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I called my coach, the fabulous Jared Berg, on my way home from work on Monday night. For reasons that I could not articulate, I had become really nervous about Kona. Maybe it was the fact that I had finished my last weekend of long workouts and all that remained was to hang on to that fitness, waiting for the cannon to sound.

I called Jared to talk it through.

“We can make this short or long, Jared,” I said.

“OK,” he answered in an apprehensive way, suggesting he knew he would not get away with the short conversation.

“We can dive down into all the details of my training and all of the things we need to plan for Kona or you can tell me two things.”

Jared chuckled and said, “So what do you need me to tell you?”

I like Jared for several reasons. First, I like him because I have much better hair than his. Jared has no hair on his head whatsoever. I also like Jared because his coaching got me to Kona. Most importantly, Jared has a knack for telling me exactly the right thing at the right time. In that he is absolutely consistent and that is no small talent.

“I need you to tell me that I am in shape and that everything is going to be OK,” I said. I sounded needy.

“That’s it?” Jared laughed, “OK, you really are in good shape and things are going to turn out awesome.”

I expected the hyperbole. Jared is, after all, a coach. But I needed to hear someone else say it, someone who knew the situation, knew all of my workouts, all of my average watts and mile paces, IMW swim times – all of it. It helped that Jared had raced Kona and had qualified four or five times. Jared knew me and he knew the territory on which I would race. I understood that he would not say, “Whoa, I’m not sure you are going to make it. Are your tickets refundable?” I knew that he would encourage me but I also knew that he would tell me the truth, even if he wrapped the truth in an optimistic package.

We spent an hour on the phone. (So much for the short conversation!) We got into all of the details – nutrition, hydration, positioning for the start of the swim, bike pacing, wind, humidity, terrain, temperature, run pacing, average swim, bike and run times for my age group in Kona. As we discussed each, I realized that we were plowing old ground. I had studied up on Kona and knew about what I would face. Jared and I had formulated close variants of the Kona plan when preparing for hot races at Wisconsin and Coeur d’Alene over the years. What was new this time were the setting and the fact that I was running in a world championship. I needed to form a plan that would take me from start to finish safely and fast enough to deserve the company in which I would find myself. No illusions of grandeur could cloud my anticipation: I would be a participant and not a contender. Even so, pride would be on the line and I want to race Kona like I belong there. Challenge enough.

Reflecting on our conversation afterward, I understood what I needed when I called Jared. We could have stopped with the short conversation: I needed only to know that I was OK and that everything would turn out fine. Isn’t that something that everyone needs to hear from time to time? We think of needing to comfort kids by telling them that they are OK and that things will be fine. I’m not sure that we outgrow the need to hear that as we get older. Apparently, I don’t.

Ironman is crazy. You work out long and hard, pay a lot of money, subject yourself to the elements, achieve uneven results and, when you succeed, you end up matched against even longer odds that make you feel vulnerable. Then you ask an expert to tell you that you are OK.

Sounds like life.


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