Ironman Canada 2018 was more challenging, more inspiring, and more epic than I ever imagined. You’ve read the race recap in Ironman Canada, Part 1. Now, here are the top 5 lessons Tyler and I learned from this amazing race. We hope they’ll serve you well as you prepare for your next big adventure!
1. Things will go wrong. Stay calm, and adapt.
If you like to push your limits on a regular basis, there’s a fair chance that something will eventually go wrong. For example, if you read Ironman Canada, Part 1, you know all about my disastrous 2.4-mile swim. I spent 7 months training my freestyle stroke, only to have a panic attack in the water and discover that I couldn’t put my head under the water. Freestyle was out of the question. My only options were to: 1) Quit, or 2) Improvise.
I did the latter. As soon as I realized that my well-orchestrated plan for the swim was out the window, I flipped onto my back and started doing backstroke. My goals in this critical moment were to slow my heart rate, calm my breath, and come up with a new plan (while continuing to make forward progress). I asked myself:
- What options do I have other than swimming freestyle?
- What are the risks associated with each of those options?
- What is my likelihood of success with each of these options?
- What tricks can I use to stay calm for the rest of the swim?
I decided to do a combination of backstroke, breaststroke with my head out of the water, and doggy paddling. I did backstroke when I needed to slow my heart rate. I did a modified breaststroke when I needed to increase my speed. I doggy paddled (yes – doggy paddled) when I needed to take a quick break or locate the buoys marking the course. I wasn’t sure if these strokes were legal in an Ironman, but it was worth the risk. (I later learned that they are allowed.)
I also stayed positive. I told myself that if I could get through such a catastrophic swim, then I could definitely get through the bike and run. I told myself that I only needed to stick with it for 1-2 hours, then I wouldn’t have to swim ever again if I didn’t want to. I congratulated myself for adapting, and I gave myself an internal high-five every time I made progress towards the next buoy. My internal dialogue sounded something like this: Wow! Look at you! You’re doing this! This isn’t what you expected, but you’re still doing it anyway! Keep going! Great job! It was cheesy, but effective.
I also repeated two mantras over and over again, which brings us to my next lesson…
2. Have a mantra.
I actually had three mantras that helped me stay motivated during the Ironman:
- “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming…” This catchy little tune from Finding Nemo literally kept me swimming for 2.4 miles. It distracted my worried mind and gave me something to smile about.
- “Don’t quit. Never give up.” The speaker at our pre-race briefing shared this mantra with us. Despite its simplicity, I found it deeply motivating. This is going to be my go-to mantra for every race!
You’ll notice that these mantras are grounded in positivity, and they’re really easy to remember. That’s important! My third mantra was…
3. Be a good sport.
If I’m not going to be an amazing competitor, then I’m going to be an amazing sport. I made this decision during the bike portion of the race. I knew I didn’t stand a chance of placing well or getting a strong finishing time, so I decided to focus on finishing the race in one piece and helping other racers do the same.
Encouraging racers as I passed them or as they passed me, supporting Tyler through his sickness, and stopping to help one racer with a debilitating cramp in her leg gave me a sense of purpose beyond racing for myself. In the end, Tyler and I agreed that helping others and seeing them succeed was even more rewarding than crossing the finish line ourselves.
4. If you can’t eat calories, drink them.
Thanks to the amount of lake water I drank during the swim (by accident, of course), I was too sick to eat during the first 10 hours of the race. This initially concerned me because I knew I was burning thousands of calories. Every article and book I read leading up to the race indicated that “bonking” was inevitable if I couldn’t start replacing those calories soon.
I told myself that other people had done much harder things for much longer with less food and water. I decided not to stress over the eating issues any more – worrying was just wasting energy. I also decided that if I couldn’t eat calories, I would try to drink them. I drank sports drinks and soda like a teenager at sleep-away camp. They kept me going until my stomach settled and I could finally eat again.
5. Know when to push through a problem, and when to stop and fix it.
My lake water-induced stomach issues also led to cramping, and it hurt to breathe on the bike. After fighting the discomfort for 50 miles, I decided it would be better to stop and address the issue rather than pushing forward, even though we would lose time by stopping. I laid down on the side of the road and massaged my stomach until the cramps subsided. To avoid getting comfortable and wasting too much time, I had Tyler time me. He gave me a 30-second countdown when my time was running up, then we got back on our bikes and forged ahead.
I stopped twice during the bike to work out my stomach cramps, but those 8-10 minutes lost were well worth it considering the pain I was able to relieve and the time we likely saved later on (because I felt better and could bike harder).
Whether you’re preparing for an Ironman, a 5K, or a different kind of adventure, some – if not all – of these lessons will likely translate. I hope you find them helpful!
If you have any questions or thoughts, feel free to leave a comment or email me via the Contact Me page!