Life is about challenge. And I just accomplished one !

Arnaud Martin
Mar 17 · 10 min read
IronMan 70.3 Nice — Finish line — 16/09/2018

“Challenge” [noun] : is something new and difficult which requires great effort and determination.

I’ve never heard this word as many time as those last years. I guess that’s because it’s part of our world and life. I don’t see it as wrong or negative but more as a definition / my definition of evolution, accomplishment, fulfillment.

I was looking for a sport achievement before ending my 30s and I’ve decided to take the challenge : participate in an IronMan 70.3 triathlon ! I’m happy I did it and more : I’m happy to share the learning from the preparation to the race and its similarities with the professional world.

First thing first let’s define what an IronMan is. “An IronMan Triathlon is one of a series of long-distance triathlon races organized by the World Triathlon Corporation, consisting of a 2.4-mile (3.86 km) swim, a 112-mile (180.25 km) bicycle ride and a marathon 26.22-mile (42.20 km) run, raced in that order and without a break. It is widely considered one of the most difficult one-day sporting events in the world.” An IronMan 70.3 (the one I took part) is half those distances.

The title of this post comes from a participant’s T-shirt. While I was walking in the hallway looking for my bib, I saw a man standing with this : « I made it to the finish line ». (you can’t buy it ! You receive it only after completing a race). I loved it, the concept of it. It’s strongly resonated in me as it’s summarizing the mindset and what went through my head during the race.

Younger, I used to have ear issues and been exposed in 2017 for a surgical operation performed for the reconstruction of the eardrum — that still didn’t happen…. While I was training I dove too fast in the water and opened my eardrum. Ear, water, that’s not the perfect fit. It put me away of water several months with some questioning on consequences for the future of triathlon but overall my health (tinnitus, balance…). I focused on the other disciplines while doing monthly check-up with my specialist. I’m not an isolate case as we ear a lot of stories about eardrum issues in triathlon. That’s a strong learning on sport and human : while you listen to your body, you can still accomplish great things that weren’t supposed to “be for you”. I can tell you that my specialist forbid me to do any activities related to water. But I fully protected it with silicone earplugs plus a neoprene headband ! So yes, I was not that much fancy looking but yes I was ready to enjoy water again and safely. This is very important when you want to focus on your effort and not on your health. Those long distance efforts require you to know your body, your limits. Going beyond that I even discover other sports : rafting and surf multiple times. Of course it wasn’t easy and it’s still not the case as I feel this issue. But it’s not a weight anymore.

2 years ago I was buying my first road bike (an entry price Décathlon). As long as I was learning how to use the clipped pedals, I was racing my first short distance Triathlon in Vevey in 2016. It ended up as was an amazing experience that brought to me a mix feeling between exhaustiveness and happiness. I always say it’s the combination of the 3 disciplines that creates this unique excitement. I finished the IronMan 70.3 in 6 hours and 11 minutes for 1.9 km swim in the Mediterranean sea, 90 km bike ride in the great back-country Niçois and 21,1 km run on “la promenade des Anglais”. What a sweet route !

I | SWIMMING

This always starts your triathlon journey. This particular moment early in the morning when you have to dive in the frozen water. This time after a quite long rolling start (waiting 30 minutes on the beach) I walked through the starting line, it was 7:35 am, I pushed the button of my Garmin watch : I’m in the water — race started ! This feeling was a bit different than other triathlons, as I was thinking about the amazing (difficult?) journey I was about to live. After few meters, I discovered the water temperature was pleasant, I was seeing the underwater landscape fading until I just saw this beautiful dark blue that will guide you during 40 minutes. The route was basically a rectangle : not that much difficulties in open water. I started slow, catching up my pace and sticked to it, no matter the crowd around, focusing on the movements and the buoys. On the way back, I was looking at the swim finish ark that was looking so tiny. This feeling stayed a long time until I joined the beach : fantastic moment when you first hear the crowd of supporters and connect back to reality : I’m living this race 100%. So I started running while taking off my swimsuit and focusing on the first transition. I felt a good swim whereas it was not that great from a chrono standpoint. But at least the feeling was good and that was the most important.

II | BIKING

After a bit of confusion while looking for my gear within the thousands transition bags, I jumped on my bike, heading to the 90 km ride in the back-country of Nice. Looking at my training volume (only 350 km in 2018), I was a bit fearing the 1400 m D+ and the 11 kg of the bike frame. I processed a lot on how to do this the D-Day, how would I be feeling at the end of it ? would I be strong enough to keep on going with a half-marathon to run after ? what if I quit ? what if I fail ? Then you think about all the things you should have done better in anticipation : I should have practice more, I should have follow friends, went out less, blocked better my Sundays to have long bike rides… and you know what ? I just enjoyed every second of it ! I must admit : the route helped as it was stunning ! The beginning was flat and a bit long but perfect to warm up and start climbing. And at that point, you are in the middle of the crowd : participants double-cross you, you too and that’s so thrilling ! After almost two hours of climbing it was time for the nice part : the descent ! I was almost in the middle of my triathlon and was feeling good, feeling energy. I didn’t look to recover during this part, I accelerate and highly enjoy the way back to the beach. At that moment, I was double-crossing some participants as I feel more comfortable with speed and descent.

