Should I do an Ironman?

I remember almost every step of the last few miles: I was going to throw up, I stopped, I started, I stopped again, I sat down, I cried, I picked myself up, I stopped once more…

I just took part in my first Ironman. I also think it was my last. A few people have asked for my thoughts on whether they should sign up for one and so in the hazy aftermath, here are my views, in a kind of reverse order of priority:

What are you willing to do?

There are many facets to a multisport endurance race. One or more will be your kryptonite. You’ll have to spend a lot of time with your kryptonite. Can you immerse yourself in the things you enjoy least?

How do you feel going to bed at 8pm, waking at 5am, jumping into a lake with what feels like thousands of spawning salmon, riding for hours on a saddle narrower than your hand, eating nothing but sweet flavoured food for hours end…?

How much money do you have?

Sh*t’s expensive. The race, the hotel for the race, getting to the race, all these same costs for a practice race, physical therapy, energy bars, energy gels, energy drinks, clothing, wet suit, bike, bike equipment, bike spares, bike trainer, computer, a bike ‘fit’. BOY do you need a bike fit!

Without a good bike fit, you risk sore shoulders, back pain, hip trouble, knee pain, or trashing your legs before you even begin the 26 mile (42 km) run. The correct saddle choice is part of that process, unless you’re happy to risk losing feeling in your penis. (If you’re a lady demi-god Ironman-in-waiting and can’t feel your penis anyway, then don’t worry because you’ve almost certainly got bigger balls than most.) And did I say sh*t’s expensive!

How much time do you have?

If you add the time spent doing the workouts, getting to the workouts, stretching, going to massage, research, recording your workouts, bike maintenance, shopping for more stuff… I conservatively estimated that I was spending over 35 hours a week, on top of my wage earning job.

How bloody minded are you?

I guess another way of phrasing this is to ask how you handle adversity. That adversity may come during training, perhaps if injury comes to you and suddenly your training plans are upended. It might arrive during the race itself, when successive mechanical issues on your bike prevent you from getting into any rhythm. Sometimes you need to battle, sometimes you need to roll with it, and sometimes you need to do both… at the same time.

What are you willing to give up?

Even more important than what you’re willing to do to succeed is what you’re willing to give up. Training is a job and there will be time for nothing else. Do you have a family, a demanding job, an active social network, a love of sleep, a love of sex? It will be impossible to give the time you want to everything in your life as it is at the moment. You’ll also be exhausted. (Hey! Maybe you can save time on that bike fit since you won’t need your penis anyway.) Everything will need to be compromised at some point.

What do your friends and family need to give up on your behalf?

You might be a type ‘A’ endorphin junkie but did your life partner / other life partner / kids / pet platypus sign up with you? You won’t be with them when you want to be…or when THEY want you to be. You’ll be out riding, or running, or swimming, or getting a massage, or… (See section on “sh*t’s expensive!” for a wider list. )

Do NOT do an Ironman to:

  • … lose weight.

You’re not “in it to thin it”. In fact you’ll be consuming so much in sugars that your dental bills may even go through the roof. 

  • … FOMO (or “Fear of Missing Out”).

Has Tetris not taught you that if you try to fit in you’ll disappear? You will race to the beat of your own drum, and you need to take on this challenge on the same basis. 

  • … a drunken dare.

I have no words.


The above sets out the logical approach but if we always applied logic in life, we’d miss out on the glory that is children, a big wedding, acquiring a taste for wine or beer. And how many achievements of significance are undertaken because they are logical, or easy?

Logic isn’t enough. Sometimes it’s just something you need to do although you need to be able to articulate that reason to yourself. Make sure it’s a burning fire, bright enough to both guide and sustain you through the dark times of training, and the dark times of the race.

When I signed up, 11 months before the day of the race, I didn’t truly appreciate how much I’d have to invest. (I don’t think you can truly understand until you’ve done it.)  I didn’t realize the toll it would take on those closest to me. And if I’m being honest, I signed up with too much naivety and with too much social emphasis; my friends were doing it. But I loved my experience.

I cry when I think back on it. I found more in myself than I knew I had. I finished with such humility after what I went through, and drew so much from the inspiration I saw around me. I found myself experiencing such unbridled love for everyone and everything – for DAYS afterwards – that I want that feeling again, with everything I have. But it’s not just my decision now. There are other things I want to do in life. I don’t regret one moment of the whole 6 month experience of training, and then racing. Everyone should have such a gruelling experience, such a sublime experience, and feel those same emotions.


Gaze Softly

It was my first long run after the marathon, which had taken place two weeks before. It was also my first run after attending my inaugural improv class at Chicago’s Second City.  In that class we were gazing softly on the world during one exercise, and homework was to do more of the same, to exercise what is, at least for me, a weak muscle. 

