“Many will start fast, few will finish strong.” Gary Ryan Blair (Executive Coach)
I did my first triathlon in 2007. It was the year I turned 30. I was looking for a challenge, and, quite honestly, I was looking at my dad bod and determined I needed to get some exercise. A friend of mine had done a Sprint Distance Triathlon the year before and testified to how fun and rewarding it was. So, me and a few buddies signed up for a summer of training to see if we had what it took to cross the finish line of a Sprint Distance race.
One problem: I couldn’t swim. Like, I could stay afloat and play with my kids in the pool, but my inner Michael Phelps was no where to be found. So, I did what any normal person would do…I YouTubed it. Didn’t look that hard, so away I went to the local YMCA to sign up for a membership so I could get some laps in. New problem: Watching YouTube didn’t help. Something about the cadence of arm stroke and breathing and kicking and cardio all the while trying hard not to drown just didn’t come naturally to me.
So, I called a friend and asked for their help. Turns out a teacher was better than watching a screen, but I still couldn’t get the hang of it. By the end of our lesson, exasperated, she exclaimed, “Don’t worry, keep trying, one day you’ll find…it’ll just click.” “But what if it doesn’t” came my inner mind’s response. Far be it from me to let a little thing like drowning get in the way of trying, so back to the YMCA I went. Day after day. Stroke after stroke. And one day…you know what?…she was right…it just clicked. The syncopation of arm stroke and leg kick and head turn for a breath all began to unite.
A week or so before the race that summer, it occurred to me that all my training had been done in a pool…a temperature-controlled environment with lane lines and a lifeguard. This is much different than a lake…or open water…as they call it in triathlon. So, I went to a friend’s pond and noticed a couple things. A) there was no black line at the bottom for me to follow, which means I swam every which way but a straight line. B) goggles are great, until you open your eyes while your head is facing down in the water and can’t see anything, and your mind thinks back to the first time you saw Jaws and you think he’s lurking under there somewhere. C) ponds are dirty, and randomly a leaf, algae bloom, weed, and/or any other unidentified object will brush up against you. This is nothing short of heart stopping. Which accelerates your breathing, which you can only do ever other stroke, which worries your central nervous system, which creates a virtuous cycle of insanity. But, I had signed up for a race. And race is what I was going to do.
Having done my 1 open water training session, I felt ill prepared for what was about to occur. The race started in ‘waves’ which means they put 40 other guys that are roughly the same age as you and tell you to all start together. Picture a laundry machine. Upon starting, I was slapped, kicked, booted, ribbed, and when trying to take a breath, ended up inhaling half the lake. Oh, and the scary lake things were there. Leaves, weeds, people, stirred up water…all made for an intensely fearful experience…yet…it was so fun. Somehow, I made it out the lake alive, and began my transition to the bike. I found the triathlon community was quite supportive. As I was being passed by athlete after athlete (I never said I was fast), each one gave a shout of encouragement. “Looking good!” “Keep it up!” “Only a few more miles!”
Then, the run. Exhausted from the swim and bike, I now had to muster up my legs to carry me forward several miles to the finish line. I doubted they could do it. My body was reeling, my mind was questioning the whole idea. Then, the encouragement from the triathlon community began again from those athletes that were passing me. “Nice stride!” “You look good, keep going!” And my favorite “Finish strong!”
The last thing I wanted to happen that day was to cross the line looking like death warmed over. I had spent a summer training, building my muscles and my cardio. Yes, I was struggling, but I wanted to finish strong. And while everything in my body was crying in pain, I crossed the finish line with a smile on my face and a spring in my step. I had to show my body that my brain was in control. And my brain told my body to race…and to finish…and to finish strong.
This past summer (2021), I concluded my 15th year of triathlon. Along the way, I’ve lost track of the number of races I’ve done, both official, unofficial, and the ‘mock’ tri’s the training plan calls for leading up to a race. In the end, it doesn’t matter. What matters is my mindset. Each race is unique. Side ache. Wind. Heat. Cold. Waves. Cramps. Did I mention Wind. Each time, something along the way happened that caused my mind to beg me to quit. I wouldn’t let it. Each time, I’ve finished. And I’ve finished strong.
What about you? What goal are you yearning towards? What accomplishment is on the horizon of time that would give you the reward of completion? Is it hard? Is your mind telling you to stop? Does your body ache? Is the challenge too great? Good! God created us in such a way that we can actually think about our thinking. Mindset matters. Get your mind right. Practice patience, endurance, gratitude, joy. Just show up. And do it again. And again. Get your reps. Don’t make excuses. Take responsibility. Put a smile on your face. Put a spring in your step. Move. Forward. You fall? Get back up. You hurt? Suck it up. Too hard? Good, anything worth doing is always hard. Run. Walk. Trudge. Crawl if you have to.