The Journey of 70.3 Miles Starts with a Single Yes

Last weekend the half Ironman in Lake Placid was awesome. Competing in an Ironman (half or full!) is always rewarding, but last week took it to a whole other level. Four (yes, 4!) participants from Project|U were there racing beside me in Lake Placid. Meanwhile, another Project|U participant was competing in a full Ironman in Wisconsin and another Project|U participant was racing in the Mighty Mississinewa Triathlon!

I was buzzing with energy before the race, knowing how hard these athletes had worked, how hard they had pushed themselves, the sacrifices they had made to be to show up and celebrate their fitness. That is what personal growth through business success looks like in action – committing to playing full out in all areas of your life. That is what I created Project|U in a first place! I wanted to build a platform and community that would foster this kind of learning, challenge, and growth. I couldn’t be prouder of of them all!

For those of you not familiar with Project|U, its a full-immersion year-long coaching program that I host for a small group of individuals committed to challenging themselves in all areas of their life. These are already successful individuals in many areas of their lives who are looking to push beyond what they even thought was possible, to live their best life, and to experience more joy in their lives and give more joy to others. The program has many different components, including four in-person events throughout the year. The kick-off event is centered around health and fitness (because if you don’t have that, what have you got!?). The rest of that quarter is all about physical health. Our participants are provided with either a triathlon, run, or HIIT workout coach, along with a nutritionist for the duration of the program. No one is going it alone!

This race was my 15th full or half Ironman. I’ve told you a bit about my experiences in previous blogs, so this week I wanted to give my Project|U participants the opportunity to share a little about what it was like for them to go through this, because it is not easy! But I can tell you (and so can they) that it is SO worth it!

SVEN ANDERSEN 

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I have completed the most physically grueling feat in all my life. A feat I knew I could complete, however I had no idea just how emotional I would be once I completed it. I saw my wife and kids and just about lost it. I have accomplished much in my life, but nothing had been put in front of me that was such a complete emotional and physical challenge, like this was. I wanted to stop more than once but continued on. Here’s what happened:

The night before the race I decided that I need to take a magnesium bath (bad idea as I had never done this before). Long story short I spent most of the night in the bathroom losing most of the hydration that I was supposed to have for race day. I got 2 hours of sleep and woke up to the feeling of my left calf starting to cramp.

In preparation for the race I told Adam Hergenrother (the person who got me to sign up to do the race) the story about what happened to me leading up to the race and he said “something like this happened to me, you’ll be fine, just drink Gatorade for the entire race.” He continued to say “its all in your head, you got this, now go get it”, so I did.

I started to get some minor calf cramps halfway thru the swim. 3/4 of the way thru the swim I had to a hang onto a kayak to rest. The girl on the Kayak said “you have 500 yards to swim, you got this” and with that I took off with both legs in a full leg cramp for the finish line. After getting to my bike at the first transition my abdomen, legs and toes completely cramped up to the point where the guy next to me asked “are you ok?”. I thought to myself my body is cramping, I’m dehydrated and there is no way you can get on a bike now and crush 56 miles, but I did. This being my first Ironman, it was going to be the end of the road for me, I couldn’t do it, I had to stop…HELL NO. I’m not going to give up on myself now and let this race beat me. I’m not going to let my friends and family down, I’m not going to allow what happened to me on the bike take the “joy” from this journey that I had prepared over 6 months for. I took some Garolite (sodium mix) straight into my mouth and the cramping subsided so that I could at least get my socks and bike shoes on and sprinted to the bike entrance. This cost me 18 mins of time (typically transition time is 3-7 mins) Here we go….

I knew what was in store for me on the bike course, as I rode it a month before with my buddy Brad Stephens as a “preview” and I’m glad I did. Sometimes in life getting a preview of something is well worth it, it truly was in this case. I knew that I had to use every downhill to my advantage and on the Keene descent I hit 46 miles an hr (the fastest part of the race). My coach told me that I had to pee on the bike so at this point I remembered “you only pee going downhill” so I did (it’s gross but required) as stopping takes too long. I finished the bike with the monster hills in the end and had a my cheering crew when I came into transition chanting “GO SVEN GO” it was such a rush. Coming in off the bike, my family cheering for me gave me a huge adrenaline boost and I sprinted to my transition spot leaving for the run in under 5 minutes and 30 seconds. I couldn’t stop now.

