In the past 4 years, I’ve made a lot of connections through this blog. I’ve heard a lot of great stories, made some dear friends. All of it because I’ve said something that connected. An email is sent. A story is shared. A connection is made.
Enter Jim. Jim connected with me via one of my athletes who connected with my through my blog. It’s like Six Degrees of ELF. I’m like Kevin Bacon. God. Bacon. Did I ever confess here that my only craving I had in pregnancy was bacon and that was how I knew I was having a boy?
Anyways, back to Jim. Jim is an athlete just like you and me. And like you and me, he is feverishly dedicated – if not obsessed – with this sport we love called triathlon. Earlier this year, after several rounds of email, I had the pleasure of actually meeting him in person out in San Diego. Jim had about 200 questions for me to answer in less than 60 minutes over a cup of coffee. I answered all but 3. His most important question, though, was how to train for an Ironman at sea. You see, Jim is not just a triathlete but also a man of the Navy.
His 2010 race schedule included Silverman to do the full iron distance race. Note that I didn’t call it an Ironman because I don’t want to be fined for using the term inappropriately even though we all know that calling an iron distance race an Ironman is the same damn thing.
But that debate is far too existential for this blog.
Jim and a fellow shipman, seaman, nonlandlubber? Not sure of the proper terminology here but let’s just call him “friend”. Jim and friend decided to train together for Silverman. But here’s the catch – they would be deployed at sea for 3 months of the training. Swim training was not an option. They got a few creative training tips from Commander David Haas who trained for Kona while deployed. They rowed. They trained on spin bikes. They ran on treadmills. The timing would be tight but they knew they would return home one day before the race, and then head out to race an Ironman. I mean Iron distance race.
Same damn thing.
The training was done – the long miles on the road, pounding the pavement, making the most of the land time where they could get in the swims. And then (enter suspenseful music and nail biting what happens next)….
An announcement. The ship’s schedule was pushed back a week. In other words, there would be no Silverman because they would still be out at sea.
Now think about this for a moment. When the going gets tough, what do you do? When a road block is thrown in your path, do you sit in front of it, kicking, crying and sending out invitations to your pity party? (and would the font be pink and the envelopes scented with despair?) Or, do you walk right up to that roadblock and find another way. Because there’s always another way. Obstacles are opportunities to get creative, to go in a new direction, to see ourselves from a new perspective.
And of course Jim found another way. After all, this is a man of the Navy. Giving up is not an option. And we can all take a lesson from that. Rather than giving up on his goal, he decided it would be done – at sea.
Silverman at Sea
(and a day later he probably had an oh shit what have I done moment)
The day before the race, they did their own version of race check in. The day of the race, they met early, at 0530, with the anticipation of doing an Ironman ahead of them. The race started promptly at 0600. Now you might be wondering – just how did they swim? They didn’t. With swimming not an option, instead they chose to row.
They moved their rowing machines to the upper deck in the darkness of early morning on the Pacific. When Revelry sounded, they embarked on a 70-minute rowing adventure at sea. Jim chose 70 minutes because his last Ironman swim was around that time. Together, they rowed and watched the ship wake up, the morning rise.
Next, they transitioned to spin bikes. (I won’t ask Jim what he was doing for 13 minutes in transition) Not satisfied to just ride the bike for 112 miles, they downloaded a topographical map of the Silverman course and added resistance to the bike to simulate climbs. With giant fans pointed at them, they encountered the usual catastrophes you find along on an Ironman bike – fatigue, sweating, and a man overboard drill.
Yes, at mile 52 there was a man overboard drill.
Imagine 112 miles on a spin bike. Seriously, people, this is not for the faint at crotch. I can handle about 20 minutes on those things without wanting to run myself over with the fly wheel. It’s uncomfortable, steady, monotonous. Sounds just like Ironman,eh?
With no drafting, no coasting, no tailwind, Jim dismounted the bike in 4:55.
