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Am I REALLY an Ironman?

Last week on Sunday, after 15 and half hours, I crossed the finished line at the 2014 Arizona Ironman. I heard Mike Reilly, the “voice of Ironman” say, “Russ Pond, you are an Ironman!

Interestingly, I still can’t say to myself, I am an Ironman.

Months before the race, people would often encourage me, “All your training will pay off when you hear those words, ‘You are an Ironman!'” Even during the race, random spectators would encourage me, “You’re almost there. You’re about to hear those words, you are an Ironman!” Then, after the race, the text messages and Facebook posts flooded in, “Russ, you did it. You are an Ironman!”

Finishing the race and hearing those words didn’t affect me like I thought it was supposed to. Sure, I was glad to be finished, but it was just a race. And even now, I still can’t say it. And, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to.

Pain in temporary BadgeAccording to the Ironman organization, I did everything you were supposed to do to finish an Ironman race, and within the allotted 17 hours. By all accounts, I have the right to call myself an “Ironman”.

Here’s what I think is going on. And, it’s a good thing. Maybe even a great thing.

For the past few years, I’ve been really focused on this issue of identity. What defines me? How do we define ourselves?

Most of us define ourselves by what we do:

  • I write. So, I’m an author.
  • I run. So, I’m a runner.
  • I make movies. So, I’m a filmmaker.
  • I started a business. So, I’m an entrepreneur.
  • I do good things. So, I’m a good person.

Those all sound good. But, what about the not-so-good things we do?

  • I eat too much. So, I’m a glutton.
  • I sleep in too much. So, I’m lazy.
  • I can’t hold a job. So, I’m a failure.
  • I sin. So, I’m a sinner.
  • I do bad things. So, I’m a bad person.

The struggle I’ve been trying to overcome the past few years is to not let what I do define who I am.

And, it’s hard! It’s so engrained in our culture, our upbringing and our world system. Sadly, we often define ourselves by what we do, good or bad.

How would you reply if I asked, “Who are you?”
“I’m John Doe.”
Well, not really. That’s just a name someone gave you at birth.

“Who are you?”
“I’m a chef.”
No, that’s just a job you do.

“Who are you?”
“I’m an American.”
No, that’s just the country you were born in.

“Who are you?”
“I’m an Ironman.”
No, that’s just a race you finished.

“Who are you?”
It’s a hard question to answer.
And, I’ve been trying to answer it for a the past few years.

I’m working hard to not define myself by what I do or what I have done. And, I’m working even harder to not define myself by what I haven’t done, or the wrong things I’ve done.

My focus the past few years has been to define myself by what God says about me, and only what he says about me, because He says things like:

  • You’re my child.
  • You’re the apple of my eye.
  • You’re forgiven.
  • You’re righteous.
  • You’re accepted.
  • You’re perfect.
  • You’re mine.

And, the more I push aside the world’s definitions of who I am and focus on God’s definition of who I am, an incredible peace and confidence fill my heart, and I find such joy in knowing who I really am.

While thinking through this article, I remembered a song that wonderfully summarizes this idea of how we define ourselves. It’s called “All He Says I Am” by Cody Carnes with Kari Jobe. (By the way, Cody and Kari got married his weekend! Congrats you two!) So, I spent the weekend putting together a video of this song with the lyrics.

Am I an Ironman? I guess. Maybe. If that’s what you want to call me.

I’d much rather be called a “child of God.”

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My First 140.6 at the 2014 Arizona Ironman

This past Sunday, I got to hear those words, “Russ Pond, you are an Ironman!” My one-year journey to finish a full Ironman had come to an end. And what an amazing journey!

I wanted to take some time to document the experience. Now that a few days have past (and the soreness is starting to alleviate), it is fun to look back on that very long but special day.

Pre-Race

Arizona Ironman Race BibWe arrived in Tempe the Thursday before the race. I wanted to have a few days to acclimate to the dry, Arizona climate. I was also able to register and pick up all my race material, including my race bib. It was starting to get very real.

