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November 12, 2008

Ironman dreams do come true.

What’s the hardest thing about completing the Ironman? Trying to figure out what’s next. For years, Ironman has been on my mind. I’ve dreamed about the Ironman. Read about the Ironman. Quizzed Ironmen about the Ironman. And for the past five months I’ve been consumed by training for my first Ironman, contemplating the distances—2.4-mile swim. 112-mile bike. 26.2-mile run—at the oddest times. Now, I have done the Ironman, Ironman Florida, and I’m wondering, “What do I do next?” But, before I get too wrapped up in figuring out what might possibly be on the horizon, I want to relish my Ironman experience. And what an experience it was. Probably the most surprising thing was how much I enjoyed race day itself, all 11 hours, 58 minutes and ten seconds of it. More specifically, I can’t believe how much I loved, yes loved the swim. Most people who know me know that the swim is my weakest leg and yet at the Ironman, I swam for an hour and 13 minutes with a smile on my face, dodging 2,000 pairs of arms and legs, getting hit and knocked around and relishing every second. Yes, Ironman tradition, unlike other triathlons, has all participants starting together. That means over 2,000 anxious and excited, highly competitive type-A personalities diving into the Gulf of Mexico for a 2.4-mile swim at dawn. Who would call such a melee fun? Me, that's who.

Yes, I loved my Ironman experience. The deafening crowds, pushing, pushing, pushing you to go harder than you thought you could. The silent moments of the 112-mile bike leg when I was alone with just my thoughts for 5 hours and 45 minutes. I loved the volunteers who cheerfully and honestly asked if there was anything they could do for me. Can I get your bag? Sure. Can I slather sunscreen on you? Absolutely. Would you like ice? Water? Gel? Yes, yes, yes! We were catered to and doted on and everyone I encountered was committed to helping me make my Ironman experience a success. That is the big misperception. Ironman is, by rules and definition, an individual event in that we are alone out there in the water and on the roads, but in no way could we accomplish this daunting feat by ourselves. I myself have so many people to thank. My tri club…the Winter Park YMCA Trimaniacs. I am so thankful for their support, their guidance, their motivation but most of all their friendship. Pre-dawn runs and hundred mile rides are a lot easier when you’re hanging out with people you truly enjoy. I am thankful for Dr. Pursley who helped me through sinusitis, bronchitis and some undefined bacterial infection and never once suggested that I was crazy for pursuing my Ironman dream even though I was sick for more than six weeks while training 15-20 hours a week. I am thankful for Diane and Dina who endured the residual effects of my training [showing up late and exhausted to work on a daily basis, constant hunger, long training lunches] without ever a complaint. I am so thankful for my training partners—Ironman Natt, Ironman Rob, Ironman Coach Mark and Ironman Stew. They inspired me daily and motivated me weekly. We are Ironbrothers. I am thankful for my parents who came to the race to cheer me on (and make sure I survived). I am thankful for my sisters and siblings-in-law, nieces, nephews and in-laws for never telling me they were tired of hearing about Ironman. And most of all, I am thankful for Steph, Jacob, Sophie and Joseph who supported me with love and patience while I scheduled just about everything in our lives around training. I tried hard not to miss any birthday parties, softball games or swim meets, but I know I pushed their limits. And let’s not even talk about the pile of sweaty laundry that was a five-month stinky altar to Ironman in our laundry room.

Ironman has been an all-encompassing and sometimes overwhelming and exhausting part of our lives for a long time. But there is a lot of good that came from it, too. A lot that I personally learned from training for and racing in the Ironman, like:

-       Just because you’re alone doesn’t mean you’re alone

-       When the finish line is far away, just focus on taking one step at a time

-       You’re not as tired as you think you are

-       When you think you have no energy left, you probably still have enough energy to take the kids for a bike ride if they ask you enough times

-       Having a dream just may be better than realizing a dream

So, what exactly is next after completing an Ironman? Steph tells me mowing the lawn and cleaning the pool are a good place to start. And she is right. Others say, just enjoy what you’ve accomplished, give yourself a break, and they are right. But I can tell you that I loved the Ironman. I loved training for it, talking about it, dreaming of it and doing it. I loved it all. Even when the steps got painful and I only wanted to cross that finish line, I knew that I would be sorry when it was over. You see, now, when my alarm goes off at 5 a.m., I have no place to be. What will I do next? I don’t know yet, but it will have to be something; there is a hole in my life that needs to be filled.


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JT Taylor

"Just because you’re alone doesn’t mean you’re alone"


"When the finish line is far away, just focus on taking one step at a time"

...are two thoughts I will try to keep in mind in the coming months. They are comforting.

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