When tackling the daunting task of racing Ironman—whether it’s your first time to cover 140.6, or you’re a multiple IM Champ—it’s essential to approach the day with the proper perspective. I hear it all the time: “How on earth do you run an entire marathon after riding that far?” And there is also “112 miles?! I can’t even drive that far without getting tired.”
My answer to each of these questions is pure and simple: I keep perspective. I keep perspective by viewing the task I face through a short lens. I never look at the run as an entire marathon; I break it down and look at little segments that eventually make up the 26.2 miles. I don’t jump on the bike and think about how I’m riding the equivalent of LA to San Diego; I think about what it will take to get to mile 25, then I reassess, and reassess again. And again.
The short story is that I keep perspective, and I continue to modify that perspective as I go.
When looking at a very real example of how perspective is everything, I look back to two particular years at Ironman Arizona: 2006 and 2009.
In 2006, I was racing against many formidable competitors, but toward the end of the day, only two great champions were challenging me for the win: Tim Deboom and Spencer Smith. The lead I held was precarious all day long. I had been managing self doubt, self confidence, strength and weakness. Entering lap three of three on the run, my lead had been whittled down to just 80 seconds. If I looked I could actually see the shark behind me chasing its prey. I was vulnerable.
But as I rounded the final segment, about to embark on my last 8.77 miles, a friend yelled to me: “Hey Lovato, it’s an hour of your life—you can do anything for an hour.” I heard the words, processed the wisdom, and determined that he was right. What was one tiny little hour in the big picture of my entire life. I dug in and tolerated the pain over the next hour or so, and I won the race.
Often I look back at that pivotal moment when I changed perspectives. Had I continued to think about how bad my legs hurt and how much longer I had to suffer, I might have cracked. But seeing a hour as a tiny drop in the bucket helped me manage that monumental task.
Fast forward three years, and I am a spectator on the sidelines of the same race. My friend and then training partner Richie Cunningham was battling his way through his first Ironman. He was holding tightly to a podium spot, and was giving everything he could to keep the position. The day was long—as it is for all of us on the Ironman course—and the wear and tear was starting to get to him.
When Richie had just about a lap to go, I thought back to the pearls of wisdom that helped me through my rough patch in ‘06. Seeing him in a world of hurt—knowing just how he felt—I offered what I believed to be uplifting advice: “Richie,” I yelled, “keep it up, it’s only a hour.”
I watched him run off, and was quite certain I had just helped him tame the beast, and that he was going to finish his last lap stronger than ever.
His race ended with him in fourth place, notching a fast time, a finisher’s medal, and the satisfaction of becoming an Ironman. But he suffered a great deal in the closing miles. He slowed, he was passed, and he did not maintain the same paces he had for the initial part of the run.
Later he told me that he was doing pretty well all day. He was not super happy or super comfortable, but he was running strong and racing well. He thought he could hold onto that third podium spot, and he thought that right up until I told him that he had to suffer for one more hour. One long hour. One interminable, painful hour.
The bottom line is that I had inadvertently helped crack my friend’s mindset. I had tried to give him the same mental nugget that helped me win the race, but I had failed to do one important thing. I had failed to put that hour in perspective.
Richie shared with me that an hour seemed like such a long time. If he didn’t know that he had a whole hour to go, he might have stayed a bit stronger; he might have had the mental edge to keep pushing. But an hour seemed so long, in comparison to just a few more minutes.
The importance of keeping perspective could not be more clear or more obvious than when comparing these two races side-by-side. I’m not saying Richie could have won the race, and I’m not saying that I could have lost mine; I’m just saying that the power of three little words made major impacts on each of our days.
So remember that next time you tackle a daunting task. Relatively speaking, these races, these bike rides, these marathons are tiny components of your life.