My coach also had me start a regimented hydration plan to make sure I was ready for race day: 80 ounces of Gatorade and 20 ounces of water every day. There were a few times I crashed or bonked on my long training days, and it was because of dehydration. So, I had to take special care to make sure I was very hydrated for race. And with the drier air and less humidity in Arizona, hydration was extremely important for race day.

IronmanOn Friday, our friends Heather and Monica arrived, and we picked them up at the airport. We spent some time at Ironman village seeing the sights and experiencing the race weekend festivities. Afterwards, we drove the bike course. This really helped me see what I would be facing on race day.

On Saturday, the day before the race, I had to make sure everything was prepared. I laid out all my gear, race attire, nutrition, everything I needed for the race on Sunday. And, it was a lot of stuff!

You had five bags to use for all your race stuff:

    Arizona Ironman Preparation

  • The green morning bag for clothes and anything you needed to leave behind before the swim.
  • The blue bike gear bag for your helmet, shoes, nutrition, etc.
  • The orange bag for your bike special needs halfway through the ride.
  • The red run gear bag for your shoes, hat, socks, more nutrition, etc.
  • And, the black run special need back for the halfway point.

After I had all my gear bagged up and ready to go, I had to check in my bike, my bike bag and my run bag on Saturday.

Race Morning

Surprisingly, I slept like a baby the night before the race. Most of the time, I toss and turn before a race, but for some reason, I slept about 7 hours. I think it was because I had resolved in my mind that no amount of worry, concern, fretting, fear or doubt could help me on race day, so why bother. I had no lofty goals of finishing fast or under a certain time. I just wanted to finish, and finish uninjured.

Angela and Russ Pond at IronmanWe were up at 4am for my normal routine of coffee and oatmeal. And at 5am, we headed out to the race venue.

That morning, I kept telling myself, “This day will come and go. Enjoy each and every moment as best you can.” Even now as I write this, the race day experience is starting to fade. But, I’m convinced that my attitude to “experience the moment” made a huge difference!

2.4 Mile Swim

Arizona Ironman Swim

As I donned my wetsuit, swim cap and goggles, the sun was just starting to come up. The pros started at 6:45, and the rest of us started at 7am. The start line was about 200 meters from where we got in. We had to swim up to the start line, and then tread water for about 15 minutes.

Arizona Ironman Swim StartInitially, I was a bit concerned about that, but I really liked it. The short swim was an excellent warm up. And then, staying in the water an extra 10 or 15 minutes was an excellent way to get adjusted to the water temperature, since it was a chilly 68 degrees.

My coach told me to get the front so that I wouldn’t have to fight through the slower swimmers. And, to the front I got! To the very front. It was a great position for the start of the race.

The canon went off and we started swimming. It quickly turned into a giant washing machine. It is very common to bump into others on the swim. I got hit and kicked a few times, but nothing too serious. I used my arms to pull myself through the water, but at times, I used my arms to block feet from kicking me.

I immediately swam to the center of the lake so I could hug the buoys. I knew that my swim would be a short, one-hour warm up for a very long day, so I paced myself slower than usual. In training, I had swam this distance faster, but I knew that this event made up less than 10% of my day, so I didn’t want to burn a lot of energy trying to crush the swim.

I finished the swim in 1 hour and 16 minutes. On to transition…

112 Mile Bike

Arizona Ironman Bike

Arizona Ironman BikeI was ready for the bike portion of the race. I felt very confident about the swim and the bike events, because I knew I could finish them pretty quickly. Boy, was I wrong. The bike ride was brutal! I read later that it was the worst wind conditions in the 11 year history of the Arizona Ironman. Winds were 20 to 25 mph with gusts up even higher.

The bike course was three, out-and-back loops. Going out was uphill and into the wind. It was painfully hard. I was only averaging about 11 to 12 mph going out, but about 25 mph coming back. It was exhausting. Add to that some dust storms, tumbleweeds, stray dogs and some dead snakes on the road.

