Q : How do successful people take on a difficult challenge and conquer it?

A : A year ago I completed the Ironman Triathlon in Lanzarote. It’s ranked as one of the 10 most difficult endurance races on Earth.

Every night for the 12 months of training preceding the race, I’d go to bed thinking “HTF am I going to complete this race?”

And what’s worse is, I was on the wrong side of 40… Not the “ideal” age to take on a daft challenge like this.


But, anyway, here’s how I did it…

Break down your challenge, focus only on the short term goal

For the record, the Ironman is a :

  • 3.8km ocean swim
  • 180k bike
  • and then finish with a marathon (42k)

Non stop.

At the beginning of the 12 months, I hadn’t done nearly enough training to even attempt the race but I focused only on what I had to train for that month. I had never run a marathon before. I was expected to run a marathon after 9 hours of exercise…

Breaking down challenges into small parts is a powerful motivator. If you follow the plan, and have confidence in the plan, you don’t need to worry about how things are going to work out.

Set out and measure your way points, stick to the plan

Conquering this challenge required I break the race up into small parts. If I looked at the whole day I’d get dizzy at starting 7 in the morning, finishing long after sunset with no break, but that’s what it is.

Here’s how I broke down the challenge:

  • The swim wasn’t a 3.8km swim but 2 x 1.9 kms.
  • I broke down the bike into about 15 sections and wrote down the times for each one. Rather than focus on the 6 hour bike ride, I only concentrated on completing the current segment and the appropriate time.
  • When it comes to the marathon, many competitors get crushed by the prospect of running 42 km after about 8-9 hours on the move. I broke the challenge down… 42 km isn’t a marathon, it’s 4 x 10 km races. I’m comfortable with 10k. For each 10k I broke that down in 5k again and set time waypoints, so all I focused on was the current 5k rather than the daunting 42k whole.

By breaking down the whole race and working out my times, I said I’ll be able to complete the race in 12 hours 30 minutes. My final time was 12 hrs 25 minutes 19 seconds.

To finish so close to my target shows how breaking down challenges keeps your mind focused on the task at hand, rather than getting overwhelmed by a mountainous achievement.

There were times when I was in pain, my feet were bleeding, my legs killing me, my eyes stinging with sweat and in any endeavour you are guaranteed these dark moments, no matter how good or confident you are.

You absolutely must break down the challenge because there will be times when you’ll want to quit. If I was thinking “crap… another 9 hours to go” I’d never finish. But, I’d only be thinking of the next 5km or the next 30 minutes.

Two final pieces of advice…

Have fun taking on the challenge…

Whatever the challenge, remember that it’s the achieving not the achievement that makes you. A training buddy offered me some good advice about our Ironman challenge. He said… “remember it’s only one day.”

So true.

Sure, it’s 12 months of training and 4-5 years of dreaming ending in one day. So, I wasn’t going to sacrifice everything to make it happen.

On the day, I remembered why I was here. I talked to competitors on the course, cracked jokes and had fun. So many were “in their zone” and you could see they were suffering. Sometimes when you get chatting, people lighten up, start enjoying themselves. It’s a shame because we should never forget that we put ourselves through this challenge.

Don’t beat yourself up…

And lastly, don’t beat yourself getting there.

When I started my 1 year training plan, my goal was to complete the Ironman. Before the race, I started getting cocky and saying I’d do it in 12 hours, 11 hours and so on… It’s a recipe for a failure. Stick to your plan and remember where you came from.

The key to remember in any challenge is, whether in business or sport,

you’re not competing with other people, but with your former self.



Source: Graham D Brown on Quora.

Published by Gerardus Gilang