5 Things I Learned While Training for My First Ironman

By Tia Norris, February 2018 Web Exclusive for Echo Magazine in Phoenix, AZ.

I never thought I’d do a triathlon. I never thought I’d actually pursue a strict, cardio-based fitness program. I never thought I would have the desire to swim, bike and run for 140.6 consecutive miles. But, then again, one of my taglines is, “never say never.” And so, I transformed from a muscle-bound gym rat into a lean, mean cardio machine over about 18 months – an epic adventure that culminated at Ironman Arizona this past November.

From my journey of ups, downs and everything in between, here are five things that I’ve learned about the sport and about myself along the way.

 1. Patience really is a virtue.

In a word, this is what Ironman is. It’s a GD boatload of patience. The workouts are long. The days are long. The race is long. Everything is just long. In the gym, each task might last 20 to 30 seconds and, when it gets difficult, you only have seconds left of discomfort to endure. But in Ironman training? When it starts to get difficult, you might still have 5 more hours of pain to endure before you can take a break. In short, Ironman taught me to be patient through tough workouts which, in some cases, turned into tough days. Sometimes the only way out of a situation is to just get through it the best you can, with the best attitude you can muster. The more you focus on the negative, on how much longer you have to do, the longer it will seem to take. Attitude is everything.

2. I highly recommend being a beginner at something.

Let’s face it, starting over can be a daunting task for anyone at any time. We all get comfortable in our niches and patterns, and we are largely resistant to change or vulnerability. After all, it can be mercilessly humbling to be reduced to a “beginner” after we’ve worked so hard to be good at things that are important to us. However, I do believe that it is absolutely necessary to our development to be continually exposed to new learning environments. Although I am well-established in the fitness and physique industries, it was delightfully enjoyable for me to have a coach again. It’s a critical life skill to be open to critique, and to be pushed to find new ways to improve and re-discover yourself in uncomfortable situations. Trust me, taking direction from someone new will make you a better parent, better friend, better athlete and better person.

3. Ironman dieting is way easier than bodybuilding dieting. 

The Ironman diet solely consists of eating an inordinate amount of food, of indiscriminate quality, largely from sugar and carbohydrates. It’s enough to make the jaw of a bodybuilder or a weight loss client hit the floor. Honestly, the Ironman diet was like a dream filled with pizza, burgers and soda on a more regular basis than I’ve ever had with a gym-based program. It was just pure magic. The only goal, really, with Ironman dieting is to make sure that you’re eating enough to stay out of a deficit, primarily with carbohydrates. It’s a piece of cake, literally. This was my favorite part of the program along the way.

4. Endurance sports are their own brand of difficult.

When I started Ironman training, I was just a naïve weightlifting kind of gal, who thought that Ironman was just about having enough willpower. “Well, I want it more than the average person, so that means I’ll have an edge going in, right?” WRONG. When I got into my training program, particularly on the swim, it quickly became all too clear to me just how much of a beginner I was. Every single sport on the face of the earth has it’s own intricacies, skill sets and difficulties. Do not knock anything until you try it.

5. Doing things that scare you is incredibly hard, but incredibly rewarding.

Many of my clients are shocked to learn that, I, too, am human with normal, mortal experience, including fear, doubt, and second-guessing myself. This whole Ironman journey was intimidating, to say the least. In particular, the swim, was downright terrifying for me. Long story short, I didn’t even learn to swim until I was 21 and had never been in open water until starting preparations for the race. During my first open water race, I almost quit before it even started; I was absolutely paralyzed by my worst fears and doubts in myself. The entire Ironman process was full of thoughts like, “can I do this?”and, if so, “WHY am I doing this if it sucks so much in the moment?” The bottom line is this: Some of the greatest triumphs you will ever experience in your life, stem from conquering your fears and weaknesses. It’s painful. It’s not glamorous in the moment, in fact, it’s nothing short of terrifying and it’s a hell of a lot of work. However, when you persistently and courageously face your fears, you’ll win eventually. And that’s a damn good, memorable moment.

I have grown exponentially during my Ironman journey. I’ve learned volumes about myself, about the sport and about new approaches to tough situations. If you’re thinking about doing a triathlon, an Ironman or simply looking for a new venture, I would strongly urge you to arm yourself with the courage to follow through with it. My little story here has been indescribably rewarding, and I can’t wait to continue evolving in the sport. Dream big, always challenge your limits, and write your own story. It’s never too late to write the next chapter.

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