On overworked legs, I pass a sign that says, “El dolor es temporal pero la gloria es para siempre”–pain is temporary, but glory is forever.

I hold this thought in my mind as I reflect on the past 14 hours over which I’ve endured a 2.4-mile swim with multiple jellyfish stings, a 112-mile bike ride with indigestion, and most of a 26.2-mile run with several stops to puke my guts out.

My legs ache, and I’m pretty certain I’ve sustained stress fractures or worse, but I’m still on my feet, and I’m still moving. I can’t stop. I won’t stop. Hundreds of cheering voices impel me to summon what little strength I have left and run the last quarter mile to the finish.

And then before I know it I’m there. “DANIEL CHIU, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!!!!” the announcer shouts with more enthusiasm than my tired mind can fathom. I hobble, trip, stumble–whatever my leaden muscles can manage–across the finish line where, still in shock, I’m given a medal, and whisked away to recovery. I’m an Ironman. The pain is over. The glory is forever.

Reflection

This is the end of a very long journey. A little less than 6 months ago I finished my first triathlon, this time last year I finished my first marathon, and this time two years ago I had just finished my first 5k since leaving for college. When I started this I literally had to swallow my pride and walk laps around Lake Lag to get back into shape because my legs, heart, and lungs couldn’t take much more than that.

I set out to do this because at first it seemed impossible and I wanted to prove to myself that the limits were only in my mind. Though my personal power has grown, and my limits have been stretched, I have to admit that crossing the Ironman finish line was underwhelming. At first, I thought this was because of the shock and exhaustion–all I wanted to do right after the race was sit my ass down, never look at a piece of food ever again, and nap somewhere warm for the next several millennia.

What I’ve realized in the two weeks since finishing the race is that the 13 hours, 58 minutes, and 16 seconds it took me to complete an Ironman isn’t actually what made me an Ironman. It’s not as if the final step of that marathon transformed me into a fundamentally different person. Instead, I believe I became an Ironman little by little, step by step, over the course of the past two years.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned from this experience–other than that you should always chew your goddamn food–is that personal growth isn’t about medals or accolades, but about journeys. It’s about the little challenges we face everyday, the choices we make, and who we decide to be even when nobody’s looking. I am who I am today–an Ironman–not because I crossed a finish line and earned a medal, but because I decided to put my sneakers on everyday, rain or shine, and train; because I resolved to do so even on those days when I lost sight of the goal and didn’t want to–yes, I have those days, too; and because I chose to push myself to keep going even when parts of me wanted to give up.

Truthfully, this is a journey I strongly believe anyone can take; there’s nothing fundamentally different or special about me. Perhaps the goal doesn’t have to be an Ironman, but we all have the occasional lofty dream we think is impossible. I encourage you to chase it–the limits are so often in our minds. Maybe it doesn’t feel within your power now, but with the courage to dream something crazy and the discipline to pursue it passionately, relentlessly, and consistently, it will be before you know it.

Acknowledgements

I want to thank everyone who supported me, encouraged me, and cheered me on from afar.

Additionally, there are a few really incredible people in my life who I want to specifically call out. Behind every Ironman is a kick-ass Ironman support crew. Here’s mine:

To my Dad: Thank you for always doing what you can to support me. Thank you for making it to my track meets and cross country races when I was younger. Thank you for being my coach on those days when I needed you there to time my intervals around the track. Thank you for always doing everything medically in your power to keep me happy, healthy, and in the game. Thank you for letting me steal your amazing bike to finish this race. I don’t honestly think I could have done this without you.

To my Mom: Thank you for supporting and encouraging me despite being terrified for my safety and wellness. Thank you for always making sure I’m doing OK and that I’m taking care of myself. Thank you for raising me to believe in myself and that anything is possible. For better or for worse, I don’t think I would have turned out crazy enough to try this without your parenting.

To Rhed: Thank you for being there with me on race day. I can’t imagine having gone to Mexico  without you. Thank you for so often being patient with me and for dealing with my ego (he escapes sometimes). Thank you for being an incredible friend, a brother, a comrade. Congratulations to you on your momentous achievement. Nobody can ever take this away from you.

