March 2, 2013

I have spent some time during the past few weeks studying the Ironman Hawaii Champions. All of them. I have researched, read every single article I could find, and have watched every interview that I could get my hands on. There is something special about the athletes who have won the Hawaii Ironman, something different. I couldn’t articulate it but I could feel it. I began to notice it when I watched Pete Jacobs in Hawaii this fall.

There is something different…. special… about this guy. Was that true of the rest of them? Would I be able to learn that having only personally met a few of them and not knowing any of them personally?

The answer was yes.

There are common characteristics of all of those champions. Their intuition on the day that they won…. was stronger than anything or anyone around them.

Not one of them stood on the top of the podium and said “I rode my prescribed wattage, ran XX pace and that was what helped me win.”. None of them talked about that at all.

Disclaimer: I did not just say that data is meaningless. Don’t go throwing garmins and powermeters into the ocean. Data is important. Training metrics are important. At the end of the day they teach you about you. They teach you how to read your body. I guarantee… and I’d lay money on it…. if I had a bunch of professional and amateur athletes in front of me and all of their gamins were in front of me and not them…. if I called out “Go to XX zone, XX pace or XX wattage.” The majority of them would hit it without looking at it. You ride and run it enough and it becomes ingrained. Data is important, especially when tracking progress and learning intensities. Don’t discount that.

What each of these athletes did seem to have in common …. was belief…. faith…. and most of them in some fashion talk about the connection to the island. Not to get all LOST on you here…. but if you have ever been to Hawaii (for me, three times) there is an energy there. There is a feeling. That’s deeper than what I can articulate.

The trick is being open to it. It’s there, but the channel has to be turned to the right station. It seems the sciencey folks have the most trouble tuning into that. The spiritual ones, for them it comes easy. For those of us in between…. it’s a leap of faith. You run down Ali’i drive and suddenly you stop watching HR and pace and all of a sudden you feel it in your soul. You feel an attachment to yourself and an intuition that can never be measured by …. well anything.

All of the champions…. had that.

They had intuition and some sort of connection to the island. You hear it in their speeches and interviews. Some of them came to the island wanting to own it and got spit out the back. When they came to the island with respect for it… then the magic happened.

And don’t tell me that there is no magic. Look at every single one of those champions. There is magic in there. Not the kind of magic where one day they have magic abilities and magic powers. They do the work, they measure their progress. When they set foot on that island though…. the dial is tuned in, the data might say one thing but in their heart they feel something different.

It’s the edge that allows them to play the field on the bike. Feel confident when taking chances. Become brave enough to take chances. Pete Jacobs said that when he was leading the bike the numbers said he was going too hard, but he felt good. He said he felt good so he went with it, because he knows we are always faster than what the numbers say.

Some athletes come into the race with predictions. Based on their training data they should swim X, bike Y and run Z. There is truth and validity in that. There is also anxiety control. When I stand on a starting line…. despite what the data and numbers predict…. I don’t really know when I am going to finish. While I have a detailed plan it’s truly just a guide. The Ironman is an unknown and the best laid plans are really a good estimate. Things happen during the day both good and difficult. In my own preparation for Ironman I visualize the race a million times. I visualize every single problem I could possibly run into. Because when it happens I am ready for it.

But I also visualize the feeling. That spiritual feeling. It’s my heart as a balloon and it’s leading me forward. When I can tap into that I race my best. While I am a data girl I am more of a spiritualist. I need to have a connection to the race and I need it to mean something. Churning out miles and wattages isn’t meaningful…. unless I find meaning in it.

The champions of Ironman taught me to no longer discount that piece of myself. I have admittedly suppressed that in favor of practicality and cold hard evidence. Through the past few seasons I have lost my faith in the magic of possibility.

And I have just recently found it again.

What makes these Hawaii Ironman Champions special…. is that they have faith, belief, and are willing to reach outside of themselves regardless of what the plan states. They are willing to make the move knowing full well it may fail. Don’t get me wrong…. all of them were meticulous in their preparation. Their training, their restoration…. all of them. They used the data to guide and to measure.

There are many other factors which they learn to manage as well, don’t allow me to discount that. They manage heat and nutrition and a multitude of things. All of them do it superbly. But the ones who win…. seem to have intuition as their extra edge. I am not saying the data is not important during race day either… everything is important. Again this is just the extra edge I have noticed through my own personal observations.

When it came down to race day for them however…. all bets were off. They had the plan… and then something happened. Something within them that gave them their edge. That gave them that little extra. It was their intuition. Their willingness to turn the dial so they could hear it loud and clear, like an old fashioned radio station with the dial and needle. They had the ability to turn it just right so the signal was loud and clear.

That ability lies within all of us. You have to just be open minded enough to listen to it.



  1. And faith is something so hard to develop, don’t you think? It’s a faith in oneself–and that takes discipline to cultivate.

    • Absolutely!!!! Just as difficult and important to cultivate as the rest!

  2. Fascinating and applicable to so much in life. Thanks, Mary.

    Charles E. Cote

  3. Lead with the heart – the only true and authentic way to live life.

  4. I love this, it is so true…there are some things you just can’t teach…

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