Lessons From the Finish Line: What I Learned From Completing My First Ironman

Well, my first Ironman has come and gone. Nine months of discipline and training for 10 hours, 50 minutes, and 43 seconds of pure execution. People keep asking me what it felt like to cross that finish line. Did I feel relief? Or euphoria? Or pride? Or a sense of accomplishment? Or joy? I guess I felt a little of all of those things. I was honored to be able to run into the oval and see my coach, John Spinney, my beautiful wife, Sarah, my parents, my brother, and my friends. But as I stepped over the finish line, and before I even clicked STOP on my watch, I mostly felt like I needed to sign up for another Ironman. I feel like I have more to do, more to accomplish. I’m not done with Ironmans, yet. And yes, I’ve already registered for the Lake Placid 2018 Ironman.

So, let me take you on a little journey through Ironman #1 and what I learned along the way.

PRE-RACE PREP —> All around me people were crazy nervous getting ready to plunge into Mirror Lake. Right before the swim, I sat down to stretch my feet and the kid next to me was shaking. Nervous energy comes out in weird ways for people and was pouring off the people around me. I stayed calm. I actually slept really well both nights prior to the race and was just grateful to be there, to be racing with all these incredible athletes, to just be physically able and ready to compete. I credit a lot of my calm state to my mediation practice. I’ve been practicing TM for several years now and it not only helps clear your mind and calm your body before you put your face in the water to swim 2.4 miles, but it helps in any business or life situation. Meditation helps you stay calm, which enables you to gain clarity and solve problems faster. We all know that when life hits, it’s about how you overcome those obstacles – either on the race course or in the board room, it doesn’t matter. Ironman training has given me a unique structure to push me to the next level of my emotional fitness, which ultimately just makes me a better father, husband, leader, person.

SWIM —> My swim time sucked and I’m committed to improving it for Ironman #2. I got caught in the middle lane and got slapped around a bit, but generally it wasn’t too bad except for when my goggles got kicked off on my second lap and I had to stop. Don’t ever stop in the swim lane! I learned that real quick. It was hard for me to get back into a rhythm on my second lap, but I just kept grinding and pushing through. Because that’s just want you do. I was very excited to get back on land where humans belong.

BIKE —> The first transition is long, but a great little run to get your legs ready for the bike. The bike ride was amazing – not much wind, perfect conditions, and closed to traffic. I felt super strong on both laps of the course and the time flew by. I had 3 or 4 bad patches during the hour and 20 minute swim, and only one bad patch during the five hour and 20 minutes of biking. Not bad! I was anticipating these bad patches – I knew they would show up and I knew they would go away, so I was able to keep working until I hit a good patch again. That’s such a great analogy for business and life. Rough patches show up and it’s about how we overcome them – do we show up, handle them, and push through or do we retreat and give up? Some days the wind is blowing in our favor and sometimes it’s a shit storm. Are you working constantly on your mental and emotional fitness so that these bad patches don’t derail your business or your relationships? I know I am.

RUN —> I was fired up and feeling strong after the bike and the first 5k of the run is mostly down hill so I was flying. One of the QT2 coaches basically stopped me and told me to slow the f*!k down. I looked down at my watch and I was at a sub 6-mile pace. So, yeah, I had to put on the brakes and back down to around 8 which is what my coach had set for my opening mile pace. Control my speed and maintain. Running a marathon after already swimming 2.4 miles and biking 112 miles can be daunting to think about, so I broke it down into manageable tasks. In my mind – 26 miles just became 26 sets of one mile runs (thank you to Tim Snow for that little piece of advice!). I’m not going to lie, the run hurt. But I just focused on what I had practiced in training and just executed. The training, the practice, and the emotional fitness is what makes a top business leader. It is what makes an Ironman.

Overall, the Ironman was a day of celebration. My mantra throughout the day was, “My fitness will carry me through.” I was saying that a hell of a lot, especially on the second lap of the run when shit got real tough. I wasn’t nervous because I had practiced my emotional fitness, meditated, and put in the time. I knew I wouldn’t give up. It wasn’t even an option. The cool thing with Ironmans is that there isn’t any magic here. You’re not going to show up the day of the race and all of a sudden be a different person or be 10 times better than you were in training. Instead, you create who shows up on race day based on the level of intensity and disruption you create during your training days, weeks, and months. Actually, the biggest mistake people can have at Ironman is trying to be someone they are not on race day – going out too hard, thinking you can go harder than you can, instead of focusing on the execution of each activity. Being able to access your preparation and potential on race day is critical and that happens from mental control and emotional fitness. If you get too hyped up on the big day and put too much external pressure on yourself (like hitting a specific time) you can get paralyzed. It’s about the emotional fitness and the execution.

The emotional fitness and the mental challenge during nine months of intense training is much harder than it ever is on race day. Race day, the adrenaline is flowing, you’re excited, you have your family and 18,000 random people cheering you on, and you are about to compete. This is what it’s all about! The race is the easy part! It’s the six 100+ mile bike rides, the 20 mile runs, the 5000 yard swims week after week that suck. You’re all by yourself. No one is cheering you on. No one is motivating you. Embrace it. It’s a freaking grind and requires extreme amounts of focus, discipline, sacrifice, and time. But that is where athletes are made. They are not made at the finish line. They are made long before that, during the hours of training. Testing your limits, getting outside your comfort zone, experiencing the next level of you is what life is all about.

And by the way, this is what business is all about. It’s the day in and day out of how you show up. The number on your tax return or your next promotion are purely a result of the daily activities that you do. This is the grind, the hustle, the ability to be fearless and relentless, not for a short period of time, but every. damn. day. If you focus on your execution, you’ll be able to access the drive and clarity that you need. You’re not as good as you think you are on your best day and you don’t suck as much as you think you do on your worst day. You are who you are (physically, mentally, emotionally) in that moment based on the person you created through daily habits. You shape and control who you become. It’s easy to see it in the physical world, such as sports, but we sometimes lack clarity or vision to see it show up in our social, financial, spiritual, and professional self. This is why the daily activities, the daily habits are so important. Daily habits are who you are!

Want to know the secret to success in the Ironman, in life, or in business? Focus on the daily habits and activities that you can control. Commit to them and practice them over and over again over a long period of time. And when it’s time to step into the arena – draw upon all of your training and execute.


  1. Cindy Griesse

    Adam, Thank you for sharing. Powerful. I remember recently in one of our conversations I told you I had to work on my morning discipline. You stopped me dead in my tracks and said “no you have to commit to morning habits” That has helped me tremendously. Sharing your journey changes lives. Those who show up make a difference. Bravo!!!!

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