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The official Ironman World Championship website has a countdown clock. As I write this, the countdown clock says that there are 22 days, 8 hours, 10 minutes until the race.

People comment that my race “must be coming up soon.” They ask if I am getting excited or nervous. To all of these, I say, “Yes.”

The race is coming up and I am excited and nervous. The clock tells me exactly how long it is but for the time being, an exact figure seems unimportant. Whether it is 22 days or 17 or some other number, so long as that number is not zero, seems not to matter that much. Here is what matters now:

On Tuesday, I ran along a bike path about three miles from my house. It was dark and very quiet. I had not seen anyone out except the man who always sits in his small SUV with a cigar and the newspaper. The car points east in the parking lot, I suppose so that he can see the sun rise. Sometimes he waves at me but, usually, he is engrossed in his paper and I run past without us acknowledging one another. The trees just north of the parking lot in which he reads close in overhead tall and dark, forming an arching canopy over the thin strip of asphalt that winds gently between the thick tree trunks and among the crisp leaves that now carpet the path and crackle beneath my feet.

I ran as hard as I could for this 8.12-mile course, trying to break an hour. I knew that this would take one of the best efforts of the season. The route is hilly and traverses gravel, streets, sidewalks, hills and dirt paths. It’s a challenging course and I wanted to extract the most from this run knowing that only a few really hard runs remained before Kona. I ran hard because I wanted to hurry up to make sure that I was ready to race. I realized, however, that no matter how hard I ran, no matter how ready I made myself, I could always be readier; I could always get into better shape – at least in theory.

Then I thought that the object was not to get into the best shape theoretically possible but only to get into the shape necessary to meet my goals: to finish the race and to race as though I belonged on the course with the other athletes in my age group. How would I know how ready I could be? How would I know if I was ready enough to meet my goals? Unfortunately, I could only know after falling short, by failing on race day. Failure would mean not finishing or by racing really slowly or by walking a substantial part of the marathon.

Ordinarily, I would measure my fitness Tuesday’s running route or the 56 mile bike to and from Watertown. I would know how those courses and times translated into performance at familiar races like Ironman Wisconsin and the Twin Cities Marathon. But this year, I would run neither of those races and my ten IMW’s and 25 TCM’s would not correlate to Kona. Instead, Kona would present a new course with new weather conditions – wind, temperature and humidity. While my past experience meant something, it did not mean enough that I could fall back on that prior experience to fully inform my performance at Kona. Kona would be brand new to me.

The situation seemed a bit like religious faith. Looking ahead, I simply could not know how things would come out. I had to take things I knew for sure, like my times on various familiar courses, the coaching that I have received, the entire body of training I put into Ironman and simply choose to believe in its sufficiency. There is no test that one could do to predict the outcome at Kona. To make that day bearable, to feel optimistic and excited about Kona, I needed simply to abandon certainty and to place my faith in a web of things seen and unseen that I believed added up to a day in Kona that would fulfill my expectations, hopes and dreams.

I knew exactly where the last mile started before I got home. I put my foot on the pavement at that point and started to really push. I ran at race pace, rounding a sharp right turn, running up a hill, along a sidewalk between houses, then a sharp left and sweeping right and sweeping left, down into the woods and up a very sharp, steep hill and along the sidewalk that bends just a little left and a little uphill heading east into the sun rising over our street as kids headed toward the pick up points for the school buses.

I crossed the crack in the sidewalk in front of our house that I use as a finish line and pressed the “stop” button on my watch.

I looked down: 1:00:05. I had missed my goal by five seconds. It was a strong run but I had missed my goal. I was not sure whether to be pleased or disappointed. My faith had not broken but I had not pushed that run to the level that would have made me feel really sure I was ready for Kona. The run helped me believe without making me feel certain.

On the Ironman website, the countdown clock had ticked off one more hour until the cannon blast over Kailua Bay.


One Comment

  1. : ) In my old age, I’m learning to distrust certainty. Thanks for the post. –Mayeron

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