Lessons from Triathlon: Acceptance
As I look at my next Ironman quickly approaching, I feel as if I am waiting on a platform for the Ironman train to arrive. I have an idea of where this train will lead, I have taken a few before. Early mornings, 100 mile rides, track sessions, 6k swims, exhaustion, hunger, elation, smiles, joy, and many hours in physical and mental discomfort. This train will be different from what I already know, they all are, and the destination is unknown.
I am the driver and engine of this train. The training will prepare my body to race 140.6 miles, but it is my mind that will determine my speed and destination. How I think about my training, the thoughts I choose to use when shit gets real, when I fail, when I succeed and what I make it mean about me propels me forward in the direction I want to go, or slows me down. Sometimes it can even change the direction of the train. It is not enough to prepare our body, we must also prepare our minds.
As I sit on the platform, I start to envision the journey ahead. It is so enticing to think about all the fun, success, fulfillment I will experience in the next 12 weeks with the goal of crossing the finish line at IMTX with a new PR and a ticket to Kona. But that is not the whole journey, not by a long shot. If we focus on just the “good” parts, we are not accepting the full reality of what is ahead.
So I spend time thinking about the physical discomfort, the burning arms in a swim, the max effort intervals, the long AF runs in the heat, the aching legs, and the foggy brain. This is the reality of Ironman training. When I visualize this reality, I accept the full journey ahead. It will not be rainbows and daisies, it will not always look like Instagram selfies in the sun. It is critical to visualize the full reality, because when shit gets real, like it will and must, I will know nothing has gone wrong. I have already accepted this part of the journey, there is no need to resist it. No need to fear it. No need to question myself.
Many times I see athletes completely bought into the experience of the bright lights of the finish line. They might even accept the hours of training it will take to get there, but when the pain settles in, they are surprised. They think they are doing it wrong. That surely it shouldn't feel like this. They resist illness and injuries, they give themselves outs and dial training back when they could be working through it, they fear the discomfort and resist reality. Many change the course of their train bit by bit. Some make it to the finish line lights, but slowly never realizing their potential. Others completely change their destination for something “safer.”
Accepting the journey, with all the “good” and “bad” parts is a totally different mindset than just accepting what you want to experience. You might not want to experience the “bad,” but it is life, it is Ironman training. Growth doesn't happen in safety, growth does not happen only in the good, it happens in the wholeness of reality, the woven fabric of the good, bad and neutral.
Before you get on that train, make a decision now to trust in yourself no matter what happens. Trust that you have what it takes. It is not that you are made for Ironmans, it's that you will make yourself an athlete built to endure them. Accept it on the train platform, then get on and go full steam ahead.
This does not only apply to Ironman training. We are all sitting on the platform waiting for a train. Career, relationships, travel, parenting … What destinations are you longing for? When you visualize the journey, is it only good? Are you willing to accept the whole experience that lies ahead? Are you willing to sit with the reality of it? Perhaps you have no idea what the journey will entail. Can you sit with the unknown? Are you willing to get on the train and propel it forward knowing (really knowing) that a range of experiences await you on your journey? Above all else, can you trust in yourself to face the unknowns ahead? If you can accept all that lies ahead and truly trust yourself to move and drive the train forward, then there is nothing that you cannot do.