Mark's First Ironman


Before I competed in the Poconos Ironman 70.3, I wasn’t 100% sure if I’d be ready for Ironman Arizona’s swim.

Everyday was a struggle. I seesawed from believing in myself and not.

I learned a deeper meaning of the words HOPE and DOUBT.

Driving to the Poconos I was a little worried, but I focused on thinking about how great it would feel to get out of the water and get to the bike section. Positive thinking put me in a better mood and helped me stay focused.

But the night before the race I got a message from someone who found out about me attempting an Ironman distance starting with zero swimming abilities.

“I’m nervous for this guy…the anxiety would be overwhelming and could end his day really early…I sincerely hope he doesn’t hurt himself. Going from non-swimmer to IM distance event in less than a year is just about as extreme as it gets and quite crazy, imho. I just hope the kayaks are aplenty…”

This message really scared me. But I knew that if I let it get to me then it alone would ruin my swim. So I pushed it to the side and did my best to remain positive.

2012 Poconos Ironman 70.3 recap:

Of course for me it all boiled down to the swim. And it started like you would expect for any swim novice. It SUCKED!

I was struggling and quickly found the first kayak to hold onto. I was feeling very nauseous, and was extremely dizzy. I thought I was going to vomit. I pushed myself and kept swimming and got to the next kayak where I was feeling it even more. The kayaker asked me if I wanted to come out.

No. I didn’t want to. Not at all. Not even a little bit. I refused to let the naysayers win. But, I just didn’t know how I was going to do this. It seemed impossible.

I asked the kayaker how much further I had left to swim. “1 mile,” she replied. UGH…

I stayed there for a few minutes and just pushed off, hoping to make it to the next kayak. With a mix of swimming and floating on my back I made it to the first of 4 turns. A kayaker came to me while I was on my back to ask me if I was ok. And I was.

I started to swim, and I went a few minutes without needing to float on my back. I noticed each time I picked my head out of the water to breath, how amazing the lake looked with the morning sun just over the trees and all of us swimming together.

I don’t know what happened at that point. Something just clicked. But I swam the rest of the way without floating on my back; navigating around all the other swimmers; actually enjoying the experience; all the way to the end of the swim.

All doubts of my swimming abilities were gone. Getting out of that water felt like such a victory. I would think that most competitors at that point would look at the next two legs (56 mile ride +half marathon) and worry about all that lay ahead of them. For me, I knew how much I had just accomplished that the next two legs were of no concern at all. I rode and I ran.

Up to this point there were many times that I thought I made too large of a goal. That as hard as I tried, completing the 2012 Ironman Arizona on November 18 would be impossible for me.

Now I have no doubt. And I’m reminded of a Zig Ziglar quote that says: “People don’t fail because they aim too high and miss, but because they aim too low and hit.” Always, always aim high.

Poconos Ironman 70.3 Results:

1.2 Mile Swim: 55:41
T1: 8:40
56 Mile Cycling: 2:48:53
T2: 4:43
13.1 Mile Run: 1:54:05
Overall Time: 5:51:59

In January 2012, not knowing how to swim or tread water, Mark Izhak signed up for Ironman Arizona, beginning with a 2.4 mile swim.

Mark’s Secret to Swimming

I grabbed the kayak.

Thrashing around in the water I was desperate to breath. I thought I was going to be fine in the Staten Island Triathlon. It was only a 1/3 of a mile swim. But I couldn’t relax in that water and I was panicking.

The taste of the water was nauseating. Arms were flying all around me, hitting me in the face, knocking off my goggles.

My first thought was “how am I going to do this for almost 2 hours at the Ironman?” Right there I was ready to give up my Ironman pursuit. I just couldn’t swim in there so I scrambled for a nearby kayak to hold onto and I wasn’t sure what I was going to do next.

I didn’t want to, but after a good minute holding the kayak, I let go and continued down the water. I was miserable. I hated every second I was in that water.

I’m not sure if it was because I was having such a hard time in general, or because I felt that after all the progress I’ve made in swimming, this short open water swim made me feel like a complete failure.

BTruth is, my progression in swimming this year was anything but steady. Instead it was failure, success, failure, success, etc.

My secret to becoming a (good) swimmer has nothing to do with how many laps I swam every week or how streamlined I could get my body.

My secret is that I learned to get comfortable being uncomfortable. I put myself in a situation that I didn’t want to be in so that I could get something out of it that I wanted.

How did I learn to get comfortable with being uncomfortable? I put a BIG WHY behind what I was doing.

