Twelve months ago, I decided to challenge myself to a second Ironman competition. The road to an Ironman is long and demanding. In order to commit to a rigorous training schedule of 12+ hours a week for 26 weeks, I needed a new source of inspiration. Around the time that I decided to sign up for Ironman Cozumel, New York City was recovering from Hurricane Sandy. Neighborhoods including Breezy Point and the Rockaways were some of the most impacted and devastated areas of NYC. Hospitals surrounding the Rockaways closed, leaving entire communities without any real healthcare options.
To raise awareness and funds to help the Rockaways, we entered a partnership with Doctors of the Word USA, a relief group that provides emergency and long-term medical care to vulnerable populations. Through the partnership, we created TheLadders’ Team Doctors of the World USA and committed to competing in the New York City Triathlon and the Ironman Cozumel.
In September, fellow Ironman and motivational speaker Matt Long gave the keynote speech at our Job Mobile Summit. His main message was that dreams need to become goals, and in order for us to achieve our goals, we need to come up with a plan, commit to that plan, and make the necessary sacrifices to execute that plan. Click here to watch a video of Matt at TEDx.
Here is how I put Matt’s advice to work for me.
My goals were to:
- Complete the NYC triathlon
- Complete the Ford Ironman in Cozumel in less than 12:12:21(my time for the Ironman U.S. Championship in 2012)
- Raise more than $10,000 for Doctors of the World USA
Plan: train for 6 months for a weekly average of 12 hours per week.
Commitment: over the last 6 months, my Garmin watch showed that I swam 130,000 yards, biked 4,000 miles, and ran 600 miles. Additionally, I raised more than $12k from approximately 100 donors.
Sacrifice: in 6 months, I spent more than 300 hours away from my family and friends
The main challenge with any plan is that, even if follow the steps precisely, there is no guarantee that you will achieve your goal. There is only one guarantee: something will go wrong. In my case, 2 weeks before Ironman Cozumel, I developed Tendonitis in my left knee. The tendonitis was severe enough that I was unable to run more than 1 mile without having to stop because of shooting pains below my knee cap. The only medical cure for such injury is rest and anti-inflammatory pills. This was a major hurdle in my plan. Until race day, I was not sure if I could complete the race or simply be forced to walk the entire marathon putting me on a 14 to 15 hours Ironman track rather than my goal/dream of 12 hours.
On race day, I completed the first 2 portions of the race in 7 hours without experiencing too much discomfort. The moment of truth, however, would come during the marathon. For the first 5 miles, I managed to control the pain and resisted the temptation of walking but I later succumbed. The shooting pain in my left knee became so strong that I was forced to walk part of the remaining 21 miles.
My pace rapidly deteriorated and by the second half of the marathon, I was averaging between 12 and 14 minutes per mile. By mile 22, at the last turnaround point, I was allowed to access my special needs bag for the last time. At that moment, my pace predicted a finish time between 12 hours, 20 minutes, and 12 hours, 30 minutes. I stopped on the side of the road for the last time to rub my knee with Tiger Balm and drink the last can of Red Bull. As I resumed on the course, something unexpected happened. A switched flipped on in my head. An inner voice was saying, “GO Alex!” and it felt like I was being shot out of canon!
I suddenly picked up the pace – see the chart below:
I ran every subsequent mile faster than the previous one. The adrenaline started pumping through my veins and it neutralized the pain in my left knee. I moved into the left lane and passed every runner on the course. Everyone looked at me and started asking, “Who the hell is this guy? Where did he come from?” I ran the last 4.2 miles in 39 minutes, leading to an overall finish time of 12 hours and 3mins – improving my last PR by 9 minutes.
What triggered me to run so fast in the last 4 miles? What I came to realize was that in the end, it was not until my goal was in real jeopardy that I was able to reach deep down to generate a last-minute burst of energy to reach my goal.
In Dr. Tim Noakes’ book, The Lore of Running, he talks about training the mind. Without having control of your mind, you cannot achieve your goal, especially when things get tough. So the question, is, what will you do when things don’t go your way? Can you flip the switch in your brain, or will you succumb to the excuses and let your dream dry up like a raisin in the sun?
Alex Douzet is CEO and Co-Founder of TheLadders, and a two-time Ironman champion.