I was in the throws of a full out anxiety attack.

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Anxiety_Scream

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The Time: August 26, 1990  7 a.m.

The Place: Okanagan Lakefront, Penticton, B.C.

The Event:  IRONMAN CANADA Triathlon race

Course: 3.9 km. SWIM, 180 km. BIKE, 42.2 km. RUN

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In the midst of 960 other nervous competitors, the starting cannon exploded. It’s acrid smoke filled the air just as the first sun rays burst above the eastern hillside over the lake- an homage to the Iron Sun Gods.

The first 10 minutes of the swim were noisy, confused, tumultuous, and like a battlefield, bordering on terrifying. Powerful arms and legs and bodies thrashing on all sides…some bashing me in the head, knocking my goggles askew. I’m hyperventilating – hyperventilating as I try to put my head in the water and make the swimming motions I practiced for 12 months leading up to this day. My chest is gripping me in a vice and I can’t breathe.

OK Larry .  take . a . slow . breath . Swim a breast stroke…Good, now take another breath. Another stroke. Ignore the agitated arms flailing around you.”

13 hours and 19 minutes later. It was over and I had finished an IRONMAN Triathlon. I was bone-tired, but blissfully drained.

Ironman Canada Triathlon 1990

Anxiety followed 13 hours later by euphoria…

FAST FORWARD 11 years

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The Time: August 24, 2001  7 a.m.

The Place: Okanagan Lakefront, Penticton, B.C. 

The Event:  IRONMAN CANADA Triathlon race

This time, 2500 others are surrounding me in the waters of Okanagan Lake. This time, I’m relaxed (more or less…who can be totally relaxed with 150 miles of distance still to cover!) and maneuver through the first 5 to 10 minutes of thrashing unruffled.

My swim time improves by 11 minutes compared to 11 years earlier…hmmm…one minute faster per year. It stupidly occurs to me that I could WIN the swim part of this in 15 years if I keep this up!!

Six hours later I drop out of the event after the 112 mile bike segment and prior to the marathon run with excruciating and unexplained foot pain. The last 15 miles I cycle using the spinning power from one leg only, the other foot attached but hanging loose in the pedal. If you’re thinking that I dropped out because of the “urine spray” from jerky cyclists ahead of me who don’t want to take a 30 second break to get off their bike and visit the Porta-Potti, you’d be wrong…but I was “PISSED“!

My Ironman has ended prematurely. I’m frustrated and angry – with myself and my flawed body. A year’s worth of training has been squandered. I’m a failure and a loser, I tell myself. I’ll pause a moment here if you want to say it too!

One success and one failure, right?

Maybe yes, maybe no.

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Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.” 

Oliver Wendell Holmes

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Holmes was referring to the mind in his assertion, but I honestly think that it applies to all areas of your life: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual.

Reflecting back, each of these Ironman races taught me something about myself (like 8 LARRY’isms). Here are the lessons I learned from the joy of finishing one Ironman race, and the heartache of not finishing another. They aren’t just for IRONMEN…they apply to both you and me in other areas of our lives:

  1. First and most important of all. Have the largest and most thorough bowel movement possible. Nothing will ruin a physical or mental exercise more than cramps and/or bloating. LESSON: The bowels must run efficiently before anything else does.
  2. The first Ironman race was exhilarating and exciting. I was terrified heading into the start, not knowing if I had it in me to swim, bike and run for 12+ hours. I had never done an entire Ironman-length distance in my training sessions. It takes courage and focus to attempt things that scare us.  LESSON: I discovered that day that the combination of good preparation (training with focus) and adrenalin would carry me the full distance. The positive ends justified the positive means.
  3. The second Ironman was exciting but lacked the full FEAR FACTOR that was part of the first time out. I knew I could cover the full distance, now could I improve on my time from 11 years earlier? As it turned out, I couldn’t…well, I might have except I dropped out after finishing the swim and bike portions of the race. Each of my swim and bike times were better than those from 11 years earlier. Even in failure, we discover things about ourselves that we can build on. LESSON: Goals for improvement are an important motivational tool.
  4. Gratitude for the health and physical attributes I have. I’m so fortunate not to be saddled with any genetic or acquired illnesses such as arthritis or maybe SYPHILIS (!) that might hold me back. A lot of health is directly related to the care we take of ourselves. I’m not a true believer in luck, but sometimes I just feel lucky to have good health. LESSON: Health isn’t something to be taken for granted. Appreciate it.
  5. Don’t limit myself with internal thoughts about what I can and cannot do. Ironman is not something that only “Jocks” can do. I’m definitely not a jock. I wasn’t a high school sports guy. I wasn’t on the football or track teams. I joined Band and Chess Club…oh yeah, I was on the badminton team too! I don’t think this makes me jock material.  LESSON: The knowledge that anyone in reasonable physical health can take this on and DO IT! 
  6. Doing an Ironman race is more of a mental toughness exercise than a physical one. Training day after day for a year for anywhere from 45 minutes to 7 hours requires a strong desire and ability to push onwards, even when you would rather be on a couch with a bowl of potato chips. I can’t count the number of dark mornings where I dreaded the alarm clock sounding, signifying it was time to get up to go swim some laps or run 8 miles. LESSON: Developing mental strength is as important or even more important than physical strength.
  7. There is a Catholic nun from Spokane, Washington named Sister Madonna Buder. She’s 82 years old this year. Starting at the age of 55, she’s entered 45 Ironman triathlons in Canada and Hawaii, the most recent one here in Penticton last year at the age of 81. She is amazing. Just to show you how “non-competitive” I am, both in 1990 and in 2001, my main aim in the Ironman was to finish the race before the IRON NUN! Actually, my real goal was to just finish the races, but there was always an underlying thought in my head that NO Senior Citizen Catholic Nun was going to finish ahead of THIS heathen. I don’t want to step on others to achieve my goals, but I CAN use them to help push myself just a little bit harder. LESSON: There’s such a thing as a healthy dose of competitiveness. 
  8. There are people who support me whenever I am trying to achieve something important in my life. Don’t forget their sacrifices too!  My family and friends keep things afloat while I pursue my dreams and ambitions. When I’m feeling totally bummed, they prop up my spirits. In my second Ironman, my 80+ year old neighbour Elza stood patiently at the finish line with a bouquet of flowers waiting to congratulate me for crossing the line. It was a hot day. Still, she stood in the hot afternoon sun and into the dark of the evening, waiting. I didn’t show, of course…I dropped out after the bike and returned home to wallow in my self-pity, not knowing that Elza held the vigil.  LESSON: Remember to thank the ones who make your dreams and goals possible and support you through the terrific and the terrible. For the Elza in your life…say THANK YOU!
IRON_NUN

Sister Madonna Buder wins in the 75+ age category of Ironman Canada…her smile is just a bit strained because she knows I beat her!

 

Related:  3,000 people will jump into Okanagan Lake at 7 am this Sunday for the 30th Anniversary running of Ironman Canada.

May they achieve their dreams… 

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