The views and opinions expressed in this blog are mine personally, and are not necessarily representative of Texas Health Resources or its subsidiaries.
Who Are Your People?
By Ed Marx
As I sat down to blog, I had every intention of going back to a non-Ironman-related post. My attempts to post on matters more closely associated with health care IT failed to excite me. If I can’t be passionate about one of my own posts, my readers will pick up on that, and I will have failed to connect in a meaningful way. Not to mention that many of you have e-mailed me asking about the Ironman Arizona. So indulge me one final time and glean from the lessons that can apply to both leadership and life.
APRIL 10, THURSDAY– I pulled in a few days early to acclimate to Tempe and to finalize preparations. Though it was a long haul from Dallas, I chose to travel via car so I could bring everything I wanted, plus keep control of my bike. You can better guarantee success by having the right tools and by making sure they stay in optimal working condition.
FRIDAY/SATURDAY– No grand feat, whether it’s a major race or going live with CPOE, is performed well if attempted alone. Surround yourself with people who lift you up. One of my employees, Don, stopped in my office a few weeks prior to inform me that he had started running for the sole purpose of praying for me. He timed his April 13 run to coincide with the start of Ironman. Another employee, Aaron, flew out after the race to help me drive back to Dallas. I welcomed both their embraces.
My son, also an experienced triathlete, flew in from college on Friday to assist me with the final prep and provide counsel. As a film major, he shot all aspects of the race — a potentially interesting YouTube feature this summer. We attended the Iron Prayer event to connect with other like-minded athletes. My wife and daughter, whose support I consider invaluable, arrived the day before the race.
RACE DAY– Athlete #1345. I awoke at 3:00 a.m. to begin the nutrition phase. I consumed a few hundred calories then slept again. Waking at 4:30 a.m., I mixed my drinks and headed down to the transition area. My son was filming and helping carry the specialized bags of equipment. By 5:30 a.m., my body was marked and my bike tires were pumped one last time. I found a spot under a tree and lay down to rest for the next 45 minutes. Appropriate preparation and planning can allow time to rejuvenate while others around you are scrambling to meet the deadline.
T-MINUS 30 MINUTES– Under the scrutiny of the camera, I changed into my wetsuit. After final interview, I jumped into the lake with the other 2,299 Ironman wannabes. I remained unusually calm, partially because I did not shortchange my preparation. When the cannon fired, I was physically, mentally and emotionally ready to race. Proper preparation preludes proficient performance. (Say that 10 times…)
SAM– Climbing out of the water, I picked up my bike bag and ran into the transition tent. My first transition was dedicated to Sam, the young son of one of my employees who got hit with cancer last autumn. I pulled out the handwritten card with his name on it and placed it on the ground before me. I prayed for him as I put on my bike gear. His fight to the finish line would far surpass mine.
112 MILES in 6+ HOURS– The strong head winds and the 95 degree weather were killing my expected biking pace like a defunct router on network uptime stats. Complaining wasn’t going to change it. I had to make the best of it. Persevere. Keep focused on the bigger picture. I loaded up on fluids and consumed 400 calories per hour, a total intake of 3,000 calories, partly to prepare for the marathon ahead. Combating an urge to keep rolling, I made myself stop and reapply lotions to keep from chaffing. It would pay off later. At mile 80 — my last time up the wicked hill — one leg started to cramp, and I realized I had yet to urinate. I forced down more drinks and salt tabs and the cramps subsided. At last, the final 15 miles were downhill and flat. Relief engulfed me.
* During the last lap, the cameraman passed me backwards on his motorcycle, which meant the Ironman leader was right behind me. I sped up a little so when the scene unfolded on TV, it would look like I was in second place! That lasted about 3 frames as the leader made me look like I was standing still.
PAM– The transition from bike to run was dedicated to Pam, who had breast cancer, the wife of one of my employees. I placed her name card in front of me and voiced prayers as I changed. Only a marathon to go, and I would be an Ironman. But how many marathons of treatments did Pam have left? My suffering paled in comparison. Thanks for your strength, Pam and Sam.
DEDICATED PLAYERS– Ironman staff had trained an abundance of volunteers to assist at every stage. At the first transition, volunteers stripped me out of my wetsuit while others applied sun lotion before the bike. As I ran down the middle of the bike compound, someone was at the end waiting with my bike. When I returned to the transition area, one volunteer took my bike while another handed me my run bag. I was again rubbed down with sunscreen before the run. Planted along the run route were hundreds of signs created by race families in support of their athlete. My family had made 3 to help focus me on my purpose in doing the Ironman. Surround yourself with people dedicated to your success, positive people who will encourage you despite the circumstance. They will get you through the loneliness and pain of challenging times.
STRENGTH vs WEAKNESS– In training, I deliberately chose to concentrate on my strengths: bike and run. I had invested a combined total of 353 hours on these two events. Had I invested extra time on the swim, I might have gained 5 percent in overall time. By concentrating on my strengths, I gained an estimated 20 percent. Twenty years ago, I almost made the mistake of returning to school for a technical degree. Realizing my strength was in leadership, I opted to develop those skills instead, and it paid off. What I might have learned in technology would have already been lost — and outdated. Don’t misallocate precious resources by strengthening weaknesses.
FIRST, BREAK…THE RULE– I violated a cardinal race rule, which warns to never ingest something during a race that you have not used in practice; it could make you sick. Following a fellow Ironman’s suggestion — that he declared had saved him on the run — I indulged in a flat Coke. The sugar-caffeine high juiced my battery. Picking up the tempo, I cruised along with renewed vigor. Sometimes you’ve got to shake things up a bit and not do the same things over and over, especially if they are not working.
THE END– I remember spotting the 26-mile mark on the marathon, but the last few hundred yards were a blur. Roaring crowds lined the grandstands. Officials held out the Ironman finish ribbon, and I raised my hands in triumph and received my medal. It was over. I had held nothing back. There is no rush like that of a mission fully completed.
Yet my eyes were searching for my family. My wife and I cried as we hugged. While my son continued filming, I embraced my daughter. This had been a long journey of very early mornings and regular sacrifices. A journey that took over our bathroom and kitchen with a plethora of Ironman gear and foods.
WHAT’S YOUR BIGGER PICTURE?– At the end of the greeting pen was Ellen, the person for whom I had run this race. I had given her all my medals from the events leading up to Ironman with high hopes that in some small way they would be an encouragement to her and to her family. Throughout training, I had focused prayers against the cruel disease that had invaded her body. I desired that, through the providence of God, those prayers would improve Ellen’s quality of life. I presented her with the Ironman finisher’s medal, and we both put up brave fronts for the camera though tears were streaming down our faces. Ellen does an Ironman daily, especially on chemo days.
As a leader, do you have a significant purpose? Or is it solely about the money and the new house? Put people first. Seek to serve. In health care, the Sams, Pams and Ellens are the ultimate endurance athletes running a race that nobody should ever have to run. We are there for them.
FYI- the last 20 weeks training log:
• Swim 111 hours (lost count)
• Bike 235 hours 4230 miles
• Run 118 hours 944 miles
• Lift/Stretch 76 hours n/a
I did get the Ironman tattoo which was nearly as painful as the Ironman itself.
Ed Marx is senior vice president and CIO at Texas Health Resources in Dallas-Fort Worth, TX. Ed encourages your interaction through this blog. (Use the “add a comment” function at the bottom of each post.) You can also connect with him directly through his profile pages on social networking sites LinkedIn and Facebook, and you can follow him via Twitter – User Name “marxists.”