Top 10 Lessons I Learned From the Branson Half-Ironman – Part 2


Welcome back! Last week I told you Part 1 (#1-5) of the Top 10 Lessons I Learned From the Branson Half-Ironman. Thanks to everyone who left a kind word, note or comment about the Top 5. In review, they are:

1. I can’t swim in a straight line.
2. Lake water doubles as a hydration option.
3. Proper set up is invaluable.
4. Going downhill doesn’t last near as long as going uphill.
5. When the going gets hard, keep pedaling.

So, at this point in the half-ironman, I had swam way too far, used my proper set-up to efficiently transition between stages, and pedaled through the hardest cycle course on the 70.3 series. Now…on to Part 2, numbers 6-10 of the top 10 lessons I learned from the Branson Half-Ironman.

6. People are way better than me.

potts_wins Branson Half Ironman

Race expos are close to heaven for triathletes and distance runners alike. There is triathlon gear, fuel (a fancy term for food for the course), expensive bikes, and memorabilia all over the place. The thing I noticed first, however, was the men and women running and cycling near the expo at the host hotel. These were people who were going to compete in a 70.3 mile race the next day…and they were training…fast. Women running up the hill to the hotel with muscles bulging on top of muscles. There were packs of riders cycling on bicycles that cost almost $10,000. There were professionals there whose only job was to travel the US and compete for Ironman prize money. At this moment I realized I was out of my league. These people were triathletes. The people you think of when you think of an Ironman.

Let me tell you, when I got on the course…they were legit. They didn’t only look the part, they competed like professionals. I took 7 hours and 36 minutes to complete the course, and the winner took 4 hours and 4 minutes. He finished the entire race faster than it took me to complete the cycling portion. I finished 660 out of 882 participants…moral of the story? People are better than me. Actually 659 people were better than me that day, including two of my training partners who competed with me on the brutal course.

Branson Half Ironman Top Finishers 2012

There are always going to be people better than me, in pretty much everything that I do. I am not the smartest, not the strongest, not the fastest…and I am OK with that. I think many people strive to be the best and overlook their accomplishments along the way. Personally, I am always striving to be better, but I do not beat myself up if I am not the best. I went home that day as a Half-Ironman Finisher, I even have a medal to prove it. I could not have been more proud of my accomplishment that day, even if I wasn’t the best…and no one can take that away from me.

7. Most triathletes don’t have bellies.

Branson Half Ironman Athletes

I have a little belly right now…not huge, but still…I have a belly. It’s not always been that way. In 2010 I set out on a weight loss journey and lost almost 70 pounds in the process. It was an amazing transformation that has benefited me in countless ways. Distance running played a major part in that process and taught me the discipline and knowledge to stay fit. The half-ironman process is even more intense. My training program had me swimming, running, or cycling 6 days a week, often twice a day. I am not quite as fit now as I was in 2010, but the training helped me maintain the fitness level I desire. However, I looked chubby standing next to these Ironman competitors.

These are men and women who train all day, everyday for their races. A Half-Ironman race is nothing for them, and their bodies show the fruits of their discipline. My buddy Jason, one of my training partners, has ran at least 3 miles everyday in 2012. Talk about consistency. He also weighs 50 pounds less than me, and it shows on the course too!

I think people in my generation have been told their entire life that they can achieve anything they want…that the world is their oyster. However, I think most people have not been told that it takes a ridiculous amount of hard work to achieve your goals. That is one thing that is unbelievably impressive about these Ironman competitors…you cannot simply walk out to the course without training and try to finish an Ironman. You must train, everyday…you must eat right; you must run, swim and bike until you have blisters, sores, and bruises. It is not easy…but it is so worth it. Not only do the athletes show the physical benefits of their hard work, but the discipline, confidence, and persistence learned through training is invaluable towards achieving life’s goals and dreams.

8. Friends and family are utterly important.

Branson Half Ironman Ryan Eller

If you read my last post, you know that I had some tough times on the course. I was not going to quit, that wasn’t an option for me, but their were several times when I felt like quitting. During these times I was struggling…my legs were fatigued, my heart wasn’t in it, and my lungs were screaming for help. It was during these times that I thought of the things that matter the most to me. I thought of sweet Kristin who supported me throughout this whole process. I thought of Baby Jane who smiles every time she sees me. I thought of my parents, sisters, my brother-in-laws, nieces, and nephews. I thought my friends who spur me on and push me to be my best.