To Yushi: Thank you for believing in me enough to come along for the ride. Thank you for training with me–for the long runs, the long bike rides, and the big meals. I eagerly await your Ironman race day. Don’t you dare give up. There’s no time like the present.

To Josephine: Thank you for being an amazing friend and supporter. I had your emotional support when I finished my first marathon, my first triathlon, my first century bike ride, and my first Ironman. Your being there for me and believing in me has meant more than I can say.

What’s Next?

This is the end of my Ironman journey, but it’s just the beginning of what I hope will be a life full of adventures, challenges, and growth. Expect to see me compete in the 2018 Boston Marathon. More and bigger challenges yet to come :).

There’s a moment in every hard race when your body wants to give up. In this moment your mind begins to negotiate with itself–what’s the point in going on? can’t I just take a short break? why am I doing this to myself?–a crescendo of arguments against continuing as your muscles howl in rebellion with each desperate footfall. In that moment you have a choice: listen to the cacophony of your inner voices and give up, or drown them out, grit your teeth, and remember what drives you as you find the strength to take step after step after step.

This moment–“The Wall”–is a test of mental fortitude rather than physical endurance. It requires an unshakable clarity of purpose and the knowledge that something is more important than the pain you expect to sustain. In eight short weeks I hope to complete my first Ironman Triathlon, so I’d like to rehearse here what I intend to remember when I hit The Wall on race day:

 

When I started this journey nearly two years ago I felt I had to prove to myself that I have the discipline to follow-through on the promises I make–both to myself and to others–no matter what it takes. As I stood on the threshold separating college life from the “real” world I felt I had to prove to myself that I have the power to realize my dreams–even the ones that at first sound impossible.

From that kernel came the desire to complete one of the hardest athletic challenges I could find despite still having 10 pounds of my Freshman Fifteen left to lose. In fact, when I first expressed an interest in training for an Ironman, I don’t think anyone took me seriously. Everyone says they’re going to do something like that, they must have thought, but so few people actually do. Their skepticism was fine by me–I’ve always worked best with a chip on my shoulder.

As I started training, the dream slowly but surely came into better focus. After I finished my first marathon something incredible happened: an inspired friend reached out to me and asked to start training with me. Six months later, our group grew again when we inspired my roommate to try his hand as well. In the last ten months, I’ve watched both of them go from little to no prior athletic experience to running a half marathon, completing an Olympic triathlon, and destroying a 101.8-mile cycling race. It’s hard for me to express what it’s meant to me train with them or how proud I am of them for how far they’ve come.

This journey may have started off being about proving something to myself and to everyone who doubted me, but along the way it’s become so much more. It’s become about the camaraderie I feel when I train alongside my friends and watch them achieve things they never believed they could. It’s become about inspiring others to believe as I believe: that often limits only exist where we create them for ourselves. It’s become about proving that this power I have found within myself is not uniquely mine, but instead something we all have latent inside.

So I take this step, and the next, and every other grueling step between here and the finish line for myself, for my friends, and for anyone who dares to dream impossible dreams and seeks the power within to realize them.

Let’s go get ‘em.

Today is the last day of June. Half the year has flown by since I set out to complete an ambitious array of goals including completing several triathlons and reaching measurable proficiency in two languages. With only six months left to make good on these commitments to myself, I want to take some time to reflect on how far I’ve come, and course correct for the remaining road ahead.

Overview

Overall, I think I’m doing a decent job. I’ve knocked out a couple of goals outright, and am tracking towards about halfway on many of the others. There are some goals, however, like meditation and reducing body fat, which are getting much less attention and focus than the others. There is a lot left to do, but I think if I’m deliberate about it it’s still feasible. If I had to grade myself on progress so far, I’d give myself about a B-.

