Living a Life in a Day:The Wisdom of Ironman Texas

“Keep digging your well. Water is there somewhere.”
- Rumi

Living a Life in a Day:
The Wisdom of Ironman Texas

by Clair Norman

I have always been fascinated by the capacity of the human mind, body, and spirit to both endure and perform. I believe humans are brilliantly engineered to withstand, survive, and flourish amidst great uncertainty, against great odds. We have so much more than we think. My wish is for people to experience their deeper capacities. Present-moment living brought forth by this wonderful practice called mindfulness creates the space for connective-living, option-finding, problem-solving, and smile-making under sometimes great duress.

Ultimately, the ability to stay in the moment; and I may pare that to fractions of moments, is the reason I made my way to the finish line after140.6 miles of swimming, biking, and running at Ironman Texas in April. Long drawn to endurance athletics because to me it manifests the capacity of our collective humanity to push and find what was always there, I began long distance racing with purpose in 2014 when I lost my niece, Cameron K. Gallagher.

Rumi said, “Keep digging your well.  Water is there somewhere.”

On April 26, 2019, I completed my third long distance triathlon (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, a 26.2 mile run) just outside of Houston, Texas.

Thank you, mindfulness.  Thank you, Texas. I found water. 

I am not a fast or especially talented athlete. I have heart. I have staying power.  The following is a synopsis of my journey to finding the figurative and literal water on that day. 

A very bad haircut inspired the silly phrase ‘business in the front, party in the back.’ It appropriately describes my Ironman Texas 2019 experience. Also true, miracles happen in the back, the miracle of pulling off 140.6 miles by water, bike, and leg engines with just enough training and fitness to get it done.  Life and lack of time kept some of the long, long training miles outside my calendar. But I did get a lot in. My coach’s advice the day before the race was, “Clair, your goal is to finish. Your race, your pace, your terms.”

I seem to have a panache for late day Ironman finishes (3) where the cut-off watch-dogs play cat and mouse with my finish line. Luckily I grabbed it before they did.

I owe my Texas finish to my sister, my team, my husband, my children, my niece, my coach, my purpose, and Eduardo.

Who’s Eduardo?

Between you, me and the fencepost, Eduardo is my angel who landed around mile 18 of the run and did not leave me until the finisher’s chute. Ironman has strict rules around receiving support or assistance on the course. Don’t tell anybody. Eduardo was part of a posse flanking his nephew who was just ahead of me. This tight-knit family collectively longed to hear the six words, “Eduardo’s nephew (I don’t know his name), YOU ARE AN IRONMAN.”  Eduardo’s nephew needed his tribe. And I needed one member. I didn’t even know it yet.

 A lot had happened before mile 18 of the run.

 •   A 2.4 mile swim in a lake with moderate water quality and narrow canals.

•   A 112-mile bike ride, 80 of which were on a closed expressway with a thigh pumping, breath stealing headwind for half of the 80 miles on hot, hot asphalt.

•  18 miles of a 3 loop run course that was slowly sucking my soul.

Did you know Texas is hot? I digress.

My legs and my belief in finding the finish line (Rumi’s water) were restored when a nice man asked me if I was okay. I said yes. He said I looked like I could use a friend. Indeed.

 I learned Eduardo was an ultra runner with an ultra heart. He had just completed a 50 mile trail run and before that a marathon with his beloved second wife. He blessed me with his presence and words and stories and encouragement along the long, long way of an Ironman day. In his mid-fifties, I asked Eduardo if he had children. He giggled a “no” with a twinkle in his eye and a confession that his most proud living came after age 40 and one wife. 

I realized I had crossed paths with a human saint with a real life. I kept encouraging Eduardo to go on with his family so he wouldn’t miss his nephew’s well deserved finish. He told me he enjoyed our run and liked helping me. He said I inspired him. WHAT? He was impressed with the duration and heart of my effort and I told him I was honored to be his mirror. Indeed that was my reflection of Eduardo’s life story. At least the bit I knew. Eduardo told me I was going to finish this and I knew he was right. I never doubted. It was just very hard.

At the beginning of the finisher’s chute, a smiling Eduardo told me to go get that medal. I wish Mike Reilly, the Ironman announcer, could have started the long-awaited phrase “Clair Norman, you are an Ironman” with “Because of Eduardo…”

Indeed the miracle of human connection can always be found in the back. Lots of other places, too.

Like in the clink of a cold beer cheers on a Sunday morning after living a life in an Ironman Saturday.

There are miracles and water everywhere.

Mindfulness is the digging.

Clair Norman is Director of Vision and Strategy with the Cameron K. Gallagher Foundation. She is also a yoga teacher, mindfulness advocate, and a lifelong seeker and learner.

Elizabeth Smartt