It was a lovely way to run. Seeing the perpendicular buttressing of porch roofs, the straight lines juxtaposed with the spiral motifs that decorated them on the houses along Eugenie. Feeling concrete give way to compact earth, and then the soft grass under my feet. My shirt pulled a little more tightly across my right scapula, and made that part of my body more sensitive to the warmth of the sun when I emerged from the trees onto an exposed part of the track. 

The cool breeze on my left ear tickled as I took in the shouts from flag football on that side, contrasting with the swoosh of traffic on my right. And all the while the hard but forgiving plastic of my watch strap was bouncing gently over the bones of my wrist. 

I took in shapes, sensations, smells, sounds, patterns, colours, and all as I continued to gaze softly.

I found patterns in the way my heart, breath, and cadence played off of one another. I watched others, how they ran, their symmetry, noting how heavily and noisily they moved.

The run passed in no time. I found a different way to experience a route I’ve run many many times before. Nothing in life is boring if we find the right way to enjoy it, by gazing softly. 

As Abraham Lincoln once said…

Winston Churchill once said, “if you’re going through hell, keep going”. Except that he didn’t say that at all. He also didn’t say the more amusing alternative, “if you’re going though hell, don’t stop to take pictures.”

I also like the quote:

“Watch your thoughts; they become words.

Watch your words; they become deeds.

Watch your deeds; they become habits.

Watch your habits; they become character.”

This wasn’t said by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Gandhi, or Margaret Thatcher, although a variation on the quote can be attributed to Buddha.

Does the source of our favorite quotes matter? Is the inspiration you get from them the same? Certainly you’re more likely to share those that were once said by someone you respect, whether that be an author or a sporting coach.

And as the quotes evolve, they become more pithy, more catchy, and the words become better framed for the time. Afterall, who today would share the thoughts, words, deeds quote if it had been written:  “as a newspaper in the Colchester town of England once wrote, in 1856, ‘Whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap. You sow an act, you reap a habit…'” ?

I like cool words when they are elegantly hung together. So maybe it doesn’t matter whether they were said by the Dalai Lama, or an obscure 17th century shopkeeper. But the ease with which misinformation spreads across social media makes it more dangerous. We’re lazy. We believe what we want to believe. We also believe what we fear to be true. (Wizards First Rule.) Hilary Clinton did NOT actually say X. Donald Trump did NOT actually do Y. Maybe they DID say say or do variations on these themes, but those subtleties are important to understand. However, many of us have made our minds up, and facts can get in the way. Or we might value facts, but it takes time – and it can be hard – to verify whether the news we’re reading is correct; we rely on editors to check for us, where they even exist.

It seems we need to take this upon ourselves. It seems we need to become less lazy. And it seems “the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.” Thomas Jefferson didn’t say that. But Abraham Lincoln did once say, “you can’t believe everything you read on the internet”. (I just wish I knew who once said Abraham Lincoln once said that.)

Red Minis EVERYwhere!

When you buy a red mini, suddenly there are hundreds of red minis on the road. My red mini of the moment is writing like a child in the work place.

First I’m hearing about Donald Trump’s style of communication in a podcast interview with Ken Blanchard (who co-wrote ‘The One Minute Manager’). Like him or loathe him, Donald Trump’s basic style is effective. (What does he want? To make America great again! How is he going to do it? By building a wall!) What I hadn’t realized, is that Ken Blanchard wrote the One Minute Manager with Spencer Johnson, who was a writer of children’s stories.

Last week I came across a blog post from within the Bank of England, which said we should be taking our lead from ‘The Cat in the Hat‘, by Dr Seuss. In his blog post, Jonathan Fullwood asks that speeches and publications in the world of Finance be easier to understand. The BBC illustrated this point with an extract from a speech by the Governor of the Bank of England.

Governor of the Bank of England version:

“People have come more cautious about their futures, and more averse to making irreversible decisions that may be exposed to some form of future ‘disaster risk’. Put another way, there may be an affect heuristic at work. To define that, put simply, this is when long after the original trigger has become a remote, perceptions endure and become embedded in economic narratives whose salience affects risk appetite and economic behaviour.”

(Extract from Uncertainty, the economy and policy. 30 June 2016)

Cat in the Hat style interpretation:

“No one knows what will happen, so they’re all scared. And that means they don’t spend any money, even when the scary thing has gone away.”

(Thanks to the BBC for their proposal that this is how Dr Seuss might have conveyed the same message.)

If my own communication is to improve, I need to overcome my predilection for verbose confabulation. I like long words because I think they sound smart. But it’s not very smart to be misunderstood.