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Life lessons learned while training for the IRONMAN® triathlon

158_d-2439838-DIGITAL_H...On August 19, 2018, I checked something off my bucket list: I completed the IRONMAN® Mont-Tremblant triathlon – a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride and a 26.2 mile run. I wasn’t particularly fast — it took 15 hours and 40 minutes to finish — but it was an amazing day in beautiful Quebec, Canada, that I will never forget.

As an adult, I developed a love of running to help stay active and reduce stress. When I turned 40, I got into triathlons to mix it up a bit. For many years, I wasn’t very athletic. So it was pretty shocking to many that I had undertaken such an intense activity.

Now, having run countless miles, I’d like to share some of the lessons I learned while training and running. I find they cross over into my everyday business life.

 “Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.”

I have a daily calendar that presents funny and often inspiring quotes, and the John Wayne quote above popped up in early 2018. I pinned it to my bulletin board immediately, and it stayed there until the day of the race.

You often hear about the importance of stepping outside your comfort zone. It’s a cliché, but it’s important to shake things up in all aspects of your life especially at work. I joined Toastmasters in late 2017 even though this wouldn’t have been something I could see myself doing just a few years ago. But after joining, I became a much more confident public speaker. Addressing a crowd will never be my favorite thing to do. But currently, I’m signed up for several speaking obligations, including a session at the upcoming AICPA National Tax Conference.

“Know your audience.”

A few of my friends signed up for the triathlon a year before, and I wanted to join them. But it wasn’t just me who had to make the commitment. My husband needed to be on board with the training schedule and expense of this race, too. Knowing he’s very analytical and needs hard ideas to sit for a while, I created a PowerPoint slide deck titled “April’s IRONMAN Dreams.” The slides included pictures from the area, graphs with estimated training commitments and a plea for his support.

At first, his answer was “I don’t think so.” But over time, he came to see how important this was to me and was 100 percent on board. Whether your audience is composed of clients, co-workers, bosses or a spouse, understanding how they make decisions is key. It can mean the difference between being able to move forward with your goals or getting stuck in the mud.

“Practice your weakness.”

An IRONMAN distance event starts with a 2.4-mile swim that you must complete in two hours and 20 minutes. As someone who grew up being comfortable in the water but never learned how to swim properly and efficiently, this was the most daunting portion of the event. Once I registered for this race, I knew that it was vital to be both physically and mentally ready for that swim.

I swam in the pool. I swam in the open water. I’d have practiced swimming in the bathtub if I could have! I was determined to be as ready as humanly possible. At work and in life, it’s easy to stay in your lane, but magical things happen when you step out of your comfort zone. It’s then you’ll find something that used to be a weakness turns into a strength. While I wouldn’t call swimming a strength per se, I managed to complete the 2.4 miles in one hour and 50 minutes. All those days I smelled of chlorine were totally worth it.

“It takes a village.”

With a full-time job that I love, a husband, a 12-year-old daughter and volunteer responsibilities, my life is busy and full. Add in the necessary training for 7-20 hours per week for six months, and some balls are going to be dropped. A support system is necessary to make life happen. When you have people and processes in place that can fill in the gaps, it’s awesome. This lesson could also be titled “let it go,” because sometimes you need to do just that. You may need to focus on fewer projects at work or let go of a little housework during busy season. Rely on your team at home and in the office to get things done.

“Don’t stop when you are tired. Stop when you are done.”

I often tell people that the quality I possess that makes me successful at long distance racing is stubbornness. Saying “I quit” is not an option. But on mile 17 of 26.2 on the run — the last leg of the IRONMAN — I was over it. It was then I repeated this quote over and over in my head. The finish line was a sweet sight to see.

When I was working in practice before joining the AICPA, deadlines felt very similar to races. There are times when you are in that sweet spot, you feel like you can go forever, and then inevitably you hit the WALL. Quitting isn’t an option at work either, and the IRONMAN triathlon taught me that just throwing up your hands and walking away doesn’t really solve anything. Just keep plugging away, and the rewards will come.

Being successful in your tax career requires diligent training, and you can find that right here at the AICPA Tax Section. It’s your go-to place to get ready for your next competition.

April Walker, CPA, CGMA Lead Manager, AICPA Tax Practice & Ethics, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants

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