Patient Aggression: Reflection on the Year of the Plow Horse

Little did I know a year ago, when I dubbed 2014 the “Year of the Plow Horse,” how much I would come to depend on the characteristics of the reliable ol’ plow horse to make it through some of the more challenging races I’ve done.plow horse copy

The plow horse is a strong, sturdy animal. She has a lot of work to do, but she can’t rush through it and burn out. No! The plow horse must be patient as she pursues the goals for the day, the week, the month, the year.

The plow horse has been uniquely bred with the intention to balance both speed and muscle, giving her the ability to work hard for an extended period of time. Forget cheetahs. They suck. They just can’t hang for the all day deal. Indeed, the endurance sport community should seriously consider adopting the mighty plow horse as our official mascot.

Channeling the strength, the sturdiness, the endurance and the patience of the plow horse is what got me to the finish line in race after race throughout 2014.

First, there was the Florida Intimidator, in Clermont, with its single aid station in the Florida sunshine and heat. No matter – the plow horse trudges on with or without water!

Then, we went to the hills of Pennsylvania for the Lake Raystown Half iron, where the advertised gain for the half distance was 2,000 feet. In reality it was just shy of 5,000 feet. 2,000 feet. 5,000 feet. Whatevs…  It doesn’t matter to the plow horse. Steady she climbs.

By June it was time for Ironman Coeur d’Alene – the “A” race of the season – the race in which I was hoping to finally do it: qualify for Kona. Ah, yes, a plow horse’s dream! Ironman Coeur d’Alene, where the winds blew 25 mph, and the chop in the 60-degree lake slapped you around like your silly Aunt Sally. Ironman Coeur d’Alene – where I almost coulda, shoulda been a contender – but I fell 90 seconds short of the last qualifying slot. Tough break – but the plow horse sees the long game. It’s not over; there is more work to be done.

This has absolutely nothing to do with the content of this post. It's just funny.
This picture has absolutely nothing to do with the content of this post. It’s just funny. And, evidence that my ass is indeed as big as I claim it to be. Not fishing for you to say it’s smaller – I’m proud of my Plow Horse Ass. 😉

So, onward to Ironman Louisville, my last chance for a lost cause. Ironman Lousville, with the temps near 100 degrees, and the sun shining brightly, baking you like sweet potato fries, except not so sweetly or yummily. But, the plow horse knows: she who stays the course and doesn’t give in to the pain (or the inability to breathe) wins the day!

Thanks to IM Lou, I found my way to the Ironman World Championships (and not a moment too soon, my readers say! This blog was becoming a repetitive advertisement for that race.) As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for – you might just get 40 mile an hour winds. But, the plow horse stays the course (or tries to as the wind whips her from one side of the road to the other).

The Year of the Plow Horse – 2014 – was a challenging year, slower year than 2013, but equally rewarding for so many reasons – many of which have not a dang thing to do with Kona (although it helped ;)). I faced conditions and challenges that several years ago would have had me laying on the side of the road in a ditch, praying for a plow horse to come pick me up.

But each year that I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to have the endurance experience, I’ve become wiser, stronger, sturdier – I’ve become the plow horse I needed to be.

So, what’s the lesson here?

  1. Always set big goals and embrace the fear that comes with setting big goals.
  2. Be aggressive in the pursuit of those goals. Don’t stop believing. Ever.
  3. Be patient in the pursuit of those goals. Understand what needs to be done today to achieve the big goal tomorrow.

I think of the combination of #2 and #3 as patient aggression. How on earth can aggression be patient? Did I misplace my dictionary? Nope! Hear (read?) me out on this one.

A B.I.G. goal has many mini-goals you need to achieve in order to earn the ultimate success. You’ve got to work hard and be aggressive as you move through each of these milestones. But, at the same time, you need to be patient, as the journey to each of these milestones and the B.I.G. goal takes time. Channel the Plow Horse – be strong, be hardy – be patient.

From my first Ironman B.I.G. goal to my most recent B.I.G. GOAL.
From my first Ironman B.I.G. goal to my most recent B.I.G. GOAL.

On the other hand, if the journey doesn’t take time or it comes too easily, perhaps the goal wasn’t big enough. The most empowering experiences I’ve had have been challenging journeys, ending with the final celebration of that hard work (i.e., race day). Don’t deny or resist the journey – that’s what makes the final goal, the final experience so extraordinary.

The journey is the point. Period. Exclamation Point.

Along the journey, we learn some valuable lessons, which prepare us for the final test.

Sometimes those lessons are about the conditions.

My goal for Kona was to enjoy my day, and to avoid suffering. I had enough suffering, thank you. My ability to achieve that goal would have been seriously compromised if I didn’t have the years of experience that prepared me for the challenges of that day. Similarly, I was able to plow through the heat in Louisville because I had trained obsessively in heat...for years.

Sometimes those lessons are about preparing our bodies for the demands of the B.I.G. goal.

When I signed up for my first 50k (pre-Ironman), I jumped into that race without really understanding the time that was needed to prepare not only for the distance, but also the terrain. I repeated that very same impatient aggressive mistake when I ran my first 50 miler just shy of two months after finishing my first Ironman. The list of stupid things I’ve done includes…

The tri yuppie scum that made it possible for me to have one of the most incredible journeys of my life so far!
The tri yuppie scum that made it possible for me to have one of the most incredible journeys of my life so far! <3 you, Vince! Time to go run big ditches, bi-otch!!!

Do you know what that got me? ITBS. For over a year. Go me!!

I know there is this tendency that we ALL have to want instant gratification: I signed up for [insert race here]! I want to be race ready TODAY!

I see this tendency in myself (some lessons need continual re-learning), in some of the athletes I coach, and among my friends. But, 2014 taught me the value of being the plow horse: strong, enduring, aggressive but patient.

So, for 2015, may we all keep our focus on the B.I.G. goal – as well as the journey to get there. Don’t rush your journey – live it. 

Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.

~ Matsuo Basho



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  3. “the journey is the point” – so well put. So true! Race day is always sweet, but it really is the journey that makes it that way. You had an extraordinary year. It’s been fun to follow and cheer you on and I am looking forward to doing the same in 2015!

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