My friend Sarah Nachins is an author and business woman who sent me this mornings inspiration. I hope you enjoy it as much as i did.

Anyone Can Accomplish Extreme Goals

Have you ever dreamed about doing something really amazing in your life, like sailing a boat across the Atlantic, starting a business or going to graduate school and switching careers?

What is it that drives some people to forge ahead and do something that, to most others, seems nearly impossible? I found myself thinking about this because I just finished reading a book, You Are An Ironman, about six men and women of a variety of ages and physical conditions who set out to accomplish the almost unthinkably difficult physical and mental challenge of the Ironman triathlon.

For those who aren’t familiar with it, the Ironman is an endurance race that participants are supposed to finish within 17 hours, beginning with a 2.4-mile swim in open water (the equivalent of more than 77 lengths of an Olympic-sized swimming pool)… followed by a 112-mile bike race (equal to riding from New York City past Philadelphia)… and culminating with a full marathon run, which is, yes, a grueling 26.2 miles.

If you’re thinking that these must be people who are already amazing athletes and are probably in their primes — you’re wrong. For example, one of the participants profiled in the book had cystic fibrosis before receiving a double lung transplant. Another is a formerly overweight mother of five children. Though I am not interested in taking on such a challenge myself, I am fascinated about what drives others to do such things, because there are lessons that we can all learn from them. So I called Jacques Steinberg, a New York Times writer and the author of the book, to ask him some questions…

Daily Health News: Why did you write this book?

Jacques Steinberg: I wanted to tell a story for people who may not necessarily have the desire to do an Ironman but are just curious about the bounds to which we can push ourselves as human beings. Whether we’re challenging our bodies or our minds, we tend to be our own worst enemies. I would argue that we can all push ourselves well past what we think we’re capable of accomplishing.

DHN: How do Ironman triathletes accomplish such an enormous goal?

JS: The trick is that they tend to focus on the positives — what they can do, as opposed to what they can’t do. They think about training one day at a time — so the task doesn’t seem too massive or insurmountable — and slowly build the intensity and length of their workouts. That simple strategy works. More than 90% of the people who set out to do a race like the Ironman complete it. Building enough physical strength and endurance is part of the challenge, obviously, but at a certain point everyone will tell you that the mental challenge is what takes over. The bottom line: These triathletes believed in themselves and were psychologically determined to see themselves through to the finish line.

DHN: What do they get out of it?

JS: It’s true that at some point during their training, the majority of Ironman participants suffer injuries of various degrees — after all, completing an Ironman requires a lot of wear-and-tear on your body. But you hear competitors say that the sense of accomplishment that they feel afterward is so powerful that it makes the whole journey worthwhile. And certain participants have noticed health benefits from competing. For example, some say that their depression was cured by their Ironman training or that it made their back trouble become a thing of the past.

DHN: Was there a common thread among the triathletes you followed, in terms of what they were trying to accomplish in their lives?

JS: It’s interesting to me how many Ironman triathletes didn’t consider themselves athletic when they were kids, but in middle age they chose to carve out new identities. For instance, the woman with five children told me that she wanted to be known as something other than just “Mom.” She said that completing a triathlon made her feel more fulfilled and that she was a better wife and mother for having taken it on. Another participant wanted to celebrate the fact that his cancer was in remission — he didn’t want to think of himself as a “patient” any longer. These are people who wanted to rewrite or augment their life stories — and they did just that.

DHN: We live in a time-pressured world. Why do you think people choose to participate in an event where the training — and the race itself — is so time-consuming?

JS: Day-to-day moments in life today can seem so fleeting — text messages, tweets and Facebook postings are taken in and quickly left behind. Experiences pass by us so fast that it’s sometimes hard to appreciate them. Taking on a challenge that requires endurance, like a triathlon, serves as an antidote. If someone can spend eight or 10 hours on a bike on a Sunday preparing for a race, it becomes a way to slow life down, to focus and to savor your time.


Jacques Steinberg, a New York Times writer and author of You Are an Ironman: How Six Weekend Warriors Chased Their Dream of Finishing the World’s Toughest Triathlon (Viking).