In my personal life, 2006 will always be the year of the Ironman. I may do other Ironman races in the future, but this year was defined by my first Ironman, and the Ironman defined me in ways that these intense moments in our lives have a way of doing. As with childbirth, or climbing a mountain, or any activity that takes you to the limits of your most elemental self, the Ironman has a way of teaching you things about yourself that were previously unrevealed.
Today I was raking leaves (again! see again the size of my leaf pile, only now slightly diminished after days and days of moving leaves) and after an hour or so my hands started to get blistered and my shoulders sore. But I now have the knowledge that if I just come out and do it again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day, then I'll be able to go longer and harder every time and eventually it will feel easy to move leaves for as long as I want to. Just like by November of this year, I could jump on my bike and ride a hundred miles, an inconceivable distance to most people, without much more thought than "Do I have enough Powerbars to last me a few hours?"
The Ironman taught me that I could push through fatigue, pain, and hunger to accomplish the goals that are important to me. In fact, it taught me that I could find an inner place that would take me through hours and hours of unanticipated pain, and come out the other side with barely a memory of what I'd been through, and a smile on my face to boot. More than almost anything I've ever done, it taught me about the depths of my spirit: dedication, strength, focus, endurance. It's not just a physical sport, but a mental challenge that cannot be overestimated.
A year ago, I had just registered for the race, and eleven months seemed like an eternity to become prepared. A year ago, I didn't know if my body could do what it failed to do fifteen years ago: make it to the starting line, healthy and ready to go. Beyond that, make it through the swim, the bike, the run, and become an Ironman. Now I know, and the knowledge will be with me always. As we move through the last few hours of 2006, I'm very grateful to have had this experience. If I stay awake long enough to see the New Year turn tomorrow night, I'll raise a glass of champagne to all of you out there, striving to find the place where your spirit shines.