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The Iron Age

Suggested Song: Iron Man, Black Sabbath Suggested Drink: A rich chocolate milkshake (full of carbs and protein for post-race recovery)

The 4th annual Ironman 70.3 of Aix-en-Provence brought 1,676 athletes and their supporters into town in early May. Uberjocks and jockettes filled the juice joints on Saturday, topping off their pregame power reserves, and then the many bars and pubs on Sunday for a well-earned post race reward and system flush. The commercial caravan in tow rivaled the Tour de France invasion from last summer. Open tents aligned along Cours Mirabeau were filled with top brands of racing bikes, running shoes, shorts and tee shirts, insulated swim wear, sun glasses, water bottles, coffee mugs, energy drinks and inspired consumers. Now if I just had that cool hat I could clip 2 minutes off my time!

Spotting Ironpeople around town is relatively straightforward: look for expensive competition gear clinging to lean, muscular frames and registration numbers tattooed in Sharpie black along buff upper arms. The lack of body fat is another dead giveaway. Swimming 2 kilometers in open water, running a half marathon, or biking 90 kilometers over hilly Provence terrain; each alone would test the mettle of we mere mortals. Completing them in sequence over a warm Sunday morning defies belief. It’s not a pursuit forgiving of the few extra pounds acquired for winter insulation. It amazed me that the rigorous Aix 70.3 is just a half-competition. A full Ironman doubles the 3 distances covered.

Preparing for a triathlon demands real commitment. The training schedule offered in the Ironman website (click here to access) covers 6 months of preparation, ramping up to at least 2.5 hours per day of swimming, biking and/or running by month 5. And more than physical endurance training is needed to compete effectively. A balanced, healthy diet is key to building and replenishing energy stores, and mental conditioning is vital to overcome the many walls encountered through the long weeks of training and final race.

Anyone taking on a grand ambition – writing the next great American novel, opening a restaurant, buying a surf shop on some distant exotic island – can learn much about effective prep from the triathlon regime. We go through stages of contemplation, planning and action when considering major life projects or the immense challenge of an Ironman competition. In cases of profound aspiration I can think of 5 common elements that directly impact the chances of success when transitioning from plan to action:

  1. Commitment – to the months of hard work that follow your initial flash of inspiration.

  2. Pacing – to avoid overreach and burnout after that initial charge of adrenalin-fueled enthusiasm.

  3. Balance – among the holy trinity of mind (knowing your heading), body (having a sound ship) and spirit (building the passion to overcome the challenges).

  4. Partners – for mutual support and encouragement through the many miles of training, breakdown, rebound and achievement.

  5. Objective – to define the end goal and know when we’ve reached it.

What am I missing?

A final thought on the properties of iron. It’s incredibly strong when well maintained but susceptible to rust and decay when neglected. Many of us entertain grand ambitions – what I call Intérprize® plans – at mid life, as the distractions of kids and career recede and our priorities turn to self realization; to the this is my time now time. If there is nothing pushing us to excel at this age the rust creeps in, and that fear motivated the few older Ironman competitors with whom I chatted to take on this challenge post 50. What is your challenge and is there an Ironman within ready to pursue?

Bill Magill Aix-en-Provence

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