It’s your journey: what Ironman has taught me about racing, business and life

By Joe Terry, Corporate Visions President and CEO

Ironman Triathlon:  2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, marathon (26.2 mile run) – in that order, with no breaks.

Kona:  The Ironman World Championships, the original, preeminent Ironman (the one you’ve seen on TV since the 1970s).

The Grand Plan

The Ironman Florida, Nov. 2, 2012 – Sixteen weeks of Ironman-specific training, many races, and months of base training before that. The training is complete; I have done the necessary work and am going into the race in the best shape of my life. My goal is to beat my 2011 Florida time of 11:07, second goal is sub 11:00, and then, if things are going my way, I’m hoping for 10:45. My race plan is 1:10 swim, 5:15 bike and 4:00 marathon. I am part of the Ironman Executive Challenge; one Kona spot is up for grabs in my age group. There are two other guys that have been faster than me, so my goal is to just do my race plan and not worry about Kona.

Prerace Jitters

My wife and fellow Ironman, Katie, and I arrive two days before the race to settle in.  The day before race day, I do a short swim, a 30 minute bike and then a 10 minute run. It feels a little funny – legs are a little tired, doubts start creeping into my head. Why are my legs tired? Did I do enough training? How am I going to do 140.6 miles? This is nuts! I stop myself, take a deep breath, think about my plan and my race, and tell myself it will all work out. I am more nervous about this race than any other I’ve done. Your first Ironman you have no real expectations except to finish. Your second one you want to beat your time, which I did by one hour and two minutes. The third has real expectations and that starts messing with my head.

That night I am tossing and turning all night long. I get up at 2:30 a.m., make some oatmeal, get Katie up and do the same for her. We go back to bed. At 5 a.m. we wake up, have breakfast, get our supplies together and head down to transition. After prerace prep, we get into our wetsuits at 6:25 a.m. and join the Executive Challenge crew at the VIP tent. Pros go off at 6:50, national anthem follows that, I do a little warm up swim. I am nervous as hell. The ocean is rough and 2,800 athletes are now crowding the beach all eyeing the first turn buoy.


The cannon goes off at 7 a.m. – BOOM – mayhem.  I tell myself to stay calm, stay wide right, nice and easy, it’s a long day. I make it to the first turn in pretty good shape, seas are rough but I am wide enough not to hit too much traffic. I make the next left turn around the buoy and start back to the beach, I hug the inside line, staying out of the mess to my right. Again, nice and easy. I am drinking a lot of sea water because of the waves, and all of the sudden both my hamstrings lock up. What is that? Stay calm; it will go away, just nerves. I get to the beach, 1.2 miles down, now for lap two. I drink some water and start lap two. Fewer people in the way now. Rough seas still. This time I stay tight to the left side, nice and easy, no problems, hit both buoy turns, head back to the beach. A 1:15 swim time, two minutes slower than last year, damn. It’s ok; it’s a long day, no worries. Get through transition, onto the bike.

Battle on the Bike

The bike can make your day or blow it up – anything can happen on the bike: wind, flat, nutrition, heat, other riders, etc.  My race plan: hold 21.5 mph at about 90 rpms and finish in 5:15. I start out nice and easy, 20 mph along the coast, a little cross wind, settle in and the miles are ticking off. Head north and start taking in food and salt. I feel my hamstrings, but keep them calmed down. I start playing games in my head; just starting the Wine Country Century, have three loops to Del Valle and back, anything to break it up. I get a couple zingers in my hamstrings but work through it. Now doing 22/23 mph and about 90 rpms, trying to just spin. There are packs of riders everywhere, people drafting and getting put in penalty tents. Though it takes a lot of energy to pass them, I stay clear of the packs; I don’t want to risk a drafting penalty. I get to the turnaround, perfect, right on pace for 5:15. I think, I only have 56 miles left, it’s only the Big Kahuna ride. On my way back, it is now about 87⁰ and heating up, but my energy is good, I keep spinning, keep eating, keep drinking. It’s hard to eat but I keep forcing myself knowing I’ve got a marathon after this 112 mile beast.

The headwind is starting to pick up. I keep spinning, mph drop a little. I hit mile 80 and now I just want off this bike! I pass a guy with one leg; it took me 2.4 miles in the ocean and 90 miles on the bike before I pass him, amazing! When I hit mile 90 I’m heading back toward the beach with the wind in my face. People are blowing up right and left. I pass a gal who is crying. You can’t think about it, it messes with your head, this is your race not theirs. Keep going, stick to your plan. At mile 100 I cross the bridge and start a short, slow climb. I dial it back to pace myself; my hamstring locks up just as I get to the top of the climb. It will calm down, it will be ok, keep going.  Excruciating pain, don’t stop – it finally goes away. Last 12 miles, just take it nice and easy. I come in on the bike at 5:18, ok, not bad, three minutes off plan.  I transition and head out for the run.

