My publisher Moshe Kinderlehrer said to me, “I’d like you to write a piece about a time you failed. Show your audience that you are human, that even you fail.”
(Hmmm, are you human?)
The challenge for me was this: In 15 years of racing, six Ironmans, 15 marathons and over 20 half Ironmans, I’ve never failed to finish a race.
(Show some humility)
I didn’t say it was easy. I just refused to quit.
(Is that because you are not human?)
No, it’s because I fear failure, so I prepare.
(A lack of planning on your part does not necessitate an emergency on mine?)
Exactly. The Ironman sets time cutoffs, and it’s on me to make those cutoffs.
The race starts at 7 a.m. If you don’t finish the bike course by 5:30 p.m., they will not let you start the marathon.
(They don’t let you take a break to change a flat tire?)
You can take breaks, but the clock doesn’t, and if you get a flat tire, you have to change it yourself.
(Don’t they have support cars with spare tires?)
No, that’s the Tour de France.
(Where do you keep spare bike tires? Is it like a “doughnut” spare for your car?)
No, I carry two spare tubes, three CO2 cartridges and a hand pump.
(You think of everything.)
I thought I had and that’s where I failed.
In 2010, I competed in my first Ironman Triathlon. In training, I swam, I biked, I ran. In planning, I booked the flights, I booked the hotel, I arranged the food … I forgot my wife.
(Did you leave your wife home?)
(Did you leave her in the airport?)
I failed to anticipate what it was going to be like for my wife while I was racing for 16+ hours. I assumed she would relax and enjoy the hotel. I failed to realize that my loving wife would worry about me.
After she saw me off at the 7 a.m. swim start, she had no contact with me until after 10 p.m.
(She must have been angry at you)
She forgave me as soon as she saw how beat up I was from the race and she took care of me … but she made sure I never did that to her again.
(She forbade you from ever racing another Ironman?)
No, since then, she learned. She bought me a new watch with “husband tracking” on it. She can see where I am in real time if I’m racing or training.
Since then, I have learned. I take my phone with me wherever I go, even on a race.
(Even on the swim?)
I leave it with my bike gear.
Since then, we have learned. We now travel with the children. The focus isn’t the race; the focus is the family vacation … with a race included.
We travel with friends, so while the husbands are out on the race course killing themselves, the wives can go shopping together.
(New motivation to finish faster?)
You can joke about it, but if I am doing all of this, my wife has earned the right to buy herself something special.
(But that is just a race. True change is a systematic overhaul of how one does everything.)
My wife has gone from being on the outside looking in to being an intrinsic part of the entire racing experience.
(Even your training?)
I swim every Monday at 5 o’clock.
(Who gets up at that hour?)
(Yes, besides you)
Well, the lifeguards. My point is I am up and out the door before she gets up. I fear that if my swim pace slips, I could put my race in jeopardy,
(The 5:30 pm bike cutoff?)
How did you know?
(I’m a good listener)
I started talking to my wife about my fear. It was the one thing I had kept from her. I was so concerned about the “I” that I forgot about the “us.” I explained the intricacies of proper swim race form and how the smallest change can result in the greatest victory. The more I opened up, the more she became a part of the process. Now, my Monday morning drive includes a 6:45 phone call.
(She grills you on your swim workout?)
Grill has such a negative connotation. She is part cheerleader and part coach.
She became so involved in the whole training process that by the time I started the marathon at the Ironman in Lake Placid years later, she was requesting updates. It was 4:30 p.m., and I hadn’t seen nor heard from my wife since I hugged her goodbye 12 hours earlier.
(She was tracking you, right?)
Very much so. My phone “pinged.” I looked and saw, “How do you feel and don’t you lie to me.”
I chuckled.I can’t stop her from worrying, but I can make her experience more enjoyable.
David Roher is a USAT certified triathlon and marathon coach. He is a multi-Ironman finisher and veteran special education teacher. He is on Instagram @David Roher140.6. He can be reached at [email protected]