By Greg McDonough, an EO DC member and CEO of EEI Communications
That’s the only way I know how to describe July 19th, my birthday and the day I battled against myself as I competed in IRONMAN Zurich.
With my family camped out race-side, and my friends cheering me on digitally via (an athlete tracker/race tracker/webcam?), I felt unstoppable. Combine that excitement and my adrenaline with my last year of training and you can imagine the laser-like focus I had on that finish line.
It was 6:50 am and I was confident about the 140.6-mile day ahead.
The challenges came early and often and, as prepared and positive as I was, it provided yet another lesson in overcoming obstacles. Over the 15-hour day I was faced with unexpected tests of mental and physical endurance, creating a strong chance I could seriously injure myself. Temperatures, humidity, and headwinds were abnormally high and hectic, and my nutrition plan failed, leaving me with the heavy reality that I may not finish the race at all. It was the hardest day of my life.
Yet looking back I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything in the world. The aspects of each challenge and their lessons are applicable to life and business in ways that I’m sure will help me grow as a leader.
Prepare for Delayed Gratification
Leading up to the IRONMAN I opted for water instead of beer—and not by choice. I missed trips with friends in lieu of six-hour training sessions. I fought a constant battle between my desires for today and my goals for tomorrow. Accomplishing anything of significance requires real, unrelenting sacrifice, which is sure to be lonely at times.
These sacrifices can even make you question whether or not your objectives are even worth it, creating confusion and frustration along your journey. But while delaying gratification is tough, you have to remember that you’re working towards something more meaningful, more fulfilling.
Prepare for Bad Days and Embrace the “Suck”
Whether you’re running a business or training for an IRONMAN, bad days are common companions. You don’t need to be superhuman to succeed—my wife will tell you I’m far from it. But you do need to be stubbornly persistent, making your will and your resolve your strongest muscles.
And the only way to stretch and strengthen those muscles is by making promises. Make promises to get back at it after each bad day, or sleeping on it for a fresh, positive perspective on your journey.
Shortly after the start of the second loop of the bike leg I realized my day was going to be much more difficult than I’d originally thought. In fact, it occurred to me that I could end up on the side of the road defeated, forgoing running through the finish line and instead riding back in a support van. I would have been part of the record-setting number that didn’t finish the bike leg that day.
Changing my focus from personal best to avoiding catastrophe was the new strategy, and I settled into it accordingly. Pulling back my effort to save energy, adjusting my nutrition plan for increased caloric intake, and realigning my goal to a healthy finish were all part of the flexibility needed to avoid catastrophe.
As much as I love competing in IRONMAN races and encouraging others to do so, I figured sharing my challenges and lessons might be a bit less taxing. Hopefully you get at least one takeaway from my humbling day and turn challenges into opportunities in both business and in life.