Then there were the times when I saw many of those people on the course…literally supporting me as I competed in this grueling challenge. I saw Kristin and Baby Jane cheering me on, and every time it lifted me beyond measure. I stopped being tired and sore for a short while. I picked up my pace when I saw Jake, Loyd and Jason on the course. They gave me energy that I didn’t know I had. There is no question that I could not have finished the Branson Half-Ironman without their support and encouragement, not only on race day, but throughout all of training.

Don’t ever forget the people who helped you achieve your goals. We must rely on others, we use their encouragement, enthusiasm, and friendship to push us through the hard times in life. I am ever-thankful for my amazing support system. I hope you can all find those who spur you to greatness, who challenge you to strive for excellence, and believe in you 100 percent…they will help you finish your race.

9. Depend on your strengths.

Branson Half Ironman Ryan Eller Running

Before the Branson Half-Ironman, I had completed four marathons, eight half marathons, and countless 5, 10 and 15k races. I started as an out-of-shape amateur runner to a consistently fast runner. I had learned to push through the pain and frustrations of distance running to finish my races strong. I have been training hard as a runner since the summer of 2008, and it has brought me joy, friendship, and a sense of determination that can only be found when completing a major challenge.

As stated earlier, I survived the swim and bike portion of the race, and was completely exhausted when I laced up my running shoes in second transition area. My legs were pretty much Jello as I slowly started to trot onto the course by the Branson Landing. During each step of the first mile I felt as if I was going to fall down and not make it to mile two, much less the finish line. It was during this point that I thought about the St. Louis Marathon where my legs started cramping at the 25.7 mile mark, just a half mile from the finish line. During that race my legs locked up as hard as a rock…but I kept running. My legs were stiff and didn’t bend at the knee, but I kept on trucking, even if I looked like a toy soldier galloping down the street. I thought about the time during the Beijing International Marathon when Kristin and I were so cold and so out of our surroundings as we entered the Olympic stadium to finish our race. These memories and experiences gave me the inspiration I needed to push myself during the Branson Half-Ironman.

After that first mile, I started feeling better. My legs became sturdy and with each step I became more confident during my strongest portion of the event. As a matter of fact, the majority of the 13.1 miles felt great…surprisingly great even. I smiled through most of the course as I thought of all of the good times I had spent training and running over the past four years. I thought of the major physical, emotional, and spiritual journey I had completed up to that point, and the amazing goal I was soon going to accomplish.

All of us have different strengths. There are things that we do well, things that come naturally to us, and strengths that we have worked on over the years to enrich and develop. We must put an emphasis on our strengths to reach our potential. I was a naturally gifted runner who spent years developing that strength…a strength that became an asset on a day when I needed it most. Define, develop, and nourish your strengths everyday to achieve your goals.

10. Celebrate your victories.

branson finish RYan Eller

I am not going to lie to you…I celebrated this victory. One of the motivating factors during the race was how awesome it was going to be when I finished the competition. However, I created small challenges along the course so I could have some victories along the way too. Swim past that buoy and I could take a quick breather before I start again…victory. Get to the top of that hill and then I will coast for a while before I start pedaling again…victory. Run to the next water stop and then I can stop and stretch my tight legs…victory.

When I crossed the finish line I was greeted by Kristin, Jane, and our friends who cheered on my accomplishment. I ate three pieces of pizza, two chocolate milks, a bagel, and a few Gatorades…victory. When I came home I took the next few weeks off as a celebration and took long naps on the couch…victory.

In life we often celebrate the large victories: graduation, our wedding day, a new job, or a promotion. It is so important to celebrate those victories, and I encourage you to do so. What is often overlooked are the small victories, the ones that help us achieve our huge goals and dreams. At the end of a long day when you completed all of the tasks on your to-do-list…victory. When you clean out your storage unit because you want to save some money…victory. When you do the one really hard thing you’ve been avoiding…victory.

It may seem like it will be forever before you achieve your big, hairy, audacious goal…that’s why we need to celebrate those small victories along the way to keep us motivated and inspired to finish something we never thought possible…something like the Branson Half-Ironman.

Branson Half Ironman, Ryan Eller, Jake and Loyd

I am excited about the next challenge in my life, and the lessons I learned during this race will stick with me for much longer than the 7 hours and 36 minutes it took for me to finish. I challenge you to set a goal that seems ridiculous and totally dominate it through hard work, determination, and dedication. If I can do it, you most certainly can do it as well.

Ryan Eller
Founder & President
Paradigm Shift


2 comments on “Top 10 Lessons I Learned From the Branson Half-Ironman – Part 2

  1. Pingback: Top 12 of 2012 | Ryan Eller

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