Risky Business: My Ironman Journey

Blog Author, Wendy Tieck
By Wendy Tieck
Master Black Belt, Enterprise Excellence Engineering
Email Wendy

Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.

~T.S. Eliot

In 2011, I took a risk and started distance running. I ran two 5k races and thought that was the farthest I ever would or ever could run. What I found is that taking risks often leads to new unforeseen opportunities. Shortly after, my cousin asked me to join her in the 2012 Princess Half Marathon at Disney World.

Wendy TieckThe thought of running 13.1 miles terrified me, especially since Disney had a strict pace requirement, and I am a super slow “runner”. But then I saw the finisher’s medal was shaped like a tiara. A tiara!!! I wanted that medal! So, even though I was scared that I might not finish the race and the “bus of tears” would pick me up, I bit the bullet and registered.

Looking back, I can’t believe I was afraid. The engineer in me was constantly doing the math, figuring what pace I had to maintain depending on my start corral. I was so worried during the run, so afraid of not finishing in time that I didn’t stop to take any pictures with the Disney characters along the way. As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about and completed the race with over an hour to spare.

My first half marathon taught me an important lesson: never put limits on yourself!

A few years later one of my friends suggested doing an Ironman, which is often referred to as toughest single-day endurance event in the world. I’m sure there are tougher things that people have done, but at 240 lbs, the thought of swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles, and running 26.2 miles within the allotted time seemed impossible. Completely impossible! I had watched the Ironman World Championships on TV and had seen people WAY fitter than me not finish. Completely impossible!

But you don’t achieve your dreams by playing it safe. So, encouraged by faith, I held on to the belief that anything is possible. With shaking hands, I registered for the inaugural Chattanooga Ironman and my journey began.

I’m not going to pretend that it was an easy journey. I had highs and lows. There were times when I had a good workout and came away thinking, “I’m going to be an Ironman!” But there were also times when I was more discouraged: when they announced a shorter allotted time; when there was a four-mile increase to the bike route; and when I wrecked my bike and ended up with terrible road rash, a concussion, and a broken rib. In these moments, I thought, “This is impossible, completely impossible!” Despite the obstacles, I pushed ahead.

Sometimes when I would tell people that I was training for an Ironman, I would get a very negative response, especially from very fit people. It’s almost like they thought that if they couldn’t do an Ironman, then there is no way that this fat chick can do one. But I wouldn’t let it get me down. In fact, it usually made me more determined to prove them wrong, and I would use their comments to fuel my training.

After months of training, it was finally race day. Instead of being nervous like I was for the Princess Half, I was actually pretty calm. I knew that no matter what, I had trained hard, and I was going to give it my all. If I finished before the deadline, awesome! If I didn’t, well, maybe I’d try again someday. In taking risks you have to weigh the potential loss against potential benefit. While there was a real possibility I wouldn’t complete the event within the 17 hour threshold, I would come out ahead either way.

As it turns out, we arrived at the swim start and everything fell into place. We had a great position in the line. The weather was nice and cool, but not cold. I had my best swim time ever (thank you TVA for the current). I had a great bike split, and I kept a consistent pace on the run.

When I crossed that finish line and became an Ironman, I felt like a superhero. I felt like I could conquer the world. That feeling has trickled into my personal and professional life too. I was faced with a monumental task recently at work and when asked if I could handle it, I replied jokingly, “Of course I can, I’m an Ironman!” Taking risks builds confidence.

I think that too often people are afraid of taking a risk because they are afraid of failing or having people laugh at them. Running down the finisher chute high-fiving every hand, finishing hand-in-hand with one of my best friends, having the winner put a medal around my neck, making the front page of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, and having so many friends and family telling me how proud they were of me was one of the most awesome experiences that I’ve had in my life. I can’t believe that I almost let my fear of failing keep me from having that moment in time. Never again!

Embracing risk-taking helps overcome a fear of failure. This Ironman journey has taught me to never get in my own way again. I will never tell myself that I can’t do something, and I will never listen to someone else when they tell me that I can’t. I will put myself out there and try. And maybe one day, if I’m lucky, I’ll find out how far I can go. I hope you will too.

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