Ironman Lessons – For Everyone

Most of what follows was written immediately after I completed my first Ironman this year.  I participated in the inaugural Mont-Tremblant event.  For those not familiar, the distances for this triathlon are 4k swim, 180k bike, 42k run.

Managing my businesses, my family commitments and Ironman training was challenging, and required an extremely patient and supportive wife.  As it turns out, I was only able to make time for the bare minimum amount of training, but crossed the Ironman finish line in 14 hours and 4 minutes on race day.  The race itself wasn’t the hard part, but rather the journey to the start line.

Here’s what I learned on my road to Ironman that I think applies directly to business and personal life. Most of the lessons that follow can apply to your next career step, or personal goal of your own.

  • Find quality thinking time.  It takes a lot of time thinking to actually think things through. Decisions take even longer.  Having time set aside for quality thinking isn’t just valuable, it’s required.  You may not need to put in an 8 hour training day, but carving out a bit of quiet time will pay dividends and help make well thought decisions.
  • Pick the destination.  Plan the route. Few people can focus and achieve a large goal that’s really far in the future.  This doesn’t have to be something as crazy as Ironman, it can be any life or career goal that is important to you.  While that large goal in the future is critical to set, what’s important is regular, difficult but achievable goals along the journey.  Even these interim goals can break into smaller, manageable chunks.  Another cliché way to say this, pick the final destination but plan some stops on the way.  They provide something more near term to focus on and a sense of achievement and forward momentum.
  • Avoid junk miles. Recovery is just as important as the hard work. Some combination of guilt and sense of duty keeps you going; this is known as junk miles.  Time off to let the mind and body recover is the only way to ensure the working time is productive time.  The harder the effort, the longer the recovery required.  This is akin to making sure the work week has highly productive hours, not just a large volume of hours.
  • Everyone needs a team. Despite Ironman being a very solo sport (not even drafting is allowed), it isn’t possible without a strong team.  I had my wife and family, my coach, my coworkers.  If I relate this to the work we do at CMS, we often send a solo senior consultant out to a project.  But they are never truly solo.  They have the support of management, and the support of the rest of the consulting team to draw knowledge and motivation from.
  • Draw from experience. Talk to others with the same goal, or better yet those who have already accomplished it.  They can be a great source of information.  Remember though, every person and every situation is different.  What worked for one person (or business, etc) may not work for you.
  • Use metrics to plan. Test and experiment to figure out what works and calculate the values for limits and thresholds. With this knowledge build a plan and stick to it.  Tactically it’s extremely tempting to rationalize a change in plan, but you will always pay for it later.
  • Keep moving forward.  When you’re just too tired, demoralized or generally overwhelmed, you must focus on, and find something to enjoy in that very moment.  When that doesn’t work, HTFU (harden the f-up). The end goal is what’s really important, and if it was easy, it wouldn’t have any value.

To quote the Ironman mantra: “Anything is possible”.

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