Originally, I thought I could average about 16.5 to 17 mph for the entire bike ride, but only ended up averaging about 14.5 mph. I was hoping to finish the 112 miles in about 6:30 to 6:45, but the bike ride took me 7 hours and 43 minutes. I was exhausted.

On to transition…

26.2 Mile Run

Russ Pond Arizona Ironman Run

AZIM TransitionA few folks had warned me that once I got off the bike, the thought of running a marathon would be overwhelming. But, my experience was quite different. I went right into the run feeling pretty good and strong. Probably because I was so happy to get off the bike and start moving in a different motion.

But, the run did concern me the most. I had never run a marathon before. And, it’s my weakest of my three events. Add to that an ankle surgery and a couple knee surgeries. And, now that I was about an hour longer on the bike, I had to push the run a bit harder than expected to finish before the race cut off time of midnight.

Using a 5:1 Galloway method, I started my run/walk. And surprisingly, I felt really good. I ran the first half of the marathon only 7 minutes slower than my half Ironman pace two years prior. That really surprised me. But, the second loop got really hard, really fast.

Thankfully, Angela, Heather and Monica were there to cheer me on. They were able to see me quite a bit on the run which helped a lot.

Arizona Ironman Cheerleaders russ and angela kiss

On the second 13.1 mile lap, everything started to hurt. My quads and my feet were the worst. I had switched my run/walk ratio to 3:1 (run 3 minutes then walk 1 minute). Every time my Garmin buzzed the reminder “Walk 1 Minute”, I was so happy. Yeah, rest! But, those 60 seconds always seemed to fly by. The next buzz to “Run 3 Minutes” was not so welcomed. But, I would slowly start running again.

Thankfully, my heart rate stayed at a good level. My goal was to keep it below my lactate threshold of 165 bpm. By keeping it below that threshold, my body was able to flush out most of the lactic acid. So, by keeping my heart rate below that, I would be less sore the next day.

I saw Angela, Monica and Heather around mile 23. It was the last time I would see them until the finish. And that 23 mile marker looked great! Angela said, “Only 3 miles left. That’s just a run around the neighborhood.” True. I could this.

Each of those final mile markers were so sweet. Mile 24. Ah, only 2 miles to go. Mile 25. Yes, nearing the end. Then, the final turn into the finish line!

I really surprised myself by finishing my first ever marathon distance at 6 hours and 7 minutes.

Finishing

“Russ Pond, you are an Ironman!”

Arizona Ironman Finish

It was nice to run through that big blue finishing arch and here your name being called out. My two favorite moments when doing a triathlon are starting and finishing. This was a big finish, a year-long finish, a dream-fulfilled finish.

I quickly found Angela, and warmed up in the medical tent with some blankets and chicken broth. After picking up the gear bags, we headed back to the hotel for some more food. And sleep.

Final Thoughts

My quest for 140.6 had been completed. I did the training. I overcame the mental struggles, and finished the race. It’s a good feeling.

Here are two of my biggest takeaways from this experience:

Overcoming Fear and Doubt

The thought of doing an Ironman scared me. My approach to fear is this — if it scares me, then I have to do it. Do it afraid.

Throughout my training, there were constant fears and doubts all along the way. (Just ask my wife.) I think too many people let these crippling thoughts keep them from achieving great things. Everyone of us has so much potential, and yet we mentally limit ourselves before even one step is taken. Or, even as we start talking those steps, we stumble or stub our toe, and quit. Instead, we should regroup, learn from the stumble and keep walking.

Work the Training, and the Training Works You

With anything in life, it takes hard work. Any mountain that stands in your way can be conquered. But, it starts with one step.

When I started training seriously six months before the race, I had never biked more than 56 miles. I had never run more than 13.1 miles. I had never swam 2.4 miles. All of those distances were new to me. But, my coach built a plan specifically for me, and stuck to the training. I made weekly increments and progress during those six months. Three weeks prior to the race, I now had biked 100 miles, run 15 miles and swam 2.4 miles in training. And, I felt good doing those distances.

