A day after I crossed the finish line of my most anticipated race of the year, one in which I devoted 8 months of my life to train for, I started questioning my intention for pursuing and staying in the sport.
I had just completed what seemed to be an important race to me - my first 140.6-mile Ironman distance race. Moving forward, I didn’t wanna continue my pursuit for it simply to improve my race times - what would that prove? That I was capable of more stellar performance? No, I wasn’t as interested in bettering my race times as I was searching for the heart and purpose of the sport.
For seven days I sought for answers. I asked some of my triathlete friends what motivated them in their pursuit of the Ironman. A number of times I was moved by their response and what the sport meant to them.
I was inspired afresh hearing from them, but for me personally, my vision for the sport remained a blur.
Until two nights ago. Something shifted on the inside of me. It felt like someone flicked on my internal light switch. Here’s my moment of enlightenment:
I was transported exactly 3 years back to July 2010. A girl I knew had signed up for a race and couldn’t do it at the last minute, I was asked if I’d do it, and I thought, why not? Up to that point I had never trained for a triathlon - I didn’t know how to swim front crawl, I just started biking 2 months prior and I was but a casual runner.
It was an Olympic-distance race, I did it, loved it and was thirsty for more.
That was my first introduction to triathlon after which I started to observe the general society at large and their perception of health and fitness.
I look at the average middle-age population, our parents and loved ones included, people in their 50s and 60s - who feel like they’re old, sickly and do not have much going on for them as the years quickly pass them by.
And I look at some of my triathlete friends who, similarly, are in their 50s, 60s, some 70s even, who don’t just do the regular triathlons, but the Ironman races, and how incredibly strong, healthy and fit they are, and, oh, the vigor of life they exhibit in their personal being.
Between the two, I aspire to be the latter.
To further seal my decision, I got to know a sweet, down-to-earth and extremely fit 77-year-old. Harriet Anderson is a legend in the American triathlon scene - she is one of the oldest triathletes in the U.S. who has completed not just a couple, but twenty-whopping-one Kona Ironman. 21! She did her first sprint triathlon at the age of 50, won her age group, and has not looked back. She has since completed over 80 triathlon races, and 21 of those 80 races is the Ironman, one of the toughest single-day races in the world today, where you race 140.6 miles by swimming, biking and running.
Every so often, I remind myself, I wanna be like Harriet Anderson when I’m in my 70s. Heck, even till I’m in my 80s, I wanna continue to be fit as a fiddle by doing triathlons.
The Ironman earns the respect of triathletes because it is an event where you race not just other people, but yourself, to train your body to generate enough power and energy to complete a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2-mile run in anything between 10-17 hours.
Because of the extremity of the sport, you can’t help but to be changed by it. The extreme discipline, dedication, determination and focus that you put into transforming yourself into an endurance machine that refuses to quit when the going gets tough - in training, in your daily life, and on race day.
I’m not the fastest, strongest or most-gifted triathlete. In all honesty, I am your average girl-next-door triathlete with average or below average race results.
But what I lack in speed and talent, I make up for with my name’s initials, AT: Attitude and Tenacity
By attitude, I mean a faith-filled, positive attitude.
And tenacity - it’s a powerful trait I hold dear. Tenacity goes beyond determination. By definition, tenacity means “persistent determination”.
Every time I cross the finish line of a race, I’m overcomed with a surging sense of gratitude for the health that I have, and this body which I’ve been blessed with to use as a vessel to channel a positive message of inspiration to the people around me through my athletic pursuits and never-say-die attitude.
So I tri, and keep tri-ing, because triathlon keeps me on the edge and makes me dream bigger every time.
Doing an Ironman is not a one-all and be-all. Doing an Ironman is part of a journey to have a higher appreciation for other things in life - for instance, enjoying the beauty of nature while I am out riding, running trails, the ability for us humans to take a leaf from nature and learn to swim efficiently like a fish, etc. Or simply to enjoy the camaraderie of fellow triathletes and endurance junkies that I train with. I've found that the heart and beauty of the Ironman is that it changes each triathlete individually, yet it binds us collectively through a uniquely shared experience.
The challenge for me personally is to keep looking for higher mountains to climb. For some their higher mountains could be to better their Ironman finish times; for me it could be a longer, further endurance race.
For now, I have my eyes set on cycling across the US from coast to coast in 28 days. A girl can dream, can’t she? ;)
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