I love the fact that my personal and business lives intersect around limit-busting. With the business training, development and coaching work that I do, I usually have to do some mind excavation with my clients as a prelude for more breakthroughs. It’s often subtle (they don’t always realize it’s happening because I’m using secret “Jedi” mind tricks), but it’s always purposeful. I know that they will never reach their big goals and their full potential until they BELIEVE that they can.
In my personal life, I’m a pretty seasoned endurance athlete and coach. Over the past 15 years, I racked up about a dozen marathons, five ironman races, lots of century rides, and other adventures. My latest feat was The Double Anvil – a double iron distance race – that includes a 4.8 mile swim, a 224 mile bike and a 52.4 mile run.
For most people that find out about “the Double,” I’m immediately sequestered into the “CRAZY” category. And I’m ok with that. Even after I finished the race (and did well), people still think it’s too much. I walked into my painting class on Monday night after finishing the race this weekend. And a friend quickly said, “I hope you won’t do that again!” I made a joke and moved on, but in my mind, I had some other thoughts swirling around. “Dude, do you always live inside your comfort zone?” And “Why do people want to sh*t on someone else’s dream?” But I find people often do and I don’t hold it against them. I realize that most people dream small, if they even dream at all. They tend to do what they know they can do and fear stepping out to something that’s too big or too bold. What a terrible burden to shoulder…a life diminished by limiting thoughts and negative perceptions.
I never “preach” to these people in a casual context, because in that moment, they are probably not open to a shift. But when I work with clients, I have their permission to “dig in.” So here are five lessons, anyone can learn from what happened as I trained and competed in “The Double.”
1) Believe. It may take some time to wrap your head around a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal), but once you do, you have to believe that it’s possible. I volunteered for The Double Anvil a year before I actually raced it so I could see it first hand. I knew I would get inspiration and understanding that would infuse my own belief of the possibility. From that point on, my belief never faltered. That doesn’t mean there weren’t moments that were hard or times when there wasn’t anxiety. But I never doubted that I could do it, even when others did. In fact, when others doubted my sanity or my ability, I simply knew that my dream was not their dream and it was too big for them to get a handle on. But that’s not my problem.
2) Figure Out What You Need To Do. With a big dream or BHAG, it’s going to take lots of mental commitment and “the will” to get it done. But you also have to figure out the steps to take to get where you want to go, some of which will be revealed along the way. One of the reasons I volunteered for The Double Anvil last year was to talk to some of the athletes. How did they train? What did they do? Were there any secrets? There were some helpful nuggets gleaned from that expedition, but not nearly enough for me. So I researched and read everything I could about ultra-triathlons. Finding limited resources, I widened my search to include ultra-swimming, ultra-cycling and ultra-running. As a certified triathlon coach, I have a strong base of knowledge on how to put together a solid training plan, but this certainly crossed into unchartered territory for me. So I used all of the information, research and resources I could gather, plus a keen understanding of my own strengths and weaknesses as an athlete, to devise a step-by-step plan to carry me through my year of preparation.
3) Get It Done. Here’s where the willpower comes in. Luckily for me, when I want something, I have willpower and discipline in spades. And on the days I don’t, I have strategies to pull out of my toolkit to make it happen. One of those strategies is to keep my eye on the final outcome. By knowing upfront, “why” this is important to me, I can keep my motivation from sagging. I’ve also learned to let things go. While it’s hard to find someone who’s more disciplined (or stubborn) than I am when I set my mind on something, I have my moments. I know from the research in the field of willpower that you have to give yourself a break sometimes. If you fall short, you shouldn’t beat yourself up. You actually increase the likelihood of a relapse if you do so according to findings from a Stanford professor and researcher on the topic. Instead, you let it go. So on the days when my travel schedule or life just got in the way and I couldn’t do the daily workouts that I had planned, I just accepted it. I didn’t get frustrated. I just did what I could and committed to doing better tomorrow.
4) Be Flexible. While I had a very well-thought out race strategy with specific logistic backup, I was determined to have a Plan B and C ready to drop into action at a moment’s notice. That came in handy when my battery-powered bike light went dead in the middle of a loop in the middle of the night. In a 36-hour ultra-triathlon, there are lots of moving parts. There are three legs (swim, bike & run), two specific transitions, ongoing nutrition and hydration needs, performance gear for each discipline, clothing needs to accommodate multiple conditions with the elements, etc.
I ended up having a bike crash at mile 92 of the 224-mile bike leg. Had my race schedule and preparation been too rigid, I could have blown my race right then and there. I guess along with being flexible, you have to be ready to “dig deep” as well. In other words, when things get tough, you get tougher. And I had multiple mental toughness strategies cued up and ready for just those moments. Some people that heard about the injuries I sustained on the bike crash were surprised that I didn’t stop. As I explained to one of them, “If I’m not dead, I’m going to keep going.”
5) Get The Right Support. You cannot underestimate the power of a great support crew. This is especially important with a BHAG. I recruited an awesome team that brought distinct skills and abilities to the table to support me on some of my long workouts and especially during my race. My chief crewperson was my friend Debbie from Colorado. She was not only enthusiastic and well-organized, she was the most experienced ironman athlete on my crew team. Other team members complimented her skills and I can say without a doubt that I had the best crew of all the athletes racing. They were there throughout the day and night attentive to all my needs.