The run was brutal, I was not ready for the amount of hills I was about to encounter. I started my first 2 miles seeing people walking up one of the final hills and said to myself I’m not walking this leg of the race no matter what happens. That mindset help me along the way, running without stopping the entire way. I was thinking in the back of my mind I’m going to do this and nothing is going to stop me. My wife and daughters wrote me notes prior to my race and in one of them my daughter wrote “find the joy in this journey.” I thought about that quote during the entire run and truly did find joy in the beautiful course.

FAST FORWARD – I crossed the finish line with my entire family cheering for me. I have never had such an emotional, physical and mental challenge that I have overcome like I did on Sunday. I’m so grateful for: Courtney (coach), Ken Ballard (friend from Project U), and the other Project U guys I raced with Brad Stephens, Matt Bex, David Hill and of course Adam Hergenrother. Special thanks to Adam for pushing all of us to get every ounce of physical and mental ability to complete this race. You and the entire Project U group have help me to change my mindset and I’m so thankful to you.

I’m grateful to my family Bob and Betsy (my in-laws), Bo & Shannon (my brother, sister in-law), Caitlin and Erik (my niece and nephew). Then there is Christina (my wife) and girls Karissa, Brooke, & Paige my family that has sacrificed so much to allow me to train sometimes 6-7 hrs in a day. I’m so very grateful for the sacrifice you made to help me achieve this incredible goal I set for myself back in March. I love you all dearly and I’m so thankful that each of you could follow me on this journey. Here’s to the next journey… Stay tuned…

I’m so glad I did this race, but even more so because of the impact it has had on other peoples lives. Thank you to my friends, colleagues and family who have shared your story with me about how I have helped inspire you, these are the stories that continue to motivate and fire me up, keep them coming.


DAVID HILL 

david run ironman

Ironman Lake Placid 70.3 is in the books. My goal coming in was to get through the swim and break 7 hours. Mission complete. Next year going to break 6 hours. It was so amazing. Hard to describe.

I feel good about the race. The swim was the most emotional part for me, almost cried! Remember… 5 months ago I could not swim 2 laps in a pool.

Being in [Project | U] really helped and I felt very supported which helped make it a lot less stressful than I anticipated it would be. I personally stuck to Courtney’s [my coach’s] plan which helped me achieve the goal of breaking 7 hours and felt strong throughout yet I learned a ton and felt like I could have even gone harder. My commitment to this race next year is to break 6 hours and I’m confident I know what to do and where to make adjustments.

It was a phenomenal overall experience, again learned a ton about energy management, performance, mindset and I was much stronger than I gave myself credit. Buying a tri-bike soon and can’t wait to start racing again.


MATT BEX 

matt bike ironman

What did I learn from my first Ironman? So much.

  1. You can’t listen to other people’s opinions of what is and isn’t possible. People want to project their fears and insecurities onto you and limit what you do, maybe to make themselves feel better. Through this training process I’ve mastered the art of nicely replying to people (even coaches) when they say things like, “That isn’t enough time.” and “Maybe you should adjust your goals.”
  2. People have lots of opinions. Only listen to people who have done what you’re looking to do before. For me, that means only someone who’s done 10x what I’ve done before.
  3. The most power you will ever feel is when you do something that you didn’t think was possible. It literally changes the way you think and you can’t go back to that previous level of thinking. My most vivid experience with this was during swim training. I had only ever swam 1 lap in the pool, stopped to rest, and then swim another lap. One day I got sick and tired of my lack of progress that I just committed to not stopping until my prescribed 40 mins was done, no matter what… I think I swam like 1400 yards. In 1 day I went from 50 yards to 1400 yards and my mind was blown. I use that to remind myself that I can do whatever I want to do, no matter how “impossible” it feels. At that time, swimming 1400 yards without stopping was the most “impossible” thing I could think of, and I did it. Now nothing can stop me, except for myself, but only if I let myself.
  4. “What was your time?” is the wrong question to ask an Ironman (or any athlete really). The real question is “did you execute the plan?” That’s how I know I “won”. I followed my morning nutrition, followed my coach’s prescribed race strategy, focused on what I could control; my heart rate zone, my hydration, my fueling, my breathing, my pace, and I didn’t cheat. I did what my coach told me to do and I didn’t cheat. That’s how I know I “won” and its the best feeling in the world!
  5. Ultimately, it’s not even about the race itself. The race really is the opportunity to go have fun, push yourself, compete, and get your prize for the hard work that you’ve put in. The fitness you’re celebrating is gained when nobody else is looking. Nobody sees the sacrifice you make to get there. There is nobody around when you’re spending hundreds of hours alone on the bike, in the pool or running. When you commit to an Ironman it changes your life, literally, it becomes your lifestyle. You have to go to bed early because the only way you can get in the hours of training is by getting up before anyone else in the house is awake. You can no longer eat or drink what you (think) you want because you won’t be able to get to bed on time or you’ll feel like shit when you wake up. You have to get really clear about what’s important to you because you have to say “no” to almost everything because it won’t support your goals.