On to the run – a marathon on the treadmill. I can think of less painful ways to pass time on a ship. Like slapping myself with a lifejacket over and over again. But they did it. Jim and his friend experienced some of the usual fatigue you find in the marathon at Ironman but in the end, they both got the run done.
Jim completed the Silverman at Sea in 12 hours 19 minutes and 18 seconds. All that for nothing? Oh no. That would be a 52-second PR from his last Ironman finish time. When he finished, there was no fanfare, no medals, no glory, no Mike Reilly telling him he was indeed an Ironman. They were just done. And the next day it was back to business as usual – doing whatever it is you do on an aircraft carrier.
As I read through Jim’s race report, I got to thinking – why.
Why do it? Why would you do this knowing there was nothing at the end. There was no finish line to cross, no spectators, no finishers gear waiting to be purchased the next day. No post-race party. No t-shirt. No results. No chance to podium. No recognition.
They didn't have to do it. They just did it. And then it was...done.
I thought about it and realized that Jim was driven. Driven by the challenge, the training, whatever it is that inspires you about doing something like Ironman. Or maybe it’s just the local 5K. Whatever your challenge is, if you decide to do it, you have to have that drive to actually go out there and get it done. The bigger your challenge, the more driven you need to be.
Driven is what gets you up in the darkness of the morning to go swim in the winter. Driven is what makes you sign up for that half marathon then actually training for it. Driven is reading a book on nutrition because you want to learn how to eat better for performance and then actually making the changes. It’s setting the goal then getting the work done – and then getting up the next day to do it again. It’s making every minute count. Committing to it and then sticking with it.
You might say but we’re all driven. We’re all Type A, crazy, obsessive compulsive freaks who can’t sit still. True. But to be driven is something different. It’s focused, it’s direct. It points like a beam of light on to what you really want. You see nothing but it. You won’t stop until you reach it. You do what it takes.
Finally, I asked Jim himself: Why did you do it? This sounds like insanity to go 140.6 miles while going absolutely nowhere. Not only that but it sounds painful. He admitted at first that he wanted to do it to spite the change in plans. We’re stubborn, he said. But then after they committed to doing it on the ship, it became something more than that.
We didn’t want to quit.
Now I could completely understand. Because in facing challenging situations, I have only once taken the option to quit. And I will never forget that. My husband once told me the sting of quitting is worse the next day than any pain you might be feeling at the moment you're considering it. Quitting is the easy way out. Quitting was not an option to Jim – and who knows why. Maybe because he once tasted the lasting sting of failure and decided it would never happen again. Maybe because he didn’t want the training to go to waste. Or maybe because he made a commitment to himself to set out to do something and get it done – and he was going to honor that commitment.
I listened to Jim's story with great interest and spent time thinking about it. It showed me if you want something bad enough, if you’re driven to achieve, you’ll find a way to do it. You’ll get it done. People come up with all sorts of excuses why they can’t do things – I’m too old, I’m too slow, too this or that. When I hear about people like Jim, I think to myself – the only excuse that we have is ourselves. Perhaps an excuse really is the inability to get over one's self.
The story comes full circle. Sometimes from this blog, a connection is made. And from that connection I find inspiration. Jim’s story inspired me. It takes a lot of guts, determination and grit to do an Ironman. Even more so to do one at sea. I’d say I have no idea what possess someone to do something like that but that would be a lie because I do get it. It’s possession – that drive and ownership of a goal. A goal you set in the first place because you knew you could – and that – no matter what – you would.
On any given day when we are faced with a challenge, there is always an excuse waiting to allow us to give up, hold back or get in our own way. If you’re driven, you push all that aside and you go after it. Decide to do it! And then, just ... get after it.
And who knows – you just might find yourself many miles later with a new PR and a heck of a story to tell.
And I’m guessing some pretty bad chafing.
No need to send me those pictures, Jim.