought on “*How an ‘Average Joe’ Became an Ironman Triathlete!

  • August 6, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    Great story and gives me hope. I started running this year at age 66 and wonder why it took me so long. This story encouraged me as I have already run a 5k and 10k-coming first in my age group in the 10k- but was afraid to attempt the 10 mile. I now intend to give whatever comes my way a good try and I know I can do it, one piece at a time. Thanks, God bless


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