“They say that finishing an Ironman is a life-changing experience. I really hope that they weren’t referring to losing a pinky toe, because I’m not sure mine is going to make it through the day and that would suck.”
This is the conversation that I am having with myself as I plod through the dark and deserted streets of Panama City Beach. I am competing in my first Ironman Triathlon. It’s just after 9:00 p.m. and I have been propelling myself forward for more than fourteen hours. I am exhausted and my body is breaking down. What started out as aches and pains has evolved into a full-on civil war between my mind and my body. My mind is winning, and my body is paying the price.
I try to keep myself focused on the task at hand. I must keep moving. I must finish what I started. Today is the culmination of eighteen months of training and preparation. It’s not about an event, it’s about my life.
I am not the same person I was two years ago.
That person couldn’t run a hundred yards without being winded. That person couldn’t do a lap in the pool without stopping. That person carried around fifty-five more pounds. That person drank too much beer and ate way too much fast food. That person couldn’t keep up with his kids when they were playing.
That person couldn’t commit to this type of goal and see it through.
That person wasn’t the real ME. This is ME. This journey has proven that I am still here.
Unfortunately, none of that is any consolation to my feet, which are damaged goods. They feel as if they have been beaten with a hammer, especially my left pinky toe. Every step sends a jarring pain up my leg. And in a cruel twist of cosmic irony, it hurts more to walk than it does to run.
But when I run, I am slammed with the realization of how exhausted I am. There is just no more gas in the tank. I make a mental commitment that the next person that casually mentions that they are “exhausted” will get a full-on beat-down from me on principal alone. “You don’t know what exhausted is,” I think to myself.
Snapping out of this negative mental place, I think about my day.
I have survived a 2.4 mile swim with 2500 of my “closest” friends through a jellyfish-filled ocean. I have endured the never-ending winds on my 112 mile bike, and I have been running, walking and shuffling for just over 23 miles. “Just over 3 more miles to go,” I say to myself.
“Then you can call yourself an Ironman.”