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What I learned from my husband’s IronMan experience

For those who may not be familiar with what IronMan, it is a series of long-distance triathlon races organized by the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC), consisting of a 2.4-mile (3.86 km) swim, a 112-mile (180.25 km) bicycle ride and a marathon 26.22-mile (42.20 km) run, raced in that order. Back to back. Yes, on the very same day within max 17 hours.

For someone to say “Yes, I can do this” is still a mystery to me. It sounds like such a huge and unbelievable task to take on. I feel like those who came up with this idea at first should have thought nobody except a few will be intrigued with such a big challenge. They were right but I still cannot believe 2,600 people like I saw last Sunday can be there at the crack of dawn to start this race, ages ranging from 18 to 83 in this particular location.

My husband is one of those incredible souls to take this challenge on. Just that first step alone, thinking you can do this and then training for it is huge. I congratulate every one who is at that stage even if they did nothing else yet. Learning everything from swimming with a good pace, to biking with the right posture, to running without injuring yourself and everything in between is almost hard to watch. The learning he did in front of YouTube, from his Triathlon club members, reading related material, using his gear to watch himself get better, making sure he got the right nutrition, staying in that mindset to train harder every day until the last day is not in my DNA. So I always watched with immense admiration.

My husband has not been an athlete all his life. He started doing road biking 10 years ago as a hobby. He needs goals and he wants to do something useful with it so in 2011 he signed up to MS Ride and did 150 miles. He has done it 8 years in a row. So my training as a spouse on different races, what athletes do, started with these long bike rides.

I was in awe with all of the biker riders year after year raising money for MS, countless volunteers lined up at the start line in pitch dark in Irvine train station. Those moments made me cry each time. I love those experiences. Thanks to him I got to see the best of human spirit as a non-athlete which I would not have been exposed otherwise.

After a while this stopped being a big challenge for him so although he continued biking for MS he wanted to try a triathlon. He did that a few years back. Then he started reading and watching more about Ironman. He did two 70.3 mile IronMan races, one in one in Tempe, AZ in 2016 and another one in Oceanside, CA in 2018. I saw his dedication, his drive and the willingness to achieve his goal each and every time. At the Oceanside one, he was sick but he still made it. I experienced how tired I could get emotionally just tracking him on an app during the race. When he crossed the finish line though everything is worth it. I can tell from his face.

Now it was turn to do a full Ironman with the distances I shared above. Wow. That is crazy to me. He worked hard, he learned even more about being a better runner, biker and swimmer. He dedicated a lot of his spare time to exercise and stay healthy.

He looked after himself so well. Took his flu shot. Did not shake hands or hugged anyone, not to get sick.

Without any complaints he stuck to his trainings and improved his timings, his performance over the course of the year.

When they say it is the journey not the destination,it is not just to make you feel good if you don’t achieve your goals, it is really the journey you need to enjoy since it requires so much effort and dedication. How can you not enjoy a full year of training if all you focus on is the result? You never know if you can get to the end. Life is unpredictable.

So the last week came upon. I cannot tell if he was nervous or not. He did everything he was supposed to do without stressing about it..

Then the last few days he had a few sneezes and then a little more like cold symptoms but we tried to ignore. It will not happen on the last days. No, it won’t.

We drove to AZ with all his gear, bike, nutrition that he very carefully picked. He had to register and get his stuff at the Ironman Village. We attended meetings for first time full Ironman athletes. People started gathering around the city and getting excited. You can feel the whole city was getting ready for this race with road closures, bike paths, and restaurants getting ready for more customers.

The last night we went to bed early. My real worry started that night when I saw him sick and not being able to sleep. It happened; he got sick at the very last minute. Bummer. He still got up at 3:45AM as he planned. Did his last minute preps and we drove to the start of the race. We were there before 6AM when it was still cold and dark. He changed into his wetsuit, Got completely ready to dive into the cold waters of Tempe Lake with 2,600 others. I had to leave him and wish him luck.

I started tracking him on IronMan app and saw he started swimming. With heaviness in my heart, I prayed he will be safe.

My love had to leave while swimming though since he realized early on he could not get into his normal rhythm and was not feeling good enough to continue for another 12-15 hours like that. He had to make the very tough decision to quit after preparing for this day for a year. I cannot imagine how hard that must have been. Everything you worked so hard that led you to that one day is gone when you decide to leave. That is what knowing yourself and your body, being mature, making tough decisions mean though.

When I got the text he had to send me from a stranger’s phone, I did not even understand the message. I know he would never quit but I also know he has that amazing sensor in him that tells him the difference between pushing through using the strength of your mind versus your body telling you to stop. I was so proud of him for his very responsible decision. Wow! Could I have done it? May be yes if I felt I am so sick but could I keep a good attitude after that decision and never complain? No. I would have been so disappointed, you would be reading a whole different article that would not be inspiring at all. I would have so many ‘what if I did this or that” You would have wanted to kill me or shut me off.

I was ready to be proud of my husband when he finished the race, who is already my IronMan; than life showed me there is such a different reason I could be proud of him. He did the right thing at the right time and he never looked back. That shows so much strength and it is another big life lesson to learn from him. You can do everything in your power to achieve an audacious big goal but you have no control of everything that can happen to you and it is important to adjust and accept the flow. There is no use of looking back anymore. You know you did your absolute best. Things can still go wrong and you need to be proud of what you did during that long journey. Even the professionals who do this for a living quit after working all year long. He knows that.

I wanted to share this story to emphasize

  • the dedication and strength it requires to set big goals in life that stretches you to your limits (physically and mentally) and the effort it takes to stay on that path no matter what with no excuses

  • staying strong and true to yourself when things do not go your way, when you have given your absolute best shot at it

  • having a good attitude no matter what happens is an amazing strength

  • taking a path we believe in can also teach us other lessons we did not expect

All this applies to our goals about our work, our relationships, our finances, anything we care about.

The fact that you can be crystal clear about priorities in your life and making the responsible choice with no regrets is what I will work on. I am not not good at "no regrets" part of it.

Goals and purpose are always important in our lives yet it is not all about them. Journey to get there can teach you so much more. Having the balance between pushing yourself to the limits as you envision the end and making the right decision to quit or postpone when you have to, can be the best skill to have.

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