This week, Scott diverges slightly from writing about writing to give us a motivational blog. Regular readers have no doubt noticed that he has been somewhat absent of late. Well, where’s why, and I heartily congratulate him for his amazing achievement.
On Sunday, November 17, I participated in my first Ironman race in Tempe, Arizona. For those of you who aren’t aware, Ironman is a triathlon race of ridiculous distances. It starts with an open-water swim of 2.4 miles. This is followed by a bike ride of 112 miles, and finally, a run of 26.2 miles–a full marathon. And all of this has to be done in seventeen hours! After training for this race for three months, I headed west to Tempe for the race. As race day approached, I was struck by the realization that the mental toughness needed for a race of this type is similar to that needed for writers seeking to be published. You have to believe in yourself, no matter what anyone might say to the contrary. And you can’t let any obstacle get in your way. In this blog entry, I’ll explore these similarities a little closer while sharing the story of my Ironman event.
As a writer, you have to believe you can succeed, and you can’t let rejections turn you away. If I had given up after receiving a couple dozen rejections, I wouldn’t be writing this blog. Joe Konrath famously carries his binder full of hundreds of rejection letters, and he is currently one of the top selling authors on Amazon. My racing career has followed the same path. I started small, with much shorter races. After each of these races, I had finished near the back of the pack and was exhausted. I felt like I had reached my limits, and more than one person told me that I wouldn’t be able to go any farther. I took that as a challenge.
Another barrier to successful writing is finding time in your schedule to actually write. Most of us still have regular jobs, and many of us have families. This leaves little time for other pursuits. It takes self-discipline to commit some of your precious free time to writing, especially when you have no guarantees that it will ever be published. My training fell along the same lines. I swam, biked, and ran for countless hours this summer, knowing full well that there were no guarantees that I would finish the race.
Seven years ago, I got the call from Medallion Press on Christmas Eve. All the time I spent writing, editing, and polishing The Killing Frost had finally paid off: Medallion had offered to publish it. The feeling of accomplishment was nearly indescribable. I had reached my goal in one giant step. By contrast, my success in racing has come in increments. As I said, the shorter races came first, but I always had to know what I was capable of. In 2012, I competed in a half-Ironman race. At the time, I said I would never do anything longer. But the same drive that kept me going until I was published, pushed me into Tempe on November 17.
I spent the last ten or fifteen minutes before the race treading water and waiting for the cannon blast that would start the race. But I wasn’t alone: there were over 2700 other competitors packed in all around me. The first 20 minutes or so were pure chaos. I got hit, kicked, and elbowed until the crowd finally thinned out a bit. Of course, each time we got to one of the turn buoys it got worse, because everyone (including me) felt like we had to cut the corner as tightly as we could. As I climbed up out of Tempe Town Lake, a song popped into my head. Police: Synchronicity 2. “Many miles away something crawls to the surface of a dark Scottish Loch.” That little earworm stayed with me the rest of the race, with 2 short breaks. The first was when I rode past an aid station where they were blasting out the Bee Gees. It took me a few minutes, but I finally got that one out of my head by getting the Police back in. And later, on the run, I passed a station that was playing very VERY slow Christmas music. Ummm… not the most motivational sounds you’ll hear during a race! I predicted my swim finish time at 90 minutes. My watch said I was out of the water in 87 minutes.
I spent 10 minutes in transition before heading out on the first loop of the 3-loop bike course. My race plan called for taking it easy out to the turnaround on loop 1. I wanted to give my body a chance to recover from the swim. The elevation headed outbound is a very slight incline, barely noticeable, until 4-5 miles from the turnaround. At that point, you climb the side of a small mountain before looping back. Coming back down the mountain was fun. Gave a few good strokes, then coasted up to over 30 mph until it flattened out. I made the first loop in good time, but then the winds kicked in. We had a 16 mph wind that blew at our backs on the climb, which helps a little, but it eliminated most of the advantage of the downhill. I barely got the bike up to 25 mph on loops 2 and 3. Still, I finished with my legs still in pretty good shape. The interesting thing is that during an Ironman, you have to eat throughout the bike and run portions of the race to maintain energy. Every twenty minutes, I took in 100 calories. This was actually one of my fears, that my stomach would give up and I wouldn’t be able to eat. But as with my fears of failure with my writing, those worries were unfounded, and I cruised through all 112 miles. Expected time: 6 hours. Actual time: 6:04.
After an 8-minute transition, I hit the run. The first thing I noticed was that my lower back was very displeased with my decision to spend 6 hours on my bike. The pain went away after a few miles. But what didn’t get better was my stomach. I couldn’t eat once I started running. So I held back, afraid I would run out of energy and end up bonking. After the first of the 2 loops, I started drinking cola and chicken broth at the aid stations, which helped. I was a bit overly cautious with my speed, as I found out near the end. After 5 miles, I started walking the aid stations and some of the steeper uphill portions, although I ran through the last 2 stations before the finish. After passing mile 25, I picked up the pace a bit, and again at mile 26. Then I looked up and saw the building that I knew was right in front of the finish line. I had maybe 200-300 yards left. I picked it up to a dead sprint, only slowing down near the finish. I heard Mike Reilly (the voice of Ironman) call out my name–mispronounced, of course –and crossed the line. Later, I downloaded the info from my watch. During that short sprint near the end, I put up a 4:52 mile pace. Might want to spread that out across all 26.2 miles next time! My expected time was five hours, and I finished it in 4:51. With an overall goal of 13 hours, I managed 12 hours and 43 minutes. Success!
The aftermath wasn’t even close to what I expected. Of course I was sore and tired that night, and had trouble eating. I slept badly, because the pain in my legs kept waking me up. The next day was a lot better, with only minor soreness. Jill and I climbed the small mountain behind our hotel Monday afternoon. By Wednesday, I was pain-free. I never saw that one coming!
Future plans: I’m not done with racing Ironman. I probably won’t do one in 2014, but I have a few on my radar. To me, Ironman and writing find another parallel here. Just because I got a book published didn’t mean I was ready to stop writing. And finishing my first Ironman is only the first step in a long journey.
Now for the tattoo…