Well, this is my new normal. I will continue to set new goals with my coach, focus on the plan, and execute the plan with his accountability. As of right now the plan is 2 more Ironman races next year: Subaru Ironman 70.3 Mont-Tremblant in June and Ironman 70.3 Lake Placid in September. But hey, whenever my coach says I’m ready, I will absolutely complete a full Ironman triathlon!


BRAD STEPHENS 

brad ironman

I was pretty familiar with the training required to complete a half Ironman from the one I did in Maine in 2017. But what I quickly realized was if you don’t keep up with the training your past races and results are irrelevant. I was basically starting over again which was pretty hard for me to comprehend at the beginning.

Leading up to the race I knew it would be harder than 70.3 Maine because of the 4000+ ft of elevation gain in Lake Placid. I think it’s pretty natural to over think the race or worry too much about it and “what could happen”. I was worried about going down Keene Descent on my new bike because I had only been using the “Aero Bars” for a month or so. At first, I kept envisioning something going wrong and crashing or not being able to hit the brakes. I ended up driving the course before and I had to actively picture myself going down in total control of my bike, enjoying it with no issues at all.

Race day I felt really good- slept well the night before and knew I put in the hours training to tackle this. During the swim, I actively had to calm myself down- I was getting kicked and punched by people following the cable underwater and would occasionally return the favor on accident. I was thinking – just get through the swim and you can pass everyone on the transition and bike. Well, I ended up being semi right. About 20 minutes into the bike my chain fell off going up a hill, which costs me probably 3 minutes to get back going again. I actively didn’t let it bother me though and ended up finishing the bike course with the 127th fastest time in the race. The run is where it got absolutely brutal for me. Once I got off the bike BOTH my legs were absolutely cramped. Hobbled over to transition area and got the run done slower than expected.

It feels great to finish a race like that- anytime you set out on a big goal and you’re accomplishing it, in that moment is very overwhelming. Especially when you are surrounded by a bunch of great people who you can share the moment with. You create a bond you can’t get anywhere else. So cool. I’m thinking of doing a few more half Ironmans and planning to tackle one full Ironman next year- got my eye on Mont-Tremblant!


REID FERGUSON

ried ironman wisconsin

As this was my second Ironman that I was training for I knew what to expect as far as commitment to the training and the dedication it would take. Until a person actually does a least a 1/2 Ironman they really don’t understand the enormous achievement that completing an Ironman really is. I knew I would be capable of the discipline that it would take but on the same token, I really had to focus in on not missing too many workouts and bringing the intensity to each workout. After accomplishing and finishing Ironman Lake Placid in 2018 my normal tendency would not to be as focused the second time around.

The start of the training was really going well but then life happens “things happen”. In March I developed a blood clot in my left leg. I don’t believe it was from the training but either hereditary or from a dog bite I had earlier in the year. I will be taking more tests when the blood clot is totally gone to hopefully find out the cause.

So, I had to give up running as one of my disciplines for 3 months and could only train on swimming and only moderate intensity on bike training as well.  Seven weeks before the race (Ironman Madison) I had to make a huge decision. I either had to find a way to get my leg healthy enough to run again or I had to cancel my race altogether.

By this time everyone already knew I was going to participate in my second Ironman. My friends, co-workers, my team, and my family all were being very supportive. Now I am not one to give up on anything I commit to. I already had a large family support group going to Madison to cheer me on so the pressure was on to find a way to get healthy enough to race.

I started to ask a lot of questions and do research on how to get my legs healthy again. I was already stretching a lot but that was not helping. I reached out to Adam and he gave me some things to try that have helped him in the past. Adam said there are many different treatments and that it is best to find out what works best for each individual. Some of the things Adam suggested was “foam roller, acupuncture, deep tissue massage”. I started using a foam roller and got weekly deep tissue massages. I also started cryotherapy as well.

The advice from Adam in seeking out solutions to a problem you have is the best way to achieve what you want out of life, whether that be in your health, business, spiritual or family world.

Within 2 weeks I was back running again and I knew I would be able to compete.

