what you need to finish an ironman

Throughout the six months I trained for my first ironman, people kept telling me about all the things I needed.

You need a power meter.
You need monthly massages.
You need to spend a weekend training at the race site.
You need a coach.

I didn’t need any of those things. As far as ironman necessities go, there aren’t that many.

You need a working bicycle.
You need running shoes.
You need goggles.
You need clothes to wear.
You need food to eat.
You need to train.
And you need support.

Perhaps support isn’t as fundamental to finishing an ironman as the first six things on that list, but it was crucial to me finishing that 140.6 mile race a year ago today. As I think about when and where I’d like to race this distance again and what it took for me to get it done the first time, there are dozens of things that helped, but the people around me when I trained and crossed the finish line made the grueling feat so much easier.

Yes, a power meter, monthly massages, a training camp, coaching and a dozen other things would probably have made it all a lot easier. Of course, those things have price tags. If you want and are in a position to secure these valuable tools, go for it. But if that’s not something you can do, don’t think you can’t race an ironman. Instead, find people who will listen when you need to talk about the doubts creeping into your mind during the long training sessions. Invest in friends who won’t get upset that you’re taking a break from happy hours or need to go to bed early on a Friday. Give the little extra time you have to relationships that energize you, not the ones that drain or disappear.

I know it’s not always that simple. And it’s not about cutting out people who don’t get it. It’s about taking the time to find and appreciate the people who believe in you so that when things get lonely — and they will — they don’t stay that way for long. Your support crew can be anything you want it to be. Your family, your partner, a tri club, books, documentaries, an online forum, a journal, friends — it doesn’t matter. If you’re lucky, you have many. But all you need is one. One person or thing that reflects your accomplishments with all the respect they deserve.

***

On a personal note, I have some things I want to share about the people who were instrumental in me finally feeling ready to register for an ironman to actually crossing the finish line on July 23, 2017.

Every friend and family member who asked me about how training was going: Thanks for putting up with my ramblings about my appetite and my one-sided conversations about how I should fit in my workouts that week. And my triathlon friends: I especially appreciated you indulging bursts of questions and nerdy conversations, whenever something popped into my head.

Every friend and family member who tracked my progress and called or texted me before and after my race: I had no idea so many of you knew or cared I was doing this thing. Thanks for taking time to let me know you were cheering for me. Especially Bob & Erin, who enthusiastically posted screenshots of me crossing the finish line to Facebook. I’m thrilled to have shared that emotional moment with you from afar.

And then there are these incredible people:

Mom and Dad drove from the Chicago ‘burbs to pick up me and Matt in Brooklyn and drive another five hours to Lake Placid. And then Erin flew in — just to get up at an ungodly hour so she could watch me triathlon till sundown. They spent a whole weekend doing whatever I needed them to do, which is so immensely generous I can’t think of a way to adequately characterize it.

And Matt. I have so much gratitude. Gushing about you here wouldn’t be enough. But suffice it to say the man did all our laundry — mountains of my smelly, sweaty things — for six months and never complained, so he’s a hero.

 

These thoughts have been with me constantly over the last year, as I’ve reflected on this monumental goal I reached. Physical feats aside, this experience left me with a treasured takeaway: Support the people you care about, in any way you can. It matters. 

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