  • Complete a standard distance triathlon (1500m swim, 40km bike, 10km run).
    • I completed a standard distance triathlon on 6/26 in 3:00:04.
  • Complete the Duolingo French track.
    • This one didn’t take more than a couple of months at the beginning of the year to knock out.
  • Stretch: Complete a long distance triathlon (4km swim, 120km bike, 30km run).
    • Tracking towards completion of this near the end of the year.
    • Plan: Train up to a 112-mile bicycle ride. Continue mixing in runs, but up the average distance to 10-15 miles. Continue mixing in open-water swims. The endurance from the cycling training should be more than enough to get me through one of these.
  • Complete a 2.4-mile ocean swim.
    • I have completed several 2.4-mile pool swims
    • I have completed several open water swims, with the longest being in the 1.3-mile range
    • Plan: I can likely already complete these without extra training. Find an open water swim group that has a ~2 mile swim or go to Swim with Pedro and just swim between buoy’s until total distance reaches approximately 2.4 miles.
  • Complete a 112-mile bicycle ride.
    • I have completed a ~60-mile bicycle ride around South Bay, and am currently tracking towards completion of this in the next few months.
    • Ramping up cycling distance will be my athletic focus in the coming months.
    • Plan: Start at 50 miles, then up the bike distance by 10 miles each weekend. Make bicycling the primary long day activity.
  • Lift weights three times a week.
    • I would give myself a 75% completion rating on this.
    • Plan: Continue lifting on off days between endurance training, but find a more consistent maintenance routine for when stuck using hotel gyms.
  • Do an abdominal workout three times a week.
    • I would give myself a 70% completion rating on this.
    • It’s looking fairly clear that I have the musculature for a 6-pack, my body fat percentage is just still too high to see the bottom two.
    • Plan: Continue doing ab workouts on off days between endurance training.
  • Pass the Test of Chinese as a Foreign Language (TOCFL) Level 3 test.
    • I haven’t yet taken a Chinese practice exam at any level.
    • I estimate that I am at a high elementary or low intermediate level in Chinese overall with major gaps in vocabulary across all levels of the language. Putting sentences together in Chinese comes relatively naturally if I know the vocabulary.
    • Plan: Take a practice exam on the next free weekend to track progress. Continue using Skritter for 30 minutes each day. Listen to an episode of ChinesePod on the way to work.
  • Earn the DELF B1 French language qualification.
    • I haven’t yet taken a French practice exam at any level, but I am beginning to feel more confident about my French ability.
    • I would estimate that I am at a high elementary level in French overall, with my speaking and writing skills needing some additional attention.
    • Plan: Take a practice exam on the next free weekend to track progress. Continue using Duolingo as a review tool by aiming for 50 experience each day. Close out the Busuu French track by spending remaining French time on Busuu each day until it is done. After, move toward studying vocabulary lists and grammar pointers from SAT and AP textbooks.
  • Stretch: Earn the DELF B2 French language qualification or higher.
    • I don’t think this is out of reach this year, but I may need to let this one go in order to focus on reaching my Chinese goals as well.
    • Plan: Take a practice DELF B2 french exam at the start of Q4 to track progress. If doing well, consider taking DELF B2 exam instead of DELF B1 exam.
  • Get down to 9% body fat.
    • I am currently at 14% body fat, having started between 15% and 16%.
    • This goal needs more attention and is jeopardy.
    • Risk Mitigation: Focus on ketosis and lifting heavier. A low-carb diet will hypothetically drive my body to burn more fat. More muscle mass should require more calories to maintain on average, which will help to burn the remaining fat.
  • Stretch: Pass the TOCFL Level 4 test.
    • Given my current rate of Chinese learning, I think it is unlikely that I will successfully complete this this year.
  • Get scuba certified.
    • Due to frequent travel and long weekend workouts, I haven’t yet made a move on this.
    • Loose plans to spend a few weekends on this in July.
    • Risk Mitigation: Do this before picking up too much on training for the Half Ironman. Find two weekends that make sense to get this done and just organize work travel schedule around them.
  • Go on at least 4 scuba diving trips.
    • Blocked on getting scuba certified, which is potentially in jeopardy.
  • Read 52 books.
    • I have read 18 books so far this year.
    • There have been some weeks where I have read as many as 3 or 4 books and others where I hardly read at all.
    • Risk Mitigation: Get in the habit of reading for 20-30 minutes before bed every night. Listen to audio books on the way home from work. Don’t let stalling on longer, more educational books prevent you from reading anything at all.
  • Meditate for 20 minutes every day.
    • I would give myself a 30% completion rating on this.
    • Failing to make this a habit or part of a routine.
    • Longest streak has likely been on the order of 10 days.
    • Risk Mitigation: Get in the habit of meditating for 20 minutes as soon as you wake up. “I don’t have time” is still an excuse. 20 minutes almost never makes a difference to the work day.

