Prelude: I blog about things that are important to me and describe my thought process including why I am the way I am because it helps me to relive or look forward towards events in my life. It’s also a great reference point for me later down the track. My full-self into published words is a medium I hope would inspire, motivate, and educate others to acquire and achieve whatever drives them. This article is about two things that have driven and continue to drive me day in and day out: Qualifying for the Boston Marathon and the pursuit of qualifying for the Ironman World Championship.
What is your Why?
Kona. Ask anyone what it means to them and you’ll get a thousand different responses. In short, Kona is a town on the Big Island of Hawaii, USA. And since 1981 has been the location of the Ironman World Championship. The Ironman triathlon consists of a 2.4mile swim, 112mile bike ride, and a 26.2mile marathon run. Back to Back to Back and all to be completed within a 17 hour cut-off. The length of the race is no different to the many other Ironmans now held throughout the world or other brands like Challenge Family and Revolution 3. But, the history, the legend, and the dramas that come out of this particular race are second to none.
My “why” for why I do what I do is knowing how truly difficult it is just to qualify and compete in the Ironman World Championship. I am seeking that reward; the personal satisfaction of accomplishment. I know what the personal emotion is like when you achieve something beyond yourself. I felt it first in Boston (April 2009) when I ran my first marathon and then again in Corning, NY (October 2009) where I officially qualified for Boston with my “BQ”. Oddly enough, the emotion I felt on those 2 separate occasions far exceeded the emotions of my first half-ironman (June 2010) or my first Ironman (June 2012). Sure an Ironman is tough, tough for anyone. Even the professionals fail from time to time. But it has never been my goal in any race just to finish. I have always sought out personal goals that exceeded just finishing, and if they weren’t achieved then the feeling that I had felt those few times before, never came. It seems that for myself, pride and fulfillment don’t come from meeting expectations, they come from surpassing them.
- I finished my first marathon in 3:38 but I wasn’t satisfied; I wanted to go sub 3:30 and I expected it.
- 2 Weeks later I set a PB by 3:26 which I was more excited about but I was just trying to make up for the Boston performance and smack it in its face.
- My 3rd marathon in 3:08 surpassed my expectations and I felt a huge wave of emotion.
Why was a 3:08 so emotional? In fact, with .2mile to go (400meters) and looking at my Garmin and seeing 3:06 and change why did I already start feeling a profound emotion from deep within? What was it about this goal?
The Boston Marathon is the oldest, most prestigious marathon in the world. It’s the only marathon in the world in which you must set tough qualifying standards (I needed a 3:10:59) back in 2009. To meet the standard known as setting a “BQ” or Boston Qualifier means that you have achieved a certain level of running success. It means that you have achieved something that not everyone of the 600,000 marathon finishers in the USA per year, have achieved. Most people won’t know these types of details but I do. And it allows me to attach a heavy weight to what a BQ would mean to me. In fact, even though the point to point race with a million people lined along the full 26.2 mile course is so special to New England that it results in a public holiday known as “Marathon Monday”, I was uneducated to the uniqueness of the event from an athlete point-of-view, even while attending school there. One example of its uniqueness is that 26,000 runners line up through 26 corrals and by the time the first runner crosses the line, as fast as 2:03, the runners in the last corral still will not have crossed the starting line.
Boston is certainly an experience and once I qualified and ran for the second time, I was truly able to take it all in. But again, my personal goal was not to qualify so I can experience all that the Boston Marathon is, but, it was to qualify because of how difficult a task it is. Sure running a marathon is unique with only .5% of the US population having run one but there was a higher level to achieve within the task of running marathons. I knew it was the BQ so I set out to achieve it and was able to do so within 5 months.
After two Olympic triathlons in my first few months as a triathlete I headed to Vermont for the half Vermont Journey. It was a 70.3 distance race. Since I covered the distance in my training, I knew I’d finish and I was too ignorant to know what a good time was. When crossing the line in 4:48 and later receiving an award for 2nd in my age group, I was happy. I was satisfied. But, I didn’t have expectations with a track to finding fulfillment of a great-personal level.
