Achieving IRONMAN

As promised, here is my blog on finishing ironman florida.

It’s hard to believe it has been a year since I was walking through Publix and realized that today was the day      to sign up for Ironman Florida if I was going to do it. There is urgency here because the 3000 slots allotted for this race typically sell out within 15 minutes (2013 sold out in less than a minute). So with my wife and kids waiting in the car for me in the parking lot, I pulled up the website on my Android and signed up before it closed. The thing about entering an ironman branded race is you have to commit early, 12 months early to be exact. So that was it, I was in.

For a little perspective on what this moment meant to me I will back up in time. I completed my first triathlon in 1987, a short sprint which I had to stop and walk a few times on the short 5K run because of cramping. I rode an old Peugeot touring bike. No aero bars, no clip in pedals and we completed the entire race in speedos. The sport has come a long way, as have I. The race was tough for me, but a love affair with triathlon was born that day.

Endurance training and racing for me has never been about fitness or weight loss, nor was it just a hobby. For me it has been a calling that started at a very young age. It is simply one of the things I was put on this earth to do. There is something very pure about being at your physiologic and mental limit. It is the same every time, it never gets easier. The effort it takes to push through these barriers is what has drawn me to the sport for 25 years. Sometimes you win this battle, sometimes you don’t, but it is the battle that has given my life meaning over the years. People who have never experienced what I am talking about are missing something great in this life.

Fast forward to November 2011, after 25 years of the grind that is triathlon training, my body had started breaking down. My back and knees are not what they used to be, and injuries had increasingly interrupted training. Up until this year, I had raced at every distance of triathlon except the pinnacle of the sport: Ironman. If you have followed triathlon as long as I have, and know the history of the epic battles that have taken place in Kona, where they hold the world championships every year, Iroman has taken on an almost mystical attraction. Despite racing for a quarter of a century, I would not feel like my career was complete without finishing this distance. It is the ultimate battle for triathletes and although I realize it is irrational, I would have struggled to feel complete without this one under my belt. I just had too much invested in this sport.

In truth, I had given up on this dream after realizing I have injuries that cannot be fixed. I would continue to train but running for me was probably a thing of the past so my dream of ironman was pretty unlikely. Then a patient wandered into my office that changed all of that. During her first visit we discussed how she was just getting into triathlons. There is an almost instant bond with those who have chosen this sport. We are kindred spirits who, for better of for worse, at least partially define ourselves by the battle. What I learned about this particular woman was that her body had been broken beyond what most of us can imagine, let alone survive, from a horrific car accident. Despite her injuries she finished residency and then fellowship training and now works tirelessly in a field of medicine that can suck the life out of you on a daily basis. Then she took up triathlon and marathon training. I learned that she worried about meeting cutoff times for the swim, and sometimes walked more than she ran in some races. Over time she would come in and tell me about her progress, from 5K to half marathon to full marathon. From sprint triathlon to half ironman distance. There have been more injuries along the way for her, and some pain. It is the nature of the sport, but to her these seem to be speed bumps that might slow her down some, but are not there to stop her forward. Progress. Some where along the way, she made me realize that although I may not be able to complete an ironman the way that I have envisioned it many times in my mind, there was still a possibility of finishing. That is what this patient gave me, hope.

Stay tuned for part two of my Achieving Ironman blog in a couple of weeks.

Until then, Stay Healthy and Live Well…Dr. Mike

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Dr. Michael Heim

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