Learnings

Establish a Routine That Maximizes Energy Not Time

I’ve found that the weeks where I’m able to establish a regular routine have been among my most successful. For example, there have been weeks where I start work early in the morning, make sure exercise just after lunch, and then complete 30 minutes of Chinese and French studying just after dinner. Unfortunately, with an unpredictable travel schedule it has often been hard to stick to a routine–what works on the West Coast inevitably falls apart on the East Coast where the time difference leaves me waking up later in the day unless I actively adjust. Additionally, there have been weeks where work has been stressful enough that I have chosen to put personal goals aside. In truth, I think this is an excuse because even during those weeks it tends to be more a question of energy rather than time on those days–I find myself letting myself relax to “recharge” rather than pushing to complete personal goals.

I think the answer lies in finding a routine that maximizes available energy to make progress towards goals. E.g. Study French and Chinese first thing in the morning before I run out of energy and start to make excuses. I think I also tend to forget that creating momentum behind consistently making progress tends to give me more energy to work with overall.

Create Measurable and Manageable Daily Milestones

Initially, I didn’t really have any daily goals for Chinese or French learning. For a little while, I think I had a loose idea in my head that I wanted to spend about an hour of my time each day on each language. In reality, I would sort of just spend a bunch of time on Duolingo or Skritter until I felt more-or-less satisfied with my learning. This led to having some days where I was extra motivated and pushed super hard, and other days where I felt much less motivated and pushed much less hard. Two hours of language learning each day also turned out to be such a daunting time commit to ask of myself that I would almost never actually complete a full regimen and therefore would almost never feel like I was “caught up” on my language learning.

Recently, I’ve gotten more rigorous about defining measurable and manageable daily milestones for language learning. Specifically, I’ve found that aiming to spend about 30 minutes on each language each day strikes the right balance; an hour of language learning each day doesn’t sound too daunting, and committing to that 30-minute limit means a more consistent sense of accomplishment as compared to having some days where I study a lot and other days where I study a little.

Last year I neglected to write my resolutions down or to think proactively about how I would achieve them, but I believe most of my resolutions had to do with personal fitness. Notably, last year I trained for four months and then ran a marathon, proving to myself that if I really apply myself I can accomplish even some of the most daunting of goals. This year I want to do things differently–I have thought through what personal goals I want to accomplish this year, why these goals are important to me, and how I’m going to accomplish them. Borrowing from the momentum and confidence I’ve gained from recent accomplishments, I’m hoping to tackle even more challenges in 2016.

This Year’s Resolutions

Summary

  • Complete a standard distance triathlon (1500m swim, 40km bike, 10km run).
    • Stretch: Complete a long distance triathlon (4km swim, 120km bike, 30km run).
  • Get scuba certified.
  • Go on at least 4 scuba diving trips.
  • Complete a 2.4-mile ocean swim.
  • Complete a 112-mile bicycle ride.
  • Lift weights three times a week.
  • Do an abdominal workout three times a week.
  • Get down to 9% body fat.
  • Pass the Test of Chinese as a Foreign Language (TOCFL) Level 3 test.
    • Stretch: Pass the TOCFL Level 4 test.
  • Earn the DELF B1 French language qualification.
    • Stretch: Earn the DELF B2 French language qualification or higher.
  • Complete the Duolingo French track.
  • Read 52 books.
  • Meditate for 20 minutes every day.

Detail

Objective: See the beauty and strength of which my body is capable ;).