I found that when I worked the training, the training worked me. This is true with everything in life. Don’t expect to go do an Ironman without any training. And don’t expect to make a movie, write a book, start a business, whatever you want to do without training and increment steps.

It starts with one step.

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My Ironman Mental Game

Arizona Ironman Mental GameExactly six weeks from now, around this very time (5:30 am), I’ll be wrapping up my morning race routine with one cup of coffee and some toast. Then, I’ll put on my Zoot tri suit, grab my start bag and head to the race venue. On November 16th, I will be doing my first, full Ironman race in Tempe, Arizona.

Previously, I wrote about my quest for 140.6 in hopes of sharing some of the motivation as to why I want to complete an Ironman. (I need to go back and re-read that.)

This morning, I want to share more about my training experience. I have learned so much about myself and life in general during the process.

Getting Started

A year ago, I sat at the computer, my stomach was churning. I knew that once I hit “Submit”, I would be registered for Ironman Arizona. It was nerve wracking! You have to register a year in advance to secure your spot in this coveted race. It always sells out in minutes.

Click! “Congratulations! You are now registered for Arizona Ironman!” That was too easy. Time to start training.

I don’t like training in the winter. The cold and I don’t get along very well. So, I started doing lots of indoor activities, mostly racquetball at the time. Occasionally, I would run or bike, even swim a few times. The key for me was to get moving and stay active through the winter.

Once spring hit, I was able to get outdoors more. In March, I signed up for DFW Tri Club and started training with them once a week. But, as the spring turned into summer, I knew I needed a more focused training regime designed specifically to get me ready for Ironman. Through the recommendation of a friend, I hired coach Trevor.

On June 2nd, six months before Ironman, I started training everyday for Ironman.

Work the Training and the Training Works You

I’m not a fast guy. Never claimed to be. In fact, my Ironman goal is very simple. It’s three goals described in one short sentence:

I want to finish (1) within seventeen hours (2) uninjured (3).

My coach said there are two types of people who do Ironman — those who race and those who survive. It should be clear by now which one I am.

Over the past few months, I have really enjoyed seeing the benefits of training. Sure, it’s hard work and takes a lot of time, but if you work the training, the training works you. I have seen this first hand. My bike times are faster. My run times are quicker. My swims are stronger. All measurably so.

But even as you make progress and get stronger, you still have to fight the Ironman mental game.

Get to the Start the Line

They say that running a marathon is 90% mental and 10% physical. For Ironman, it’s 90% mental and 10% mental.

The past four and half months have been extreme. The mental highs and lows have been challenging. Just the other day, a friend asked me how the training going. I replied, “It’s the most exhilarating, frustrating, exciting, terrifying experience I’ve ever had. Ask me again tomorrow.”

The swings between “I can do this” to “What the heck was I thinking” are drastic. Sometimes, an injury will set you back or you bonk on a long ride, and then the doubts start singing in your head.

Then, there are weeks like this week where everything clicks. The runs are strong, the bike rides feel good, the swims are fast. You’re back to, “I can do this.”

I asked my coach about this and he said something very important: The hardest part of Ironman is getting to the start line.

I think in life, this is also true. What “start lines” have alluded you because of doubt or insecurity? What voices in your heard have convinced you not to try? What dreams have you shelved in hopes that “One day, I’ll get to that start line.”

To get the start line, here’s how I’ve changed my perspective about the race.

Many Small Goals instead of One Big Goal

The thought of doing an Ironman–2.4 mile swim followed by a 112 mile bike ride followed by a 26.2 marathon, all in one day–is daunting. That’s a massive goal. It can be overwhelming to look at it as one big goal.

Another great piece of advice from both my coach and my wife is not look at the race as one big goal but as many small goals.

For the swim, once that horn blows, your goal is simple: swim to that first buoy. Woo Hoo! I made it. Next goal, swim to the buoy. Yeah, another goal accomplished. Eventually, you’ll finish the swim.

