Fear, Self-Doubt, and 140ish Miles

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It’s about 2:30am on Wednesday morning, November 24th. If you’re up this late (or this early) you’re probably cooking for a house of people for tomorrow’s Thanksgiving celebration in the US. If you’re up this early in Europe or Asia, well, good Wednesday to you.

I woke up about 45 minutes ago, and have been staring at the ceiling ever since. I can’t get back to sleep, I lie here listening to myself breathe, laughing in the delightful irony that is the fact that I can’t sleep, and what I’m worrying about requires lots of sleep.

In essence, my inability to sleep is causing me to worry even more about the reason I can’t sleep.

Vicious cycle holding on line 1 for you, Peter…

I’m worried about a simple question: Can I complete my first Ironman on Sunday, in Cozumel Mexico? Can I complete it in under 17 hours? (The official cut-off time, after which, they shut down the course, and you’re not an Ironman, no matter if you cross or not.)

Can I do it?

When I ask this question to my coach, to my family, to my friends, the immediate knee-jerk reaction usually goes like this.

1) Sure you can!2) You’ve done the training!3) Trust the training!

Like they’ve all read the “So someone you know is competing in an Ironman…” pamphlet they give out at self-help meetings.

“My name is Peter, and I’m a little scared today.” “Hi, Peter!”

The thing is, I know I’ve done the training. Or have I? I have sixteen different calendars going at any one time within my Master Google Calendar. Several are for my travel. (Flights, hotels, where I’m speaking, to whom I’m speaking, etc.) Others are personal (Mom’s Birthday, Karma to Vet) Even others are public – “In what city is Peter in today?” There’s one calendar on there, though, that stares at me – mocks me each morning. It’s made by my most amazing coaches at TriSmarter, and it’s simply called “Peter’s Ironman Training.” It looks like this: There’s been something on the calendar every day since April 1, even if it was just the word “rest.”

It’s the one calendar that I can’t count on Meagan to “handle” for me, it’s the one calendar I can’t change, or edit. If I want to change something, I have to ask my coach – I don’t “own” this calendar. It’s “owned” by my coach, and only he can change it.

It’s the one calendar to which I have to be true.

The problem is, as I sit here typing this (now at 2:37am) there’s a part of me that feels like, at times over these past six months, I’ve been unfaithful to this calendar.

I admit that I’ve cheated on my training calendar, and as I sit here, I wonder if the bad karma of that is going to come back and get me on Sunday.

Have I been entirely unfaithful every day? Of course not. I’ve done the rides. I’ve done the swims. I’ve done the runs. And I’d say I’ve done them 80-85% of the time I was supposed to.

But is that enough?

Is being faithful 80% of the time enough to get me through?

Those days where my flight was three hours late, and I landed in some strange city, and all I wanted to do was go to sleep – And so I did – And I blew off the 5 mile run I had, or the pool in the hotel sucked, so I blew off the swim, or the I got off the plane at 11:30pm on a Friday and walked into my apartment at 1am, and when 5:30 came around for my long Saturday ride, I slept in, and only did half of it?

Yeah. Those days. Those days are calling to me now, four days out from the Ironman. They’re saying “So… Is 80% enough? Do you think you can make it? They’re asking me, in hindsight, if cheating on them was worth it?

Mind you, it’s not like I did nothing. I did the 110 mile ride. I did the 18 mile runs. I did the 3+hour swims. I’ve done them. Are they enough?

I remember my first Half-Ironman, a little over a year ago. My friend Andre said to me – “You can fake an Olympic distance Triathlon. You can’t fake a Half-Ironman.”

He was right. And what does that say about a full? You can’t fake a 2.4 mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2 mile run. You simply can’t. You’ve either done the prep-work and your body will respond, or you haven’t, and it won’t.

I think I have. I’m pretty sure I have. But I’m not 100% sure I have.

And come Sunday, I honestly don’t know how my body will respond.

