My first Ironman triathlon was like hell on Earth (like leadership can be)

The year was 2010. The sport was Ironman triathlon. The town was Busselton. And the mad man involved in this story was me. The distance was a 3.8k swim, a 180k bike ride, and a 42.2k run (or run/walk). Which seemed to take me forever. Here are some interesting facts about that event.  

Firstly, it was my first Ironman. So I had no idea what to expect from the event. I live in Regional Queensland, and Busselton is on the other side of the country (it is about a three-hour drive from Perth). So, fly to Brisbane, then to Perth. Then drive to Busso. All good getting there… but what about getting home…  

Ironman. It can’t be that hard. I’ll knock all that over in about 10 hours, I’ll jump in the hire car and drive back to the airport, and fly home that night (to save me some time away from work). Or not. Lucky my amazing wifey said that a schedule like that may not be possible.  

Instead of 10 hours, it took me over 14. I had never been through so much hurt, and I spent an hour in the medical tent, on a hydration drip. Not that hard at all… it’ll be fun, they said. 

I can remember cramping in the swim. Not a great start to a long day. Then, I pushed too hard on the bike, and the cramping got worse. Remember, I had never done this thing before. Then on the run, I can remember sitting in the gutter, nearly in tears, due to fatigue and cramps. The sun was just setting over the Busselton jetty, and all I could think of was that I only had 30 kilometres to yet cover on tired legs.  

There really isn’t anything quite like Ironman. I was tried. I was blistered. I was questioning my life choices. Finally, I got to the finish line. Only to be escorted to the medical tent after nearly collapsing over the finish line. 

As I was crossing the line, Ironman Hall of fame, Mike Reilly called out over the microphone “Anton Guinea, you are an Ironman.” 

I was hooked. 

I slept for three hours. Drove back to Perth and flew home to Gladstone. 

And all I could think was – when is the next one of these Ironman things, so I can do another one. Yes, it is addictive.  

And here is how doing Ironman is like doing leadership. 

1. Like Ironman, leadership looks easy, until you do it 

I ‘ve got to tell you; I totally underestimated the gravity and the extent of the Ironman triathlon. I really thought I would rock up, get it done, and run home. Zero chance.  

Leadership is similar. It looks easy from the outside. It is not until you are in the thick of it that you can really appreciate what it takes. No-one can tell you about it. No-one can help you experience it. You have to go on that journey yourself.  

And you need to experience the cramping, the pain, the challenges, that leadership comes with. Unlike Ironman, there is no finish line, though. Leadership is a journey, and one that doesn’t really finish. It will challenge you for the entire period that you are in that role. 

2. Like Ironman, leadership can be lonely 

If you want to do an Ironman, you are on your own. It is an individual sport. It is not football, or cricket, or hockey. It is a completely individual pursuit. You can’t offload the responsibility or the ownership to someone else. Even though that would be nice at times. 

Leadership is the same. It is a personal endeavour. It is a mission, it is a purpose, it is a commitment. A commitment one makes to other hoomanz, that you will be there for them, to take responsibility for the team outcomes, for the physical and psychological safety of the team and its members. That you will be a shield for them, that you will support them, that you will care for and value them. Even when you don’t feel like it. 

Even when you feel like handing the batten over to someone else to do that the hard work for you. Sadly, once you sign up for leadership, you get to know yourself better. You get to have some great conversations with yourself about all the decisions you are making, and you get to over think things instead of getting your beauty sleep. 

3. Like Ironman, leadership can be a quick decision 

Of the people that come through our programs, the attendees have ended up in leadership roles due to either being promoted, prompted, or pushed. In the vast majority of cases, the leaders that I work with have almost ended up in leadership by accident. Or by default. They were the last person standing. 

For some people it wasn’t even on their radar. It just happened.  

And they wonder what they have gotten themselves into. Instead of being willing, they are not ready. And they don’t know or think to ask for training, or a mentor, or a coach (email theteam@theguineagroup.com.au, if this is you ????).  

I get it, senior leaders need to fill a hole at times. But that really isn’t fair. It is not fair on the fill in leader. And it is not fair on the team. But sometimes there are no other options. And it is a quick decision at all levels. 

I have learnt that there are so many analogies between Ironman and leadership, and they are both the toughest things I have taken on. In their own ways.  

And please click the image below if you’d like to chat about what leadership means to you.

If you would like to learn more about Anton or The Guinea Group, please click hereto book into Anton’s calendar, to:

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About Anton

Anton has dedicated his working life to helping leaders to upgrade their mindset, upskill their leadership, and uplift their teams! With a focus on helps leaders to better lead under pressure. Anton is an entrepreneur, speaker, consultant, bestselling author and founder of The Guinea Group. Over the past 19 years, Anton has worked with over 175+ global organisations, he has inspired workplace leadership, safety, and cultural change. He’s achieved this by combining his corporate expertise, education (Bachelor of HR and Psychology), and infectious energy levels.
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