On the bike, there are three 37.5 mile loops. That’s a comfortable Sunday ride for me. I can do that. That will be my goal. I will bike 37.5 miles. Awesome, finished 37.5 miles! Next goal, 37.5 miles. Killed it! And then another goal, 37.5 miles. Bike ride finished.

Then, the run, my weakest event of the three. I will not look at it as a marathon. I don’t have to run 26.2 miles. Instead, I will just run one mile. Then, celebrate that mile accomplishment. Then, run another mile. Then, run a mile. Just a mile. Run another mile. I do this 26 times, each mile celebrating the goal of running that mile.

But, Russ, it’s the same. No, it’s not. Not in my mind. They are not the same. Short, achievable goals are… well, achievable.

I have experienced this in a few areas of my personal life. When I made my first movie, I was a bit naive (kind of like my Ironman experience). I wasn’t sure what to expect, so I broke it down into many, small steps.

First, I needed to find a story. That was my focus. My only focus. After finding the story, the next step was finding funding. Again, that was my only focus. After the money, I needed to find a team. Next, we needed to shoot the film. Next, we needed to edit the film. Etc. Etc. I didn’t look at the entire process, only the next step.

Had I truly known the extensive amount of work it was going to take to make a feature film, I could have easily talked myself out of it. Today, having done three feature films, it’s a daunting task when you look at the entire goal. So, don’t.

What goals do you have in your life that seem too big to accomplish? Why don’t you figure out the first step towards that big goal, and focus on accomplishing that one small goal first. And see what happens! You might be surprised.

Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin (Zechariah 4:10).

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My Quest for 140.6

As some of you may or may not know, I’ve decided to do an Ironman triathlon this year. When I started sharing this news with others, I got mixed reactions. Some were excited for me. Others, a bit confused. Then there were those who just looked at me, nodded their head and started praying. Out loud.

So, I decided to write a few articles about my experience. As the race day looms, I may also come back to these articles to remind myself why I’m doing this.

My first triathlon season

On March 14, 2010, a day before my 45 birthday, I completed my first triathlon. It was the St. Patty’s Day Sprint Triathlon in Keller, Texas.

If you’re not familiar with triathlon distances, a sprint race is the shortest distance in triathlons. This particular race started with a 300 meter pool swim, followed by a 12 mile bike ride and the finishing with a 3 mile run. It took me 1 hour and 38 minutes to finish the race.

Russ Pond, Half IronmanQuite unimpressive, but it was the start of an amazing season. I would go on that year to race in four more sprints, two olympics and then wrap up the season by crossing the finish line at the Austin 70.3 Half Ironman race. It was only 7 months after my first experience with triathlons. What an incredible experience! Two years later, in 2012, I finished a second Austin Half Ironman, this time with my wife.

After quickly realizing that two halves don’t make a full, I started to think about an Ironman. The 140.6 mile Ironman race starts with a 2.4 mile open-water swim, followed by a 112 mile bike ride and then finishes with a full marathon (26.2 miles). And, I have to finish within 17 hours (7am to midnight) to hear those words, “Russ Pond. You are an Ironman!”

So, I set a goal to do a full, Ironman race before I turned 50.

The quest begins

Bike, Half IronmanI asked my coach what was the easiest Ironman venue, if there was such a thing. He suggested either Ironman Florida or Ironman Arizona. Each had their challenges, but the courses were good and well supported. But, because of the popularity of these two races, they sell out fast. Arizona typically sales out in less than an hour. And you have to register a year in advance.

In 2013, I had to register for a 2014 race to meet my bucket list goal of doing an Ironman before I turned 50. Why 50? I figured what a great way to kick off the second half of your life, doing something crazy like an Ironman.

Even then, I knew there was a deeper reason.

But why, really?

Half Ironman SwimI’ve been asking myself quite a bit lately, Why am I doing this? What is my motivation to do something that seems impossible, especially for non-athletes like me? (When you spend hours alone on a bike ride, run or swim, you tend to have lots of time to ask yourself these scary questions.)

