Tomorrow is Ironman Canada. I am preparing for the day by continuing to post some lessons that I have learned along the way. You can check back tomorrow and find out how it went by looking online at www.ironmanlive.com. Or on Monday, I'll post some results and reflections.
The Ironman lore is all about sacrifice, dedication and courage. And in most people’s minds Ironman participants are looked at with both admiration and suspicion. (“You are going to do what?” they ask. “140 miles? In one day? You’re nuts!”) And indeed, there is a kind of blind leap of determination that is necessary for jumping in to one’s first triathlon. In fact, for some of us that is the defining decision: simply to try. We grab a swimsuit, a bike and some running shoes and determine to drag ourselves across the miles come hell or high water. But what is ironic is that a sport that is defined in the minds of so many by the agony etched in the face of Julie Moss stumbling across the line of Ironman Hawaii so many years ago, is really much more about the long, steady discipline of training, then the sheer determination of trying.
It’s about putting in the time, rearranging your life to put in consistent, intentional, thoughtful hours over a long period of time that allows your body to adapt and prepare, to change, to become. It’s about “respecting the race” and dedicating yourself to not just doing something, but doing it well. To make your goal not just “getting out there”, but finding out what you’ve got and giving all you have.
Training also includes a lot of learning, of practicing technique and mastering information. It’s not only about doing things harder, but also doing different things, or doing the same things better. Three years ago, when I just wanted to get into shape, I didn’t realize that there was so much to learn. I have relearned how to swim more efficiently, how to pedal a bike more effectively, and how to run so that I won’t get hurt. I have also learned what to eat and when, what to drink and how much, I have learned about heart rates and hydration, nutrition and recovery.
The same lessons are true for my spiritual life, my marriage, my parenting strategies or the ways in which I lead our church, counsel and coach my team of leaders or disciple people. It’s not enough to simply try, I have to be trained and to train others.
So here is the next lesson I learned from triathlon: Anything worth trying is worth training for. If a goal is worthy of being set, then it is worthy of the disciplined energy to slowly work toward it over a long period of time. To humbly learn what you need to accomplish the goal and to genuinely change.
Training is about both learning and doing, it’s about becoming something different so that you can accomplish something you have been so far unable to do. Dallas Willard talks about spiritual disciplines as a kind of Christian training, of spiritual formation. And focusing on training reminds us that while it is important to be dedicated, committed and willing to endure a great deal, even more important is being willing to stop doing what doesn’t work and start doing what does.
Or to put it another way: Training requires repentance. Whether it is the goal of losing weight, getting out of debt, finishing a degree, turning around a company, or being a better parent; determination, while important, will only get you so far. Trying, while admirable, is only a start. If it’s worth trying, it’s worth training.
P. S. Today is my Dad’s birthday. Growing up, Dad was very often my coach. When I was a 7 year old on the swim team, he stood next to the pool and helped me with my strokes, he learned how to play and then coach soccer because I wanted to play. And all throughout high school he was my wrestling coach (his specialty). Most of my best memories of time with my dad are with him coaching me at something. So to you who taught me to try and train my hardest, happy birthday, Dad