Nathan Tanner

Becoming Ironman: Everything Went as Planned–Until It Didn’t

Here’s a short summary of my Ironman race at Bear Lake on September 17, 2022. I may provide a more thorough recap at some point.

On Saturday I set out to complete an Ironman triathlon. It was insanely hard. Harder than expected. But when this picture was taken I felt incredible. I had no idea what was about to hit me. 

2.4 miles of swimming and 112 miles of cycling were in the books. All I had to do was run 26.2 miles. I was feeling confident. The afternoon sun peeked through the clouds. 

In many ways I thought the hardest part was behind me. It was 42 degrees at 7am when I jumped into the cold water of Bear Lake. It had rained hard multiple times during the bike portion. It was hard. But I knew it would be hard. Months of training had prepared me for this.

But then reality came crashing down on me. I was 11 miles from the finish line when the weather turned for the worse. It got cold and windy. It started raining. Then it poured down. My pace slowed. Stomach cramps literally brought me to my knees. Darkness descended. I felt so alone. 

21 people had signed up for the full Ironman distance. 13 triathletes had either finished or were somewhere ahead of me. 7 had already pulled out of the race. Most of the volunteers had gone home. 

With 7 miles left and the rain still coming down a truck pulled up to me. A volunteer rolled down the window and asked if I wanted to be picked up. My body screamed yes but I slowly uttered no. They drove off. 

I wanted to stop. I was in pain. I was cold. I was wet. I was exhausted. I had to keep going. This meant so much to me. I knew if I could just make progress, regardless of my speed, I’d ultimately get there. I kept going. 

I was the final person to finish the race. DEAD LAST. Maybe I should have been embarrassed. But I felt nothing but joy as I shuffled across the finish line. I made it. I had persevered. I was an Ironman. 

Triathlon is a good metaphor for life. There are a million lessons that can be pulled from this experience. I’ll mention one. A few weeks before the race, my daughter asked me why I was doing an Ironman. It sounded silly to her. I shared the story of JFK and his speech about putting a man on the moon. 

He said, “We do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

You get stronger by doing hard things. You gain power when you set an audacious goal and do EVERYTHING in your control to accomplish it. You don’t give up when things get hard. You keep going.

I wanted my kids to see that. I wanted my clients to see that. To be candid, I needed to remind myself of that. 

We keep going. We don’t give up. Do hard things. Then do harder things.