I do enjoy swimming, biking and running. They were never much fun before, but as you get more accustomed and stronger, it becomes easier and more enjoyable. There’s also the obvious benefits like better health and weight loss. Plus, my wife loves to be active. We train together quite a bit. For us, date nights are not the typical dinner and a movie. Our dates often consist of races and long training sessions together. It’s wonderful to live with a full-time encourager, trainer and helpmate!

But still the nagging why. Why do an Ironman?

I think it comes down to fear.

I used to battle crippling fear much of my early life. Decades of panic attacks and anti-anxiety medications. The key to freedom for me was not to avoid the fear or numb the fear–it was to face the fear. That’s when I started to experience freedom and peace.

And to be honest, Ironman scares me. But, that’s why I have to do it. If it didn’t scare me, then why bother.

Fear has no hold on me, because I do those things that I’m afraid to do.

Registration

On Sunday afternoon in November of 2013, I sat nervously at the computer waiting to hit “Register.” My heart was racing. Do I really want to do this? Will I even get in? Why am I so nervous?

In a matter of minutes, my registration went through and the confirmation email popped up and said, “You have successfully registered for the 2014 Arizona Ironman.”

Oh, crap.

Training and preparation

Ironman TrainingI immediately started training. Nothing specific at this point (plus I hate training in the winter) but I started being more active, playing lots of racquetball and swimming. It was going to take a year of work to get this 49-year old body ready for the grueling race.

In March, my wife and I signed up for the DFW Tri Club. They provide tons of workouts during the week to help with your swim, bike and run. Every Saturday morning, they have an open water swim clinic at a lake nearby. Excellent drills and skills!

As the summer rolled in, I knew I needed a more-focused, disciplined training regime if I was going to be ready for Ironman. So, in June, about 6 months prior to race day, I hired Trevor at Kingdom MultiSport to train me. And, my weekly schedule is packed!

I’m enjoying the intensity of the training more than I thought I would. I’m not a fast swimmer, biker or runner. Especially a runner. So, I’ve never really pushed myself hard. But, this first month of training has been challenging. I’ve had to push myself so much harder than ever before. Sure, it’s exhausting, but I can start to feel how it is really helping me get stronger.

That voice of fear is starting to fade.

Why write about this?

Scott RigsbyI wanted to write this article for two reasons: accountability and encouragement.

The more people who know about this goal of mine, the harder it will be to back out. (Yes, I still have those thoughts.) I share this with you so that you will know what I’m planning to do. And, if by chance we talk or chat, ask me how it’s going. I’m sure you’ll get an ear full.

Secondly, I want to encourage you that you can do anything you set your mind to. I was not athletic growing up. Tennis and bowling were the extent of my physical abilities. When it came to endurance sports, I made fun of those people because deep down, I wanted to be one of those people. Today, I’m confident that with persistence, a good mindset and some dedication, you can do whatever you want.

There are so many inspirational stories out there about people doing Ironman races, from an 80-year-old nun, Madonna Buder to a double amputee, Scott Rigsby.

You can do anything you set your mind to do.

Ironman motivational videos

Cool, I found this playlist of Ironman motivational videos!

P.S. These videos are for me, not you. :)

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2009 Hotter ‘N Hell Bide Ride

Some friends and I rode in the 2009 Hotter ‘N Hell bike ride yesterday. Allan and I did the 50-mile ride (the “gentleman’s distance”), and Kevin did the 100 mile ride. It was quite fun. More than 12,000 bikers participated. Here are some pictures from the ride.

Hotels were sold out, so we camped down by a river.

Hotels were sold out, so we camped down by a river.

The night before the race, we had a big spaghetti dinner. Carbing up!

The night before the race, we had a big spaghetti dinner. Carbing up!

This Allan and myself just before the start of the race at sunrise

This Allan and myself just before the start of the race at sunrise

These are the riders behind us at the start.

These are the riders behind us at the start.

These are the riders in front

These are the riders in front

Our 50-mile bike route

Our 50-mile bike route