Lessons from an Ironman

My husband completed his first Ironman in Panama City, Florida. Something remarkable happened during the race and it makes me ponder similar implications in the work place. My husband’s watch broke. Actually, his second watch broke. The first one was kicked off and now sits on the ocean floor of the Gulf of Mexico. The second watch went black 90 minutes into the bike ride. So here he is, doing his first Ironman and he has virtually no ability to pace himself. The only way that he can ‘tell time’ is to watch the path of the sun and the only way he knows his relative position is to pass a mile marker, gauge his approximate speed and use that information to make decisions about nutrition and his pace.ironman2

As I am sure you can imagine, Ironman races are incredibly difficult. It is a 2.4 mile swim followed by a 112 mile bike following by a 26.2 mile run (a full marathon). Many well-experienced athletes have made the mistake of going too hard in the swim or the bike, only to find that their body doesn’t have enough energy left to finish the run. This is a very real risk and one that should not be taken lightly. So how do you, as a first time Ironman, pace yourself on the bike when you have no timepiece? Well, you do your best. And you listen to your body. And guess. And maybe pray a bit.

My husband ended up completing his bike 23 minutes faster than he expected. He was shooting for 6 hours and came in at 5:37. He got going on his run and he faltered a bit but he still had plenty of strength left in his legs. When he reached mile 21, he fell into pace with another first time Ironman who actually had a working watch. As they were running, she calculated in her head that they could break the 12 hour mark if they maintained a 9 minute mile pace for the remainder of the run. They supported each other and they came across the finish line at 11:51. What an amazing achievement, especially considering that a sub-12 hour finish was never something that my husband thought he was capable of.

So how does this translate to business? I would suggest that when we stop worrying about our limitations, we can achieve feats greater than we can imagine. There is also a slight chance that we might burn out and not be able to finish, but let’s go with the more positive outcome.

Think about your life and career. Are there times when you have held back because you are worried about your intelligence? Your title? Your tenure? Your education? If so, I say “go for it!” Put yourself out there and see what you can achieve. Let people know about your idea or suggestion or process improvement. And if the first reception isn’t warm, try again. Truly you might have a suggestion that cannot be acted on by your company at this time – that certainly happens – but don’t let feedback loop inside your own head be the thing that holds you back. Be an Ironman in whatever you do.

Originally posted on a now defunct site on 12/11/12.

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