Now everyone has their own challenges when working on achieving their goals, I am no different, so when a problem or obstacle comes my way I focus on possible solutions to remove those obstacles. Since signing on for this adventure, Project-U has been instrumental in developing this skill to a much higher level.

Although I didn’t get a PR on this race, it was just as rewarding as the first one due to the new challenges that I faced.

Now it is time to set some new training goals for 2020. One will be a 70.3 Ironman in Iowa in June and I have a couple more to finalize in the coming weeks.

The past 6 months Project-U has taught me that there is most likely a solution to every obstacle that you encounter, you just have to seek out the answers. Project-U has helped me develop a clearer vision for my future and enjoy my accomplishments even more.


MICHAEL MERGELL 

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I remember some of the earliest conversations around Adam and the Ironman. They were often brought up during CEO meetings. Someone was going have to shave their beard, their head or do an Ironman if you didn’t hit your metric that month or week. I had always thought of doing a Tri and so I remember one day telling Adam. Hey, I want to train for an Ironman, not as a punishment, but just to gain my fitness back and accomplish a life goal. Adam immediately responded and not only encouraged me but also provided me with an excellent coaching system almost immediately. What I love about looking back at that now was there was no room for secondthoughts. I made a decision and Adam pointed out the path, we just took action,

This weekend’s race was a very different race from any other than I had participated in. I had the concerns and fears of my family in my mind (open water swim, don’t push yourself too hard, watch your heart rate and slow down). There were also some of my own thoughts to deal with (what if I can’t make it back, what if I can never do this sport again, how will that make me feel not being able to do something that was such a huge part of my life).

***Hey! It’s Adam jumping in here for a second! What Michael didn’t mention, is that just a few months ago he died while competing in a triathlon. That is an incredible story, that I will leave for Michael to tell at a later date. Suffice it to say, this badass came back to life! Alright, back to Michael.***

I rolled out of bed an hour before I had to leave and just seemed to have a calm about me. I enjoyed the darkness of early morning and felt its peace almost like you are the only one around at the moment.  The race was an hour away so I had plenty of time to myself.  I found myself thinking more about strategy and picturing myself in the race than I did about any other negative factors that could present themselves about the race.

This was turned out to be the best and most organized races I had ever attended. Hosted by DNR, there was someone everywhere to help – from boats, kayaks, paddleboards, lifeguards, ambulances, well-marked directions and instructions and tons of personnel. I got there about 45 minutes before the race that would have normally made me freak because I like to get there way too early to set up and would have had to get my bib a day or two before. Not today. I just casually grabbed my gear, walked through check-in and almost immediately found my spot in the transition area. Set-up took me 5 minutes. I started casually walking around talking to other athletes, something I never do. So many diverse backgrounds, so many cool people from all over. I spent the last 15 minutes before the race swimming a bit to warm up. An incredible warmth and even greater peace came across me. It was at that moment I knew I was back where I belong and I knew I could do this.

Only a few minutes after the swim start I eased into my swim. I felt myself staying steady with little distraction except for several panicked swimmers along the way clutching onto the lifeguard’s paddleboards or canoes. I had not seen that before. Still, I felt peace and almost felt like I was riding it. Transitions were all under 3:00. The ride was amazing. I found a good group to catch up to and hold steady with. For a brief moment as I neared the ride’s finish I thought, damn this ride is done and now I have to run, but the peace returned and I felt myself telling me that I have done this before, I know what to expect. About 2 minutes of rubber legs and I was able to turn up the run speed a bit. I finished with more in the tank physically, and certainly a full tank mentally.

Next, Sprint triathlon this Saturday in the morning; charity 45-mile ride in the afternoon. 4 weeks from now an Olympic. All Ironman races were transferred to next year, Mont Tremblant, Muncie, and Wisconsin. My desire is to run in as many Tri’s as possible yet this year (within limitations and avoiding injury). Chasing that race rush and that feeling of peace in what I am doing. I keep looking at Ironman Indian Wells, maybe my last chance for this year.

This has been an amazing journey and I am only at the foothills.


 

What I love about sharing each of these Project|U stories is that it’s so clear about how making a huge commitment is so much more than about the goal itself. In fact, it’s not about the goal, but who YOU become in the process of committing to it and achieving it. There are some goals in life that once you accomplish them, you will never be the same. Not all Project|U participants are competing in Ironman competitions, but through the goals they set and accomplish, they are all discovering what they are truly made of. That’s what Project|U is all about!

If you want to learn more about Project|U 2020, email Hallie at hallie@adamhergernother.com, and she’ll get you all the information to help you decide if 2020 will be the year of YOU.

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