Never Give Up?

irondad_icon_smallIn my last post, I mentioned that the biggest challenge of never giving up may be to grok what it means to never give up in the first place. As if on cue, my journey as Irondad took a turn that offers up an excellent case-in-point.

It started with my first marathon. I felt pretty good immediately afterward. Finishing in under 4 hours, I did what I had come to San Diego to do. After the adrenaline started wearing off, however, I noticed the outside of my left knee hurt. And when I put weight on my leg, it would occasionally fold as if it couldn’t hold my weight. By the time I got to the airport, I was hobbling so slowly that my friend had to push me through the terminal in a wheelchair to make our flight.

The next day- a Monday- I felt good enough to go in to work, albeit on crutches. The day after that I felt even better; I dispensed with the crutches and got about with a slight limp. And on Wednesday I decided I could run through the limp to do my regular track workout.

But after a few weeks, I noticed that my legs never really felt fresh anymore. Frustratingly, all my times were off by at least 30 sec/mile on my runs, and I felt like I just couldn’t keep up at the track. I asked some more experienced friends and coaches about it, and the first question they all asked me was how much time I took off after the marathon.

So here’s the first takeaway from this post: apparently you’re supposed to take it easy after a big effort like a marathon. Maybe a few short jogs in the first week; certainly no intense interval workouts or running up and down ski slopes at Tough Mudder Tahoe the weekend after. I really screwed the pooch on this one.

In other words, my approach to preparing for the rigors of an IRONMAN was no longer working, and it wasn’t working because I was pushing too hard. Now I had to do something that isn’t easy for me- I had to ask for help. I didn’t want to admit it to myself- much less anyone else- but my 43-year-old body couldn’t keep up with my sky-high expectations for each and every training sess.

First order of business was to see what damage I had done and fix it. I went to see a doctor who specializes in sports medicine. After taking my vital signs and listening to what happened and how I was feeling, he suggested I was in the early stages of overtraining and that a little physical therapy and easing off the training for a couple of weeks should do the trick. Pretty good news, all told.

But how do I continue to make progress without overtaxing my body? I knew I had made a rookie mistake; to decisively put Cozumel in the bank, I’d have to borrow or buy someone else’s expertise. So I hit up three of the most renowned triathlon coaches in the Bay Area. And then I waited.

And waited. And after a week of radio silence, I came to the conclusion that not only were these coaches uninterested in taking me as an athlete, but that no coach would ever consider having any part in a story that is so raw and personal. It was a momentary crisis of faith that a friend- the same friend who wheeled me through the San Diego airport- helped me understand was inevitable in a journey that means so much to me. Fact is, I could do this with or without a coach, and her confidence that I had the determination to get it done either way made it so much easier to believe in myself. Second takeaway from this post: friends like this are few and far between, and you should keep them close and hold them dear.

As it turns out, a few days later my top choice for coach replied with some questions for me. After a day of volleying emails back and forth, I convinced him to take me. And, with that climactic exchange, my chances of finishing Cozumel went dramatically up- as did my training volume. This time- and with this coach’s guidance- it has been ratcheted up in a way that leaves me feeling fresh for the next long workout.

What this tl;dr post boils down to is that Never Give Up does not mean Never Let Go. In fact, letting go is an important part of never giving up. If you’ve chosen a worthy goal, you can and should turn your back to checkpoints that initially looked like they would keep you on track, yet have proven to lie on a dead end as you get a closer look at them. It is an exercise in course correction that will keep you from driving off the cliff as you travel toward that final destination. Put another way, the destination may look a lot like what you expected when you set out, but the journey is likely to constantly surprise you. That’s what keeps it interesting, after all.

I realize that the let-go sounds like some sort of washed-up spiritual claptrap. That’s because it is. But I’ll save it for the next post; right now I’ve got a long workout to put in and only 6 hours of sunlight left.


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