Wednesday, February 22, 2012

"Because I Can"

Ironman, “Because I Can”

When I tell people I am doing an Ironman, most people ask two questions “How far is that?”, and “Why would you want to do that?”  The answer to the first questions is that the Ironman consist of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and a marathon (26.2 mile run).  A competitor has 17 hours to complete the 140.6 miles distance.   As for the second question, I would always give the same answer when training for my first IM “Because I can.”  This was my mantra, because you see, completing in an IM was a goal of mine ever since I watched my first IM race in back in the late 90’s.  I remember watching in amazement, as everyday people push their bodies to the limit of exhaustion and beyond in order to finish a race that many would never even attempt.  I have always prided myself on being able to push myself further than anyone else, so this race was right up my alley. 

 So around 1997, I decided that I would complete an IM, just to prove I could.  However, back then, I had much loftier goals to accomplish.  Before I could do any IM  racing, I was going to win a gold medal in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, then a second gold in 2004 Athens Olympics, and maybe a third in 2008 Beijing Olympics.  And maybe once my pro running career was over, I would complete the IM.  So I made a promise that by the time I turn 30, I would have an IM under my belt.

 Well 2000 went by, and instead of training hard for that gold in the Olympics, I partied hard and won many beer chugging contest.  2004 came and instead of winning my second gold in Athens, I watched on the sidelines while guys that I had once raced against (and beat on occasion) lived out their Olympic dreams in front of my eyes.  And as 2008 came and went, I watched the Olympics from my couch, with my expanding waist line began to limit my ability to even run.  That is when I took a hard look at myself.  I still thought of myself as that high school kid that could go out on the track on any given day, without any practicing, and out run anyone. In reality, I was now a 28 year old man, with a body containing 35% fat, and who had trouble just running a mile. I needed to change.

 I started working out the best way I knew how, I ran.  It didn’t take long for me to find my love for running again. As the miles clicked away, so did pounds.  In fact life itself got better.  I was blessed with a wonderful daughter, received a job with a fantastic company that paid me well, and in 2010, I got married to the love of my life.  Life was good. 

 After the wedding, we planned the most amazing honeymoon, a cruise through Mediterranean.  It was a trip of a lifetime, Rome, Greece, Turkey, Rhodes, Egypt, and Sicily.  I had always wanted to see Athens, the birthplace of the Olympics games. My goal was to see Athens in 2004 while winning my Olympic goal medal, but I guess this was the next best thing.  As the bus pulled up to the gates of the first Modern Olympic Games, I thought back to all those dream I had once had.  Once off the bus, I walked over to the Olympic rings, and there, while standing in the shadow of the Olympic symbol and though about what might have been. 

I realized my dreams to compete in the Olympics were all but dust wind now.  It was a crushing realization. And for moments I stood there, deflated and demoralized.  But then something else happened.  My wife hugged me.  It sounds like a little thing, a simple hug, but it was enough to warm my heart.  Suddenly a thought sparked in my head.  I love my life.  And I wondered, if I had lived those Olympic dreams, would I still be as happy as I was right now?  I don’t know, and without a time machine, I will never know.  So that day I decided to forget about the “what could have been” in life, and started live for the now.

 Once back from our trip, I couldn’t help but feel there was a void in my life.  I had lived the Olympic dream as long as I could remember.  To be honest, I felt a little empty inside. However, it didn’t take long for life to fill that void.  One Saturday after noon, shortly after we had returned from our honeymoon, the Ironman World Championship aired on TV.  And once again I awed at everyday people, driving themselves to the point of exhaustion and beyond to finish a race that most people would never attempt.   And as I watch, I was reminded that I was supposed to be an Ironman by the age of 30.  I guess that was one more dream I would never accomplish. Or was it?  So what if I couldn’t complete the IM by the age of 30?  I wasn’t dead yet.  Why couldn’t I do it when I was 31? I would only be off by a year on this dream.  So after a discussion with my wife where the word “crazy” was brought up more than once, she agreed to my proposal.