I did an official 70.3 Syracuse later that year (2010). A flat caused me to miss sub 5hours by 11seconds. I finished, I got my medal, and I was content. While I didn’t have expectations, my goal of a Personal Best (PB) did not come.
I headed to Ironman New Zealand in 2012 to compete in my first full. The event was cut to a half. I crossed the line in 4:53 with very only satisfaction; it wasn’t what I went there for.
Kona has not taken 5 months. Tomorrow will be my 8th ironman and 6th Ironman attempt in 4 years. I first viewed Kona back in the 90’s when I was a kid. I was amazed by it but moved on with my life. I had heard about it through the 2000’s from time to time but never thought much about it. The same mate who influenced me to run and Tri, educated me about Kona. As my experience in triathlon grew and my appreciation, I continued to realize the level that Kona is.
Most people who see NBC’s coverage of the Ironman World Championship have little appreciation for who is there and what it really took to get there. It was very welcoming in 2015 how the announcer made multiple statements that the bulk of the people there, EARNED their spots. Because that has what they have done. The bulk of them found their “KQ” Kona Qualifier.
What does it take to qualify? Unlike the 90’s, these days you must finish an Ironman and come within the top 1% of the field. Essentially, you must earn one of the 40 – 75 available spots in that race. Spots are given based off of starters by age group and allocated on a weighted basis. So, the largest age groups, typically the male 40-44 and 45-49 get the most amount of slots. To guarantee a spot, you must win your age group… out of upwards of 400 athletes. However, sometimes athletes don’t choose to go to Kona because the cost can easily exceed $5K – $10K. Others may have qualified at a prior race. Or, they may have gone before. Others, may just not really care.
So that’s what it takes. Being the top 3 in your age group. But, I’m racing in Australia. And Australians are without a doubt, the most competitive athletes in the world. They swim from an early age and sports are all completely ingrained in their culture. So the athletes that I am specifically competing against are some of the best in the world. But I’m still not done.
Many of the athletes that I race against have gone on to become professionals. And some were professionals from other professions such as cycling and surfing! Fiona is also facing the same depth. Many of her fellow athletes have become Professional Triathletes. These athletes are even putting up times rivaling the Professionals including finishing in the top 10,…. out of 1,500 athletes! In my last two races I finished in the mid 20’s and still was 5-15 minutes off of qualifying.
So we’re competing against the best, in easily the most competitive country, in the most competitive age groups in Triathlon.
THAT is why I do what I do. This is not easy. And accomplishing this feat will be one of the greatest moments of my life after meeting and marrying my best friend who has already done it and whom I am fighting for. And that is the perspective I want those supporting me to understand.
I want you to strongly consider what I’m suggesting here. I am speaking to personal accomplishment and the feelings and emotions one experiences with that success. And this cannot be for anyone else except yourself. It can’t be for what your son or daughters achievements or another family member or friend. It is personal.
The only person who was ever truly self-less was Jesus Christ, and he was perfect. I believe we are all selfish to a certain extent because we are far from perfect. But It’s probably ingrained in the DNA of homo-sapiens. Therefore, the feelings I’m talking about cannot be fully achieved when aligned to anyone but yourself.
Everyone’s idea of what will give them this type of feeling, will and should be unique to them fitting their own personality, traits, hopes, and desires. So if you have that vision, go do it. If you haven’t the faintest ideas of what that vision looks like, then go find it.
Qualifying for Boston was a vision and I grabbed it but it took only 5 months. I never really found those feelings again in the next 23 marathons and ultra marathons. Qualifying for Kona, however has taken 6 years of triathlon experience and nearly 4 years of Ironman racing so far. When I qualify, whether it be tomorrow, in Cairns 2016, New Zealand 2017, or any other Ironman I enter I will finally get to experience what I’ve been seeking for 20% of my life. And then, I’ll find whatever goal I believe will make me personally feel that sense of accomplishment again.
Persistence is everything. Don’t give up on your dreams.