Why: “No citizen has a right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training… what a disgrace it is for a man to grow old without ever seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.” –Socrates

Notes: Primarily, I need to work on cutting body fat and improving abdominal, chest, and arm strength. I’d also like to continue pushing myself to my cardiovascular limits through extreme endurance training in swimming, cycling, and running.

Key Results:

  • Endurance
    • Complete a standard distance triathlon (1500m swim, 40km bike, 10km run).
      • Stretch: Complete a long distance triathlon (4km swim, 120km bike, 30km run).
        • Note: This is the longest standard distance triathlon before Ironman distance.
    • Ironman Training
      • Swimming
        • Sub-objective: Become more comfortable with ocean swimming.
          • Key Results:
            • Get scuba certified.
            • Go on at least 4 scuba diving trips.
        • Complete a 2.4-mile ocean swim.
          • Note: This is the length of the Ironman Triathlon swimming leg.
      • Cycling
        • Complete a 112-mile bicycle ride.
          • Note: This is the length of the Ironman Triathlon cycling leg.
  • Strength
    • Arms and Chest
      • Lift weights three times a week.
    • Abdominals
      • Do an abdominal workout three times a week.
  • Body Fat
    • Get down to 9% body fat. (I’m starting closer to 15 or 16 percent.)

Milestones:

  • End of Q1:
    • Register for a standard distance triathlon to do in the beginning of Q3.
    • Get down to 13% body fat.
  • End of Q2:
    • Get down to 11% body fat.
    • Complete a 56-mile bicycle ride.
    • Complete a 1.2-mile ocean swim.
    • Complete a standard distance triathlon.
  • End of Q3:
    • Get down to 9% body fat.

 

Objective: Become trilingual.

Why: I’ve always been good at learning languages and ultimately want to be (at least) trilingual. I never finished learning Chinese to fluency when I was a child, and my trip to Taiwan this year left me wanting to finish my education so I can fully appreciate the culture next time I’m back. I also eventually want to attend Le Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris and in French. I’ve started lots of languages, but have never proved long-term proficiency in any of them. Time to get serious.

Key Results:

  • Sub-objective: Become fluent in Chinese.
    • Key Results:
      • Pass the Test of Chinese as a Foreign Language (TOCFL) Level 3 test.
        • Note: This is equivalent to a “basic”-level fluency in Chinese.
        • Stretch: Pass the TOCFL Level 4 test.
  • Sub-objective: Become fluent in French.
    • Key Results:
      • Earn the DELF B1 French language qualification.
        • Note: This is equivalent to an “independent”-level fluency in French. At this level, the user “can understand and maintain a discussion and give his/her opinion. He/she is capable of dealing with situations likely to arise in daily life.”
        • Stretch: Earn the DELF B2 French language qualification or higher.
      • Complete the Duolingo French track.

Milestones:

  • End of Q1:
    • Register for a DELF B2 exam to do in Q4.
    • Pass a practice DILF exam.
    • Attempt a practice DELF A1 exam.
  • End of Q2:
    • Pass a practice TOCFL Level 2 exam.
    • Pass a practice DELF A1 exam.
    • Attempt a practice DELF A2 exam.
  • Start of Q3:
    • Attempt a practice TOCFL Level 3 exam.
    • Register for a TOCFL exam.
    • Pass a practice DELF A2 exam.
    • Attempt a practice DELF B1 exam.

 

Objective: Read more.

Why: I’ve discovered a wealth of knowledge, ideas, and perspectives through reading a variety of different kinds of books this year. I started reading late this year, but read about 40 books. I’d like to do even better in 2016!

Key Results:

  • Read at least 52 books.

 

Objective: Improve how I deal with negative thoughts and emotions.

Why: So much of my outlook on life, my reaction to outside events, and my interactions with other people depend on how I perceive and process negative thoughts and emotions. I think this is something I don’t always handle very well, which can sometimes result in appearing stressed out or being judgemental of the people around me. I’d like to improve on this because I think learning to distance myself from negative thoughts and emotions will have a huge impact on everything I do and everyone around me.

Key Results:

  • Meditate for 20 minutes every day.