I was on a plane heading home from Austin a few weeks ago, and wound up sitting next to a guy who ironically, had also registered for Ironman Cozumel. We started talking, and he actually said this to me: “You’re carrying a little extra weight there to be an Ironman, no?”


Realizing that I had another hour or so in flight to talk to him, I laughed off his comment, rather than make the last 90 minutes of the flight very, very uncomfortable.

Of course, this was three weeks ago, and I can’t get his words out of my head. Funny thing is, he’s a VC in Austin with a firm you’d totally know. You’d think he’d have been taught to be a bit more tactful.

“Yeah, we want to fund your company, but you’re a fucking idiot, you’re ugly, and your girlfriend is a total cow, so we won’t.”

Something like that.

So his level of tact aside, I’ve been wondering for the past three weeks if he’s right. If I’ve been training so damn hard, why am I still heavy? Mind you, I’ve dropped close to 25 pounds since I started training (235 to about 210) but I’m still 210 pounds! Is that too much?

Carry 210 pounds a few feet. Now imagine doing it for over 140 miles. Can I?

Most people who take on an Ironman don’t look like me. They look a lot… I don’t know… more streamlined.

Example: This photo of me from the 2010 NYC Triathlon: Look at the guy in the green and blue top, and me in the Sportbeans top. The fact that I’m sponsored not by a bike company, or a sneaker company, but by a freaking JELLYBEAN should be enough said right there.

Yes, I’m 15 pounds less now than when that photo was taken in July, but still… Should I have eaten less? Should I have worked out harder? Should I be under 190 pounds? Or less?

What if my legs give out on the run and I realize it’s because I’m carrying too much weight? “If I’d just lost 20 more pounds,” I can see myself saying, as they carry me off the course, and faster, thinner, more fit people run past me on the way to their personal glory. What if?

Coulda, shoulda, woulda, right?

The funny thing is, I’ve never, ever felt this in the business world. When HARO was acquired by Vocus in June of this past year, the last few weeks of the deal-process were complete and utter hell – But it was out of my hands. It was lawyers talking to lawyers, and there was nothing I could have done to change that. It’s kind of like that now, I suppose – The work is done – Nothing I can do now will change that – But I could have done things differently in July, right?

Same feeling – you walk on stage, is your speech ready? Could you have rehearsed more? Should you have shortened the Powerpoint? (By the way, the answer to that question is always “Yes.”) Could you have known the content more?

But I never feel that. I walk out on stage, and I know I own the room before I even open my mouth. I’ve been blessed to always feel that way when I speak publicly. I don’t know why. Fortune shined on me in that regard, I guess.

What about athletically? Has fortune shined on me there, too? I’m a sub-4:00 marathon runner (barely, at 3:58:03 in the 2006 NYC Marathon) – How will that play out on Sunday? A four hour marathon on Sunday in my dreams, perhaps.

My goal on Sunday is to finish. I have 17 hours in which to do so, and if need be, I’ll take all 17 hours. And to my Mom, Dad, Lara and Jasmine, who are giving up their Thanksgiving weekends to come and be there for me, I’m sorry I’m going to take so long. I know it’s going to be a long day for you, just sitting there, seeing a good 90% of the race (or more) cross the finish line before me. Any of you are welcome to my iPad, I have some good books on there. Try Angry Birds. It’ll pass the time like nothing else.)

But yeah – It’s going to take a bit of time, no doubt. In fact, it might even take 16 hours and 59 minutes. I can’t promise you I’m going to be fast. But I can promise you that I’ll try and put the demons of self-doubt out of my head on Sunday, just for the day, and I’ll try to do this thing. For you, for all my friends who have cheered me on, for all the parties and nights out I’ve missed over the past six months because I had a long run or ride the next morning, for everyone on HARO and Facebook and Twitter who’ve wished me luck.

I’ll try my best. For me.

No, I can’t fake this. So the question will simply be, “have I done enough?” And I guess the answer will come on Sunday.

Thanks for listening.

Peter Shankman11/24/10 – 2:58am

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