Finding myself in Arizona
Beating the Demons – Chapter 8
by Coach Joe
Life. It’s funny. Sometimes we can’t figure it out and sometimes we think we got it nailed. Most of us spend our whole lives trying to figure it all out. One of the things I love about our sport is how it provides the perfect sandbox to find ourselves. To push ourselves to places that we just don’t want to go. To open up our soul to its deepest level. Sometimes beating us down to where we can’t even think because the pain is too difficult to process. Where there is just no place to hide. Right to the edge of existence as we know it. It’s there, at this edge, where we must decide to play or fold. The inflection point to either find the courage to push through to the other side, to things we don’t know that we don’t know about ourselves, and become a better us. Or to fold and continue to carry our current demons that keep us from true success.
“On occasion I have crossed the threshold of my potential, and standing there, have seen ten-thousand places where I have not yet been. Therefore, I will not look back. I will not question and I will not doubt. I have nothing to fear on this side of it, and here again at the edge of it I will take a deep breath, and I will go forward.” – Iron Wil
As many times as I’ve walked over this edge, I’m still amazed at how powerful it is and how much I learn each time I go over it. Recently, at Ironman Arizona, I was surprised how quickly the opportunity for growth surfaced. I thought I knew what was going to happen that day. A few years ago at Ironman Florida, I thought I cracked the code on having a successful Ironman race from start to finish. My article titled The Perfect Storm told the story of a day where everything came together. There just weren’t any indicators that things would go differently at Arizona. My training went fantastic thanks to my amazing coach and mentor, Karyn. Thank you, Coach! Ironman Arizona has a reputation of being a reasonable Ironman, if there is such a thing. The weather forecast seemed good. How did things get so serious so early in the game this time around? Herein lies the beauty of our sport… Mother Nature had a different plan for us this year. A last minute shift in the forecast caused gusting 30 mph headwind right into the 10 mile climb that we had to do 3 times on the 3 loop course. The winds and those climbs created what many racers were later calling a “soul-crushing” day on the bike. The winds also blew desert thorns onto the roads and there was always an athlete along the entire route changing a flat tire. I wondered all day long if I’d escape that destiny. Well, no such luck. My flat came at mile 108, and was the final mental blow on the bike course for me. My head was coming out of the game, and I knew that would spell trouble ahead for me on the marathon run. 🙁 I needed to hold things together or the wheels were going to come off pretty fast.
Well, as things sometimes go, the next blow showed up on the very first foot strike out of transition. The run course pavement was concrete, yikes! Concrete always “feels” so much harder on my run legs than the black asphalt on most roads. The extra shock on the already fatigued bike legs certainly started to play with the mental side of things. I wondered how long this concrete would continue. Mile after concrete mile, my legs started to hurt more and more. How could I not have known this was a concrete course? I should have asked. I could have trained more on sidewalks. I would have selected a shoe with more cushioning to soften the blow. I was getting consumed by the Demon and struggled to even keep running, let alone at my planned pace. The pain was building, and my head was out of the game by mile 10. I started to wonder if I could even finish, and I began to envision a scenario that had me walking the second half of the marathon. Ugh. By mile 12 I told my cheer crew that I was really struggling. They encouraged me to keep going. That helped. I kept running. After 21 miles of continuous running and a full blown game of mental ping-pong, wondering if I’d be able to run any longer and the pain so intense I could hardly stand it, the edge finally arrived…
“What this power is, I cannot say. All I know is that it exists… and it becomes available only when you are in that state of mind in which you know exactly what you want…and are fully determined not to quit until you get it.” – Alexander Graham Bell
I knew what I wanted: To finish in under 13 hours. To run faster and prove that I could silence the Demons. So, with a half mile hill climb coming at mile 22.5, I knew it was time to decide. Would I walk the hill and shuffle jog/walk in? Nobody else would ever care, but I would always have to look in the mirror and know that I folded. Or was it time to play, to run faster, power up that climb and keep the heat on the pedal. To push myself over the edge. To run like a warrior with his life on the line. To be willing to lose everything in order to win. I chose to play!
Photos from Ironman Arizona 2014 can be viewed on the ET Photo Gallery.
Joe LoPresto is the CEO, Head Coach and Race Director of Experience Triathlon. As leaders in the endurance services industry, Coach Joe and the Experience Triathlon Leadership Team help athletes of all ages and abilities achieve success in every aspect of their lives. Learn more about Coach Joe and Experience Triathlon at www.experiencetriathlon.com.