The Final Challenge

My watch says 1:47 p.m.; we started at 7 a.m. and I know I need to come in by 5:45 p.m. to finish in 10:45. Wow, I am right there, I get a little emotional. I tell myself to keep it together, there’s a long way to go yet. This is when the race actually starts. My plan is a four-hour marathon. I start out nice and easy, there are big crowds early in the marathon and that can give you false energy that you’ll need later. I don’t get caught up in it and stay the plan. I settle in on the first couple of miles, no feeling of cramps.  I keep taking in salt, Accel Gels and water. I am tired, my legs are tired, but in an Ironman, you are ALWAYS tired. There is that guy with one leg again. I am amazed, look at that guy. I see Katie, she yells, “I love you!” I try to say it back as we pass in opposite directions. It’s getting hotter. Again I start to play games with myself, every mile is hurting. Just get to the next aid station, just get to the turnaround at mile 6.5. I am at about mile five when I see Steve, another Executive Challenge competitor, going the other way, about two and a half miles ahead of me. Man he is way ahead of me! I tell myself no worries, this is your race, stick to your plan.

I get to the first turnaround at mile 6.5 feeling ok, now another 6.6 miles and I am half way. I am not enjoying this; I am trying to go deep into my head thinking about my family, friends, co-workers, our company, looking for gratitude to help me through this. I tell myself, “I am never doing this again, this sucks!” Just then I come out of it, feeling good again at mile 10, but am aware that there will be a few more downs that I’m going to need to work through. Now people are blowing up all over the place, it’s 85⁰ and hot. I pass a guy who throws up in his mouth and tries to swallow it. Just the sound makes me want to gag. People on the side of the race course are puking, laying down – you see it all. Again, I don’t let it mess with my head. It’s too easy to let it creep in… “see it’s hard, look at these people, it’s ok to stop for a little bit.” I get to mile 12 and I see Steve again coming the other way.  He is walking. I think, “wow, I can catch him.” I get to mile 13.1, load up on more salt and Accel Gels and head back for the last lap. I catch Steve at about mile 14 or 15 and think to myself “Kona is right in my hands,” and I start to get emotional. Then I remind myself to stick with my plan – this is an Ironman, ANYTHING can happen.

Bringing it Home

I now go to a different strategy to keep my pace. I walk the aide station and take in lots of water, then run a good brisk pace to the next aide station. I do this the rest of the way and it saves my bacon. I get to mile 20. Ok, only a 10K left; I can do that in my sleep. Mile 21 I hit another down cycle. I think “Joe, you knew this was coming, you can get through it, take it easy, and keep going.” Mile 22, ok only four more. I hit mile 23, now I tell myself it’s just a 5K. Things are really hurting, my fingers and toes are tingly and I wonder if my body is shutting down.  “Don’t do this now, keep it together!” Just then I see a guy with an Executive Challenge jersey. What? I didn’t know he was in front of me. I tell myself to pass with authority hoping he won’t respond – if he does, I am not sure I have anything left in the tank to answer him. I go past him, don’t look back and keep pushing hard for the next mile. I hit mile 24, take a peek behind me and don’t see him.  Thank goodness! I have two miles to go. I can hear the roar of the crowds and the adrenaline kicks in. I can rest at the finish, I think to myself, keep going. At mile 25 there are people everywhere cheering and I start to get emotional again. Keep it together, Joe. Mile 26 now, coming down the chute. I see the finish and hear the announcer say “here comes one of our Ironman Executive Challenge athletes, Joe Terry, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!” The clock says 10:49 – a new personal record and a spot in Kona. I will take it!

Katie comes in at 11:31, beating her time from last year by an hour and two minutes, ninth in her age group! We clean up and then join the crowds at the finish line to watch the last competitors come in before midnight. This experience is truly inspiring. The top finishing pros are there to greet the last finishers. We see a gal who lost 140 pounds training for Ironman, crying her eyes out, finishing in just over 16 hours. We see a guy named Darrel, in his first-ever triathlon and Ironman, finish at 16:30 and hand him a beer. We see a firewoman come across in FULL GEAR, complete with oxygen tank, and we see a 78-year-old man finish in 16:45. The crowd goes crazy – the spirit of Ironman is amazing!

Lessons Learned

Ironman is a lot like life and business in many ways. Here are my race day takeaways:

  • Anything can happen. It’s a long day; you must stick with your plan.
  • There are so many ups and downs: you need to work through them, stick to your goals, keep to the plan and have faith that if you do the right things, it will all work out on the other side.
  • You must put in the time in order to do your best; there are no shortcuts in Ironman or life. If you don’t put in the training, map out your plan, and execute on your plan, then you shouldn’t expect to perform at a high level.
  • There is inspiration everywhere around you and miracles happening every day.
  • It’s your journey – no one else’s. You must follow your path and not worry about comparing yourself to others. There is ALWAYS someone who is faster, more successful, richer, better looking, has nicer “stuff,” a better job, more education, etc. Playing the compare and contrast game is a losing proposition with no sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. Your number one goal should be to win against yourself. As long as you are constantly getting better than you, you will be unstoppable!

See you in Kona in October at the Ironman World Championships!

Joe and Katie, Ironman Florida


3 thoughts on “It’s your journey: what Ironman has taught me about racing, business and life

  1. Well done! Also, a great use of using the Ironman experience to gain some lessons and write around. Given all the time in the water, on a bike, and running, you’ve got plenty of time to think. I get some of my best thinking done on a bike.

  2. Reblogged this on Ericschneiderr's Blog and commented:
    I enjoyed this athletic post by Joe Terry on what he got out of racing in Ironman. If you’ve liked my bike-related posts then you’ll like this. Joe is President and CEO of Corporate Visions who provide some terrific training courses and meeting facilitation. I’ve got no affiliation with them but have been in several sessions they have run.

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