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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 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).