Learning how to float, jumping into the Hudson River, letting go of the kayak, I did it all because I wanted to become an Ironman.

Is there something in your life that is so difficult to achieve that the process of getting there scares you? Challenges you? Makes you doubt yourself?

Give yourself a goal that is fueled by a strong WHY. Be relentless in the pursuit of your dreams. You’ll be uncomfortable. GOOD! Uncomfortable means it’s working.

In January 2012, not knowing how to swim or tread water, Mark Izhak signed up for Ironman Arizona, beginning with a 2.4 mile swim..

Live Your Passion

Like millions of people around the world, I have been watching the summer Olympics as much as possible. I love the passion, the energy, and the excitement created by the games. The competition is fierce and the competitors are doing everything they can to win.

Every athlete works his or her tail off to be the very best. Some have a little more talent and make the best use of their gifts. The bottom line is – they all work hard, everyday to be the very best, to compete at world class levels. I often tell my clients to be 1% better everyday. Just 1% because over time it adds up and then you are two, three, four times better than you were. If your mindset is to be world class at anything you do, then you can achieve that.

Have you heard about Kieran Behan? This guy is world class. No, he is not the greatest Olympic gymnast in the world but he is passionate and driven. When he was younger, he suffered a series of injuries so severe that he was told he would never walk again. Then botched leg operation caused nerve damage and a hard fall caused brain injury. This kept him from doing even the simplest things, like sitting or eating.

He suffered and he struggled but his dream was to be an Olympic gymnast. His passion fueled him and eventually he recovered from his injuries. As he trained and self-financed his dream through bake sales and carwashes, he fractured a wrist, broke an arm and suffered a torn ACL.

Kieran persevered. He is passionate and lives his passion daily. Despite the setbacks, in 2011, he won three World Cup medals, including Ireland’s first World Cup gold medal. He is the first Irish gymnast to make it to the Olympics (on his own talent, not a wildcard entry) and he is playing at world class levels.

Kieran knows that winning a medal is a longshot but his story will inspire others to overcome difficulties and to live with passion. That is worth a gold medal.

Getting Back on the Wagon

Have you ever barely made it to the gym with half brushed hair, untied shoe laces, and a baggy t-shirt on, only to discover you’re working out alongside someone who is thinner, fitter, and overall more pulled together than you? It can be discouraging. In fact, I recently heard that plans for new fitness centers that only allow people who are out of shape to attend are becoming a trend of the future.

Why? It’s hard to compare yourself to others and feel like you’re coming up short.

But, actually the more time you spend taking care of you- the less time you will spend focused on others. You’ll be happy with your body and with yourself, and you won’t need to compare yourself to the standards of others’ bodies and others’ beauty.

Teddy Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” And how true is that! If you’ve struggled to stay on track and you see others doing really well- it can be hard not to be hard on yourself. Dillon wrote a few months ago about how taking the first step can often be the hardest. But, what if you’ve taken that first step and then gotten off track somewhere along the way? it can be equally hard to have fallen off the wagon and then start again. You can feel embarrassed and discouraged- but it’s important to focus on what matters: you’re back! You’re doing what’s best for your body! And we all get off track sometimes.

That’s why I love the Fitness Lab. You will be among people who will encourage and support you no matter where you are in terms of your overall health and fitness. It’s ok to fall off the wagon, as long as you get back on.

Writing Down the Right Stuff

I love to read self help books. It’s a passion that I used to be ashamed to admit- but now I embrace it about myself. I love learning new ways to improve everything about myself and self help books often have helpful nuggets of advice that speak to me.

This month, I’m reading a few books with the theme of marriage. One of the tips I read about that really stood out to me was writing down not only what you currently do but what you want to do, side by side everyday. I know most of us who have been on a journey toward better health have heard about writing down what foods we eat each day. This practice is vital to weight loss and weight maintenance. But, what if, instead of just writing down what you DID eat, you wrote down what you planned to eat, too?

What I love about this idea is that it doesn’t just apply to eating. It also applies to other things as well. Struggling with time or money management? Write down a time or money budget- and then track what you actually spend.

I also want to try this technique in my marriage. I want to start writing down a plan for ways I can better support my husband, Lucas. It may sound too structured, too planned, too unromantic- but the fact is, it’s important to sit down and be intentional about the ways I am loving him. The best way to do this is to have an actual plan, a contract with myself, in writing. Try it. You might just be surprised at what you find about what you want versus what you’re actually doing. And seeing your dreams written down can help you accomplish them, whether it’s your relationship or your eating habits that could use a boost.