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Commit to a Challenge that Scares you. Today.

Laugavegur trekking route, Iceland

Is there an event that gnaws away at you? A race, perhaps, that you would love to have run but have never got round to it. A mountain, maybe, that you’ve never quite found time for. A book, even, that you keep procrastinating from reading.
Here’s mine: an Ironman* triathlon.

I ran a marathon a few years ago. I wore a rhino suit. Later I ran another one, in less than three hours, a time I was pleased with. I’ve “ticked” the marathon box. I don’t really have the desire to do another one.
A logical step-up from a marathon is to take on an Ironman triathlon. You have to swim a couple of miles, cycle more than 100 miles and then run a marathon. It’s a difficult thing to do. I admire people who have finished one. At the moment I could not complete an Ironman. That makes it all the more appealing!

For a few years now I have wanted to do an Ironman, but I have never quite got round to it. Here are my excuses:

  • I’m rubbish at swimming
  • I resent the fact that the more expensive your bike is, the faster it goes
  • I don’t have the time to train properly for an Ironman. My ego does not want me to enter something that I won’t do really well at
  • They are expensive to enter

None of these are very good excuses, are they?

It’s not as though I’m disabled and therefore cannot complete an Ironman. Oh, wait, even being disabled doesn’t stop this magnificent display of courage and love at an Ironman event (Work Place Caution: you might start crying at your desk). But what if I am so tired that I can’t run all the way? If you want it enough you will crawl to the finish line. And I’m not as young as I was when I ran my best Marathon time. What’s that? Even an 82-year-old can complete an Ironman?!

In other words, my excuses suck. I’m being pathetic. I am being lazy, fearful, vain and miserly.

I want to do an Ironman, even though it is difficult.
I want to do it because it is difficult.
It is because it is difficult, painful and requires commitment and sacrifice that I admire those who have completed an Ironman.
I don’t give a damn whether someone comes first or last. In fact I admire the fat, sweaty, broken bloke who staggers home last even more than the bronzed, smiling gazelle who gallops home effortlessly in first place.
I acknowledge that I might well fail at my first Ironman attempt (particularly given my excuses above). It is the very possibility of failure that makes eventual success so precious.

At the moment there is no way that I can swim, cycle and run all that way. But I suspect that with a lot of hard work and a pig-headed refusal to look facts in the face, that I might be able to make it to the finish line.

But I will never get to that finish line unless I get to the start line.

And therefore I am taking the most important step towards finishing an Ironman. I am publicly committing to doing one next year:

By the end of 2013, I, Alastair Cecil Hogmanay Humphreys, will swim 2.4 miles, cycle 112 miles and run 26.2 miles non-stop.

Why don’t you join me? Not necessarily for an Ironman (unless you are a masochistic, below-average-intelligence idiot, like me). But for whatever it is that you have been itching to do for ages. Your first marathon, perhaps? Your first mountain bike race? Your first 5km fun run? Right at this moment you might not be capable of completing that event. But if you commit to it now, and work hard, you will absolutely astonish yourself with your own potential.

You can find a race to enter on this site.

What’s the worst that can happen? You fail. What is worse than failing? Looking back on your life and regretting not giving it a go.

Do it. Today.

[UPDATE: I am ashamed to say that I withdrew my entry and did not do the Ironman. I had no very good excuse.]

* a pedantic legal note: Ironman is a brand. A triathlon covering the same distances does not count as an Ironman event unless it is an official Ironman event.

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  1. Inspiring Al! I am doing a similar bit with a race here in India that involves off road cycling. And man it scares the s*** out of me!!

    I might fall and hurt myself in the wrong places. But then I am only imagining what I will be feeling like at the finish line.

    All the best with your Ironman prep. I’ll be thinking of you as I train.

  2. Julia Lewis Posted

    I have just signed up for the endurancelife South Devon 10k, which will be the hardest run I have ever done, but on my favourite bit of local coastline. Been looking at the race entry for a few years…a few years too long! Hoping it will lead to more off-road running for my future. Good luck for your ironman-a student of mine is training for his first one, so I will put him on to your blog ASAP.

  3. Graham K Posted

    Aye ..indeed !

    Well timed – recently signed up to go and run the Caballo Blanco (was the Copper Canyon Ultra) out in Mexico. Will be a privledge to go and run along side the Tarahumara.

    The run does concern me but what scares me is actually getting to the start line. I don’t speak Spanish and have never been anywhere close to Mexico. Decided that getting the race entry was the start and everything else will work out fine …I don’t need to know every detail before hand. As usually happens, folks involved with the event are being extremely helpful and cannae wait for the jounrey to begin !

  4. I believe being a final year student trying to juggle cycling, rock climbing and (since october) daily swimming is a good enough excuse not to run a marathon (yet!), however after reading this this morning I did go out and batter my best time in the pool, so cheers for the inspiring article!
    P.S good luck with the IronMan training!

  5. Andy Jones Posted

    Just don’t turn into an Ironman bore, and if you get one of those sperm helmets I will never speak to you again!

  6. “What’s the worst that can happen? You fail.”

    One very good way to guarantee failure is not to do it at all.

  7. Julian Crabtree Posted

    Nice on Al – you’ll be taking on the Arch to Arc soon…
    If you need some help with the swim or training then let me know – swimming throughout the winter.

  8. BRILLIANT middle-names.

  9. Jim Hardy Posted

    My goal is an ironman next year as well.

    I did a half a few months ago, and felt great. After the MdS – although I still love running – I decided that I wanted to make time for the other two sports. I have really enjoyed a summer of open water swimming, but my cycling is rubbish!

    Not sure which to enter yet… and places are filling fast! The Outlaw is full. Maybe Henley? Wales?

  10. Damn the consequences.i will run my hardest this weekend at the race.

  11. Next Christmas I will be running the old Pilgrims way from Winchester to Canterbury. Around 112 miles. Oh and will be running my first ever marathon in October.

  12. Ian Miller Posted

    Very motivating – thank you. Next year 2014 I’ll have a crack at riding coast to coast, to coast. Setting off from the east coast I’ll follow the Hadrians Wall route to the west coast, bivi for the night and then return via the Lake District (Hardknott pass!) and the Yorkshire Dales to the east coast.

  13. Paul Meads Posted

    Great words Al. I’ve just signed up for the 2014 Ballbuster after reading your piece about doing something that scares you. The idea of the Ballbuster scares me. Then I read your piece about the 2009 Ballbuster and now it REALLY scares me! Nothing like a little fear to keep you motivated…!

  14. Alastair Posted

    I have to confess that I failed to do an Ironman this year. I’m not proud of this at all!

  15. Hiya
    Just interviewed you for and still surfing your blog… I use much the same excuses for not doing ironman and my excuse for not doing an ultra is that I don’t like running with a backpack… Oh dear!!!

  16. Incredibly inspiring!

  17. road running, road biking both boring… you know it, everyone knows it… iron man equivalent off road – how about the NZ coast to coast… one day, 240km, run over pass in southern alps, 70km kayak incl white water… i tried it and failed, but still much more interesting than an iron man



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