Winter Solstice

I’m huffing away on the treadmill. The whole of my stomach feels bloated and each breath is far more ragged than it should be. I’m sweating. The twelve minute miles are far more of an effort than they should be. I’m staring with complete disbelief at the screen on the machine. The numbers seem to be mocking my efforts.

It is the winter solstice. This is where I am: twelve minute miles feel like they are at the edge of what I am capable of. I am an age away from where I need to be next July if I am ever going to be completing Ironman. And yet I don’t want to complete Ironman; I want to go sub twelve hours. This means running the marathon in something like three hours forty. I have work to do. It’s a good job that the days will eventually get a little lighter.

I truly believe in the power that lies in each of us to step out from the shadow of who we are and into the light of what we could be. There is so much potential hidden away in each of us. I think that much of our collective frustration comes from an inability to meaningfully connect with our secret stash of greatness. Instead, in the words of Thoreau, we often ‘lead lives of quiet desperation’ and turn outwards to whatever brings a temporary relief from the inherent discomfort of facing up to whatever is troubling us.

It is endurance that is troubling me at the moment. Having spent the last eighteen months struggling with a chronic Achilles tendon problem I’ve become unfit, overweight, and generally out of shape. With total rest, this has settled down to the point where my daily life is pain free, and where twelve minute miles on the treadmill causes me no pain other than the searing discomfort that is burning through my legs and chest. I have work to do.

I have work to do

The summer solstice in 2023 is the week before Ironman.  A perfect six months. Having made the decision last year to do another Ironman, I feel that I’m ready to commit to this. My foot feels great. My legs and lungs less so. But that’s ok. The lightness will return.

Why?

I set off for my run with my wife’s question ringing in my ears, ‘Last time you knew why you were doing it, you had a reason. Why are you doing it again?’

It has been playing one my mind ever since.

Make no mistake about it, Ironman know how to put on a show. The town buzzes before the event as first the signs start to go up, then the trucks slowly roll in with their barriers and toilets. Fields become transition areas, and the town hall square starts to come alive as runners arrive for a Friday night 5K. Everyone in the town seems to know that it is happening, and by the time nearly 4000 children have taken part in Ironkids, the long day Sunday ahead seems filled with promise and drama in equal measure.

The ‘day before’ party that is Ironkids

I’ve only done Ironman once. I turned 40 in 2015, and my gift to myself was an entry into the event. I absolutely knew why I had to do it. Turning 40 marked the end of a difficult and challenging period of time for me and my family. I was driven to prove to myself that I could set my mind to something so incredibly challenging and then get it done. I entered the day after the 2014 event. At the time you could turn up in person at the expo and place your entry for the year after. Despite not being a strong swimmer, and without really thinking through the fact that I had not even been on a bike since I was a kid, I happily paid my hundreds of pounds and then went for a swim.

I managed a whole two laps before needing to stop and hold on to the side, gasping for air and questioning my sanity.

But I never regretted a single moment of that year. I devoted myself to becoming an Ironman. That finish would physically and mentally draw a line under the past and I would emerge from the experience knowing that I was strong enough to take on the rest of my life.

Honestly…it worked. I had some misfortune along the way, but on the day of the race, despite some biblical weather early in the morning, I never once doubted myself. I knew that I was exactly where I needed to be. The confidence and the clarity that it has brought to my life cannot be underestimated. Many times, when things have got tough, I’ve remembered that I once swam 2.4 miles, biked 112, and then ran a marathon. Not much bothers me after that.

And so my wife’s question burned away. Why do it all again?

My answer to this lies somewhere hidden within the word potential. Over the past few years, I have become fascinated by the fact that some people seem to be able to get the very best out of themselves. I got the best out of myself last time. I couldn’t have done any more at that point of my life. But what does that look like now? How fast can I go? How high up the results table can I be? How quickly can I complete each of the disciplines? How much do I want it?

As a coach, I read lots of books and listen to lots of podcasts about the psychology of high performers. What unites a lot of high performance is an almost unbounded belief in the potential of us all to achieve so much more than we think. The starting point is often an illogical belief in what can be achieved. When this confidence is tapped into, and when it united with intelligent approaches to training and sheer hard work, we can move beyond where we think our limits are.

Time and again we see that the barriers to excellence are just stories that we have told ourselves, or narratives that others have passed on to us. They become part of our identity in both subtle and in very obvious ways. The beauty of Ironman is that it represents a challenge to these. We can emerge from the training with new ways of viewing ourselves and new beliefs about where our limits really could be.

This is my why.

So, my answer to my wife’s question is simple: in Ironman UK on 2 July 2023, I want to break 12 hours

TARGETS FOR 2023

SWIM1:20:00
T10:10:00
BIKE6:30:00
T20:10:00
RUN3:40:00
FINISH11:50:00
Target times for Ironman UK 2023