"Adam Cuppy, you are an Ironman," came over the loudspeaker...
I had put in over three years of nearly 3,000 hours of swims, bike rides and runs to hear those words. And it finally happened. On November 21st, 2021, in Tempe, Arizona, I became an Ironman.
If you know my story, you know that in 1996 I was diagnosed with lung cancer, and my left lung was removed. Twenty years later, after a challenge to think of something I never would consider, I started training for the most audacious physical endeavor I could imagine: An Ironman triathlon. You can read more about my journey and the why, here.
In the beginning, my training was no fun at all and I couldn’t have imagined where it could have ended up. In the early days of training, I would set a towel on the living room floor with a water bottle. Then, after an exhausting 20-minute jog, I would collapse onto the towel and sweat myself to sleep - literally!
I had a lot of work to do and strength to build.
My first goal was a half-marathon. The idea of running 13 miles was insane to me and felt impossible in the beginning. But, on Veterans' Day 2018, I did it. It was exhausting and hard, but I wasn't done yet.
I signed up for another half-marathon in January 2019. My goal this time was to run (not walk!) the entire 13.1 miles, with no stopping. In early January, after two holidays and a few more months of training, I did it! I was slow, but I didn't stop running. Not once.
The next stop was a little more audacious: a full 26.2 mile marathon in June 2019. This time I had to train for endurance. I was predicting 5+ hours to finish. I had to think about my food and water throughout that time. I would burn close to 2,500 calories and lose about 3-5 pounds of water weight.
This time, I just had to finish…and I did. The last two miles were brutal! My legs were on fire, but when I saw my coach (who jogged with me for about a mile) and I could hear the crowd at the finish line, I got a boost of energy, and finished. My time was 5:07:00. I had achieved my next goal and yet, I wasn’t yet done.
This is where it gets serious. I added swimming and cycling to the mix. I was training to become a triathlete!
I could swim, but not for long. I could bike, but not for more than 10 miles. The distance from where I was to where I had to get to finish an Ironman felt impossible. I knew I could run a marathon, but damn, if I thought I could do that *after* I swam 2.4 miles and rode 112 miles.
How in the hell was this going to happen?! I couldn't imagine it but I focused on my next incremental goal.
It turns out that my first Olympic distance triathlon (< 1-mile swim, 26-mile bike ride, and 6.2-mile run) was a demoralizing disaster. I felt like I was going to drown, and my neck was on fire for the entire ride. I was entirely exhausted by the time I hit the run, and I walked it.
For the two weeks following, I was seriously considering throwing in the towel. But, it was no good, and with all the time I put in, I barely made it. But I did it….and I wasn't done yet.
After basking in my disappointment, my wife (Julia) said something quite simple, "Keep going. You won't be okay if you don't." So, I did!
By May 2020, I had worked out my challenges, built up my endurance, and the same Olympic distance triathlon was a piece of cake. I was amazed at how far I'd come.
In October 2020, almost a year after my first Olympic distance triathlon, I finished my first self-supported half Ironman distance which was: 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride, and 13.1-mile half-marathon for a total of 70.3 miles traveled! You know what comes next…I wasn’t yet done.
I began training for the last phase of my three-year journey: a FULL Ironman.
The achievement took another year. I swam dozens of miles, and biked and ran hundreds of miles. It was not easy, but with my family's support, I stayed the course. I got up early, went to bed late, had work meetings on a bike trainer, and used Siri to dictate emails and chat messages as I ran. I didn't give anywhere near what some triathletes give to reach their goals but I gave everything I had.
Then, one day I did it. I got up at 4:00 AM, made my breakfast and loaded up the car. My Dad and best friend drove me to the start line, and I got into the water at just after 7:30 AM. Finally, at close to midnight, I crossed the finish line and became an Ironman.
They say an Ironman can be a test on your marriage. For me, I noticed that it strengthened my marriage. I became a better me, all around. My life is not just different; it's better.
You don’t have to do what I did to obtain a similar result. My choice was to become an Ironman triathlete. I believe we all need to strive for something audacious - out of the realm of the probable to find out what's possible. That’s the true gift that can lead you to your best self.
You and I are the same, really. We dream. We hope for better. We show up. What is your big, hairy audacious goal you are curious about? Take a moment to consider what journey you plan to take. Does it excite you? Are you drawn to it, even if it sounds impossible?
If so, do that thing. Break it up into smaller goals that build on each other. Prove your inner critic wrong and surprise even yourself. Trust me. It's worth it.
I may never do an Ironman again...but who knows? I'm not done yet.