Back in November 2011 I attended a seminar in Saigon delivered by professional development trainer Brian Tracy. At the time I was unfit and overweight, but inspired by the talk I decided to set myself a number of disciplined health, fitness and career goals. My immediate focus was on losing weight and getting into shape. After a year of gradually stepping up my exercise regime I decided to take the plunge and signed up for 10km race and then a half marathon (21km). I continued with a strict training programme and in July 2013 completed my first full marathon (42km). As the day of the marathon drew closer I began to become worried about what would happen after I’d crossed the finish line. Would I lose my motivation and drop back into old bad fitness habits like sleeping in late, not eating healthily and making excuses for avoiding training sessions? Would I be tempted by pizza, pasta and burgers as well as too many late evenings with my mates at the pub?
The answer was to think bigger – triathlons. With this in mind I bought a bike and started to take swimming lessons. At this point I didn’t know whether I would complete a marathon, let alone a race that also included swimming and cycling (I couldn’t swim crawl at the time and hadn’t been on a bike in more than 15 years!) But as life coach Bob Procter teaches, it is important to set a goal that is so big it scares you. I set my sights on the ultimate triathlon race – the IRONMAN. After getting in touch with Stephane Laporte, a triathlon coach, we developed a long-term training plan to make sure I reached my goal.
It was the start of an amazing journey. I gradually stepped up the intensity of my training and increased my speed and distances. My confidence was growing and in August 2013 I signed up for IRONMAN Sweden, a race that was to take place a year later in my hometown of Kalmar. On 16 August 2014 I completed my first full IRONMAN race – a 3.86km swim, 180km cycle ride and 42.2km run, all of which needed to be completed in less than 16 hours. I crossed the line in 12 hours 28 min.
I managed to reach this fitness goal by being focused, disciplined and having a very clear plan that allowed me to move forward one step at a time. I firmly believe that if I can do it then any healthy person can complete an IRONMAN. The problem is that many of us cannot visualise ever crossing the finish line of such an arduous race. We are unwilling to commit to the disciplined training. We find it hard to say no to dinners, or parties or the television. Completing anything takes commitment and with something like an IRONMAN one is either in or out, there is no half-way.
During the 12 months of training I was often woken by my alarm at 4.30am. It was dark outside, I was tired and it was extremely tempting to turn over and go back to sleep. It is the easiest thing in the world to come up with a reason not to do something at 4.30am. So I forced myself to think of the bigger picture – my ultimate fitness goal and crossing that finish line in Sweden. Whether I had slept just a couple of hours, or not at all, I would force myself out of bed and stick to my training plan. This “no excuses” attitude sometimes included a 35km run, even though I had arrived home at midnight after a business trip. I am proud to say that I only cancelled my training sessions on a handful of occasions. As I became fitter and healthier it became easier and easier to get out of bed. I was losing weight and gaining energy. My daily exercise regime was paying off. My natural endorphin levels were up and I was actually becoming “addicted” to my new routine.
And then it happened. On 16 August I crossed the IRONMAN finish line. I had completed my ultimate fitness goal. But what now? I had been focusing so hard on completing the race in the 12 months leading up to it that I’d forgotten to think about what life would be like afterwards. Although I had signed up to other marathons and triathlons my motivation had left me. I felt empty. The month after IRONMAN Sweden was a real struggle. I began to cancel training sessions and eventually gave up completely. I had post-race depression; something I have since found out is commonly referred to as “IRONMAN blues”. Although I have managed to pull myself together and get some of my training motivation back, it is not the same as before. I simply feel there is no point; after all I’ve already achieved my ultimate fitness goal.
The finish line in Kalmar was a stopping point. But I’d worked so hard to get there. Such a huge and inspiring goal gave me the motivation to push myself through all that training, healthy eating, early morning runs and the race itself. Even though crossing the finish line was an amazing experience, and well worth it, Kalmar was like a brick wall. I now have to climb over it and start all over again, and starting over seems harder than ever starting in the first place. It has been said that achieving success can cause people to stop moving forward, like writers or musicians who fail to deliver that second novel, or second album, after the huge success of the first. We reach a feeling of completion, and that is bad news for creativity and maintaining discipline, or in my case keeping fit.
I now have to push myself much harder to get out of bed. I have cancelled more training sessions over the past five weeks than I ever did during the 12 months I was training for the IRONMAN. I consider those five weeks a personal failure despite achieving a personal best in the Bali half marathon on 14 September.
I have decided that I need to stop thinking about crossing the finish line in Kalmar and the training I put in during the months before the race. I need to set new goals and find fresh and exciting new targets. As my friend Doug Anderson reminds me: “A person is defined by how well he rises after he falls.” I am already registered for the Jakarta marathon on 26 October as well as the Phuket Half Ironman on 30 November and three full distance Ironman races in 2015.
I am also determined to explore bigger goals such as 100km ultra-marathons and more challenging Ironman races. Although I am still concerned about how I will feel once I complete these more difficult races, I have decided to focus on improving my times in the races I have already run. I am aware that I need to find new ways to motivate myself. Perhaps I will concentrate on health, strength and stamina rather than focusing on my time at the finish line. But one thing is certain, I need to get back into training and stop making excuses!