Arial view

July 25, 2012

My friend shared this picture with me the other day, it’s of a place called Battleship Cove in Michigan (if I remember correctly). I think I could stare at it forever. I have a love for big open spaces, being able to see forever and scenes like the above. It makes you realize just how small you are in this great big world and how if we don’t stop and take a look around once in a while…. we miss scenes just like this.

This one is of Columbia River Gorge, and is from the same friend. Another example of places you can see forever.

If you have ever listened or read anything from a man named Garret Kramer you know what scenes like this mean. He tells a story of walking around in a forest bumping into trees. Getting irritated because it’s crowded and the bigger picture isn’t very clear. He goes on to instruct us to imagine we are suddenly lifted up as if we were in a helicopter above the treeline. A minute ago we were in the thick of it and now we are pulled above it looking down. We realize that yes, there is plenty of room and yes…. there is enough space down there… and okay…. that is the pattern of the trees. When we were ground level it didn’t make sense. But pulled away from it, looking at it from above, it made perfect sense. We need not only to see the forest through the trees…. we need to view the whole darn forest.

That’s what pictures like the above exemplify for me. Not just in sport but in life.

Much of what I do in my life relates to sport however, so let’s continue down that track.

As a triathlon coach one of the most important jobs I have is to maintain this panoramic view. As an athlete the view we often see is ground level, bumping into trees. Why am I doing this… we might ask. What’s this all about? Many times as athletes we don’t necessarily nail one single workout or on the other hand we nail it so well we immediately ask our coach….. does that mean I am fit? Does that mean I am not fit?

We have to put our athletes on the helicopter and bring them to our vantage point. It’s the shape of the work that matters most, not the individual days and individual heart rates and paces. It’s the work over time that matters most. When athletes are in the thick of things it can be difficult for them to step back and see the big picture. That’s our job as coaches….  to work the details into the bigger picture.

Ironman is beautiful like that. It’s the culmination of an entire year of those trees that you bump into. There are times when you feel lost. There are times when you feel like the compass is completely wrong. There are times when you just want to lay down. Then the cannon goes off and in the space of 17 hours or less….. dreams are realized.

It’s not just a race. At least to me it’s not. It’s a spiritual experience in many ways. Call me insane…. but that’s how I feel about it. Not only for myself but also for my athletes. You learn things about yourself. You go to places you didn’t even know existed. Even if you have been at this Ironman game for a long time…. it still happens.

One of our professional QT2 athletes … Tim Tapply had that day on Sunday. He’s a father of three, works full time and competes as a professional. He came up that hill one last time on Sunday with a look on his face that showed…. he was in a place that he had never gone before. It was like the worse it got the harder he ran and just looking at him you knew he was in a corner of himself he didn’t know existed. I wish I had a picture of it.

When I talked to him afterwards he told me the world was closing in…. and he had to go to “that place.” It was incredibly inspiring to me. How many of us are willing to dig that deep, to go to those corners of our soul…… not knowing in that moment if we would make it back. That’s what Ironman does. It challenges you like that. It gets hard. It hurts. Sure it hurts your quads and hamstrings but…. it takes you to a place you have never been. If you are lucky. If you allow it to, it’ll show you strength you never knew you had.

You can’t plan for it. You can’t train for it. You just have to know it’s coming and you have to be ready for it. You just have to let it happen.

For me Ironman and even not Ironman…… life….. is about remembering to stand on the cliff and look out over the canyon, and remembering to do that when you are focusing on one small rock on the ground.  It’s about taking the helicopter above the treeline and looking down. It’s about bumping into the trees when you get down to ground level and understanding there is a plan, there is a reason, there is a way through.

Ironman mirrors life in many ways. That’s what I love about it. It’s long. It’s difficult. It’s the unknown even though you have done it before. It’s looking out over the world and being able to see forever. It’s not one mile, two miles although that’s we have to approach it (another blog for another time).

So today…. give that a try. Step back. Look out, look up, look down. See the big picture instead of what is right in front of you. As a coach it’s vital. As an athlete it’s enlightening. The beauty of what is before you will calm you, will engage you, will bring you peace and will intrigue you all at once.

That is what makes life so beautiful.






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