Coach's Note By Lance Watson
Cancelled Ironman: Wasted Journey?
Ironman Lake Tahoe was cancelled on race morning. I was there to witness what was an extremely emotional event.
Ironman's event organizers made the right call. Raging forest fires nearby made air quality unsafe, as smoke crept across the lake like a fog bank, and hovered thick over the bike-to-run transition up in Squaw Valley.
There were tears on the beach of Lake Tahoe, and there was also anger. Preparing for Ironman is a significant investment of time, money, and passion. Families are part of that process, and Ironman brings the athlete and their support network to the start line for the final leg of the adventure. Hearing "race cancelled" shortly before race start time was tremendously disappointing.
Over the next 24 hours I bumped into a number of friends and athletes, and a few posed the question to me, "what do you tell your athletes now?"
When I think back on the hundreds of Ironman builds I have coached athletes through, including my own personal attempts at the distance, the race event itself is a major highlight which caps a season long mission. It is the target for that period of time in your life and a milestone in your year.
I can also share dozens of stories about the months leading into the event about overcoming obstacles, epic training days, crashes, bonks and incredible breakthroughs. Planning training adventures, enduring elements, figuring out how to manage ultra-endurance sessions, and simply observing your body adapt to exercising efficiently for hours on end can be a life changing process. That is independent of the goal event and the finish line. It takes courage to sign up for an Ironman, particularly a first Ironman. It takes fortitude to stay the course. Ironman training builds character.
Having the end goal removed, as it was in Tahoe, truly reinforces "that it is about the journey". Clich�s resonate truth. There's a lot to be said for having targets, or a bucket list, or an outrageous goal you can't wait to conquer that sets you moving forward, but that's just the starting point. Goals that require total conviction make us stronger. Goals that are big enough to push us out of our comfort zone are not roses and ice cream every day. There are challenges. Ultimately the journey contains far more triumphs than race day itself. So, yes, the term 'journey' might have become a little groan-worthy, but even a seasoned professional athlete will reflect at the end of his or her career and tell you how rewarding the journey was.
In Tahoe, amongst the sadness and loss, there was also an amazing moment which reflects the spirit of our sport and the people we are lucky enough to share it with. Some athletes chose to swim anyway. Some went the full 2.4 miles, others as little as 200 yards. As they exited the water and ran up the chute towards the closed transition area, hundreds of friends, families and spectators had stayed on the beach. They cheered hard. People whistled. Cowbells rang. And the athletes smiled.
To those who missed out on their Ironman day: it sucks! It is such a big build up. I hope, once the wound starts to heal, you can look back, see how far you've come, embrace that path, smile, and be grateful for an amazing journey. Know that you learned from it, your body had a long term physical adaptation to the training, and you will be that much more prepared for the next journey.
LifeSport head coach Lance Watson has coached a number of Ironman, Olympic and age-group Champions over the past 25 years. He enjoys coaching athletes of all levels. Join Lance to tackle your first triathlon or perform at a higher level.