III | RUNNING

Second transition and I start to feel a drop in energy. When I entered my feet in my shoes, I knew it would be tough but also knew I was getting closer to the goal ! It’s usually my preferred part : the one I can recap and go up in the ranking (which I actually did). But it hasn’t been that easy. During training I evolve the best in running, mainly because I practized way more that the two other disciplines which extend my Vo2 max and my technique. There were two loops of 10 km to run on “la promenade des Anglais” with a huge crowd of supporters. It was honestly the worst part. So long, so warm, so everything. First of all it was flat without too much excitement but mainly I was entering my 4th hours of high intensity and I was foreseeing the two last hours as a complete wall to go over! There have been great moment too : when you had this delight passage under light trickle of water that bringing back on the ring !

A strong emotional moment was during the last loop, when I was double-crossing a dad and heard his children shouting so loud to support him. It gave me thrills.

And then… the finish line ! This time is for good, you are about to pass it. Everything around me was fading and I was already dropping the pressure out as soon I stopped running. I walked to the volonteers and got my medal : the precious sesam that doesn’t lie.

“ If you fail to prepare, you’re prepared to fail.” — Mark Spitz

The first time I heard this, I was in charge of the digital communication in a healthcare company. We were participating in an event in Italy when the live feed of a video didn’t work… in a middle of our presentation with 200 European physicians and doctors. At this precise time, the director of Italy came to me and share this wise quote to me. It can’t be more true and inevitable when compared to any projects you would have. It goes the same with sport. And I like this quote ! It seems common sense yet it’s the essence in every successes. But it’s important to fail to understand what was lacking in your preparation. It’s not a secret that successes need failures. And to prevent this, the best answer is to be well-surrounded.

“It’s not the finish line that matters. It’s the struggle that went before.”

In a world where failure is still not well perceived (/the large companies world), it’s more than ever important to feedback the failure and all the journey that lead to the success or its contrary. It became obvious to compare sport and business as they are similar in so many ways. When I read this quote I see the struggle as an exciting journey during the event but also the hours of training prior to this. The struggle is in all the training, all the preparation to complete a challenge. There is also a clear development in running competitions and events that are rising the bar. And it sometimes deviate the real purpose of doing this. The point is to finish, to achieve a goal, an objective, to make it to the finish line. But this is not the everything : it’s the way you make it. In the business you often hear about the what and the how. Both are important to deliver a project but to me the how is the most precious. It’s telling a lot about yourself, it’s defining you, your vision of the challenge, of the teamwork and this will stay as strongly as the what. That’s why I’m working hard in developing the how and improving it.

Actually I lied… I didn’t make it to the finish line… WE MADE IT !

Racing a half-IronMan is a pure self-event. When you start your triathlon you are by your own. You compete among others, you compete among your friends, you compete among yourself. From swimming to running. Yet the most important is the team. You run as one but practice as a team. It’s the most powerful thing when it comes to accomplishment. Always work and practice as a group, compete as one. Without this, I wouldn’t have been able to make it to the finish line. At least I wouldn’t took as much pleasure as I did during this.

Those competitions are full of rituals too : individual and collectives. First one is the preparation on the D-Day : same placements of your items in the bike part, same breakfast in the morning, same movements to process before transitions. And of course to always wait all your friends at the finish line to give us the extra support and strength to get to the end.

This is the team spirit that helped me to enjoy and progress in my training, that reminded me to hold and be my best until the finish line. This moment when you cross it and find your friends to exchange this look of “we made it”. I would like to thank Thomas — that made me discover this sport by joining the Tri Team Lutry club — a great teammate with a positive mindset, sharing is motivation and passion around sport !

The IronMan organisation is well advanced in live tracking and made possible for all people to follow the race. You helped me in this for being here to listen all my stories (or pretending to listen to it). So a big thanks for your support ! What stroke me the most was getting support from people I’ve seen in years ! (s/o to : Hery, Jessica and Christopher !) Classmates from my business school living in Nice that decided to be there along the path. It was a warm feeling !

Congratulations for those who made it until here ! You also made it to the finish line, so you’re ready for your next challenge ! I hope that it inspired you : start a new project at work ? start a new challenge outside ? wear your shoes and go out running ? or just start typing an article to share YOUR finish line. In any cases you are interested for more details, I would be honored to have a discussion. I just registered to my second IronMan 70.3 in Marbella, April 2019 ! For the rest, I feel 2019 will bring many new adventures and… challenges !

At the end I see this experience as a good opportunity (and excuse) to write this quick article first because of course I’m proud I made it but also as I try to share the exact same excitement and knowledge that is driving us, driving me, in discovering new territories, of your body or your soul. I — many times — mentioned “success”, but it’s essential to have its own vision of it and I’ll leave you with this inspiring TED Talk of John Wooden on the difference between winning and succeeding : here.

“The finish line is just the beginning of a whole new race.”

#SwimBikeRun #Triathlon #IMNice70.3 #IMadeItToTheFinishLine

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Follow and join Tri Team Lutry trainings.

I’m on Strava

Photo credits : Léa (thank you !)

Photo edits : canvas.com

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