 Now, there was no real thought process for picking Ironman St. George. I figured all Ironman races where going to be a like, long and hard.  My reasons for picking IM St. George were very simplistic. First, it was the first IM in the U.S. that year, and already being a year behind on this dream, I didn’t want to waste any more time.  Secondly, it was within driving distance of Colorado, so I wouldn’t have to ship all my gear there (which gets pretty pricy).   That’s all I need to know, and I signed up without another thought. 

 Once the trill of signing up for the IM St George on May 7, 2011, was over, I began to do a little research. By chance or fate, I had signed up the hardest IM out there. Well so be it, all I knew was that I was going to finish this dream.  If it had to be on the hardest IM course, then it was going to be on the hardest IM course.  I was going to finish it “Because I can”. It was an easy phrase, straight and to the point. No more excuses. It would be my self defining mantra.  “Because I can” was all I needed to know in order to keep going on those long training rides up Deer Creek, or endurance runs lasting 2 plus hours, or cold January morning in the pool.  “Because I can” drove me to train harder than I ever thought I could ever go.  “Because I can” limited any excuses I could ever think of to stop before my workouts were over. 

 Then one day, after one of the longest training days of the year, a coworker saw me limping through the halls at work.  He asked if I was ok, I told him I was fine, just training for the IM.  Then the question that everyone always asks came, “Why would you want to do that?” My responds came without thinking, for it was the same answer I had given to myself a thousand times during training.  A mere “Because I can” was all I said as I limped away.

 On May 7 2011, at 7 am, I entered the 54 degree water of Sand Hollow, and by 10:15 pm, I heard the words that every person who enters the IM wants to hear “Erik Williams, You are an IRONMAN”.  I was one of the proudest moments of my life. 

I said after the IM St George, it would be at least 10 years before I would try anything that crazy again. However, things change.  After I finished the IM, I had friends and family come up to me and tell me how inspired they were by my accomplishment. They said that seeing me train and complete the IM had motivated them to achieving their athletic goals.  Some people just wanted to lose weight, others had the goal of running their first 5k or try a triathlon themselves.  My accomplishment was the spark that many people needed in order to get their personal goals started.  It was an unexpected but delightful consequence of doing the IM. 

 Since then, some people have accomplished their goals, some are still working on them, and others have once again abandoned them.  I have also gone back on my word of waiting 10 years until my next IM (much to the anguish of my wife).  On August 11, 2012, I will compete in the NY/NJ IM.  I originally signed up for this IM to help my sister accomplish her IM dreams.  Also it seemed like a good reason to get to NY city, a city my wife has always wanted to take me to. So about 5 weeks ago I started training.

 Now when you are training for the IM, you have a lot of time to think, and think, and think. Recently, I was thinking about my wife’s blog (she is training for a sprint tri), I thought, maybe I should write a blog about my IM training.  If my last race inspired people, maybe I could inspire more people this time around by writing a blog.  It would also give me even more motivation to train knowing that there are people out there who I can inspire by just doing something I was already going to do anyway.

 Thus the reason for this blog, I want to inspire people to accomplish something they thought they would never be able to do.  I want to kick start a group of people that gets out there and accomplishes their goals, solely on the bases of “Because you can.” It could be anything, and you can share them with me and other on this blog, or keep them to yourself.  Just make sure you write it down and look at it every day.

 My promise to you is that I will write this blog about once a week to let you know how hard I am working, try to inspire you, but most of all, let you know that you are not alone.  Anything is possible and I will prove it to you in the following weeks.  So that leads into my motto for this IM “to inspire and be inspired”. 

 Thus, let me write down my goal for my second IM.
I will complete the IM NY/NJ in less than 10 hours (my first one was 15:15, so this is a lofty goal)

There I said it, hold me to it.  I also promise these will be a lot shorter in the future.  If you made it this far in the blog, I want to thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed it. Also I look forward to hearing your goals and accomplishments. Please inspire me J