A Pandemic: The Ultimate Endurance Event

And why it was never about the race anyways

“2020 is finally the year.” Was going to be the year. For a lot of reasons, for a lot of people. For me, that was finally pulling the trigger on 140.6 — committing to an Ironman race. A grueling 2.4mi swim, 112mi bike ride, topped off with a nice little marathon…all in a days work (17 hours max to be exact).

Now for me, committing to something one full year in advance was extremely uncomfortable. I barely told anyone my plan. Heck, I can’t even commit to dinner plans a day in advance, never mind an event 365 days prior. “Where do you wanna eat tomorrow night?” “Uhhh idk… (I mean, I know I want tacos but…) let’s figure it out tomorrow.” How about booking a plane ticket a month or two before the trip? I’ll most definitely wait until a few days beforehand. I simply live on the edge of my seat; infuriating to friends, family & the plan oriented people in my life (as such consistently deeming me “elusive & flakey”… rightfully so) but not this time.

I kicked off 2020 mapping my year around the “ultimate endurance race.” This included committing to where I was living in order to be in close proximity to training facilities with minimal commute time. I accepted that a summer vacation would need to come in the fall, and that weekend ski trips would come with bike rides and runs that couldn’t be skipped. I was all in and fully committed to a bucket list race I dreamed of since the day I understood what it was. I idolized the M-dots on the backpacks that passed me at the pool, the bumper stickers on the highway, the tattoo I saw lined up at my very first sprint. In the same breath I uttered “That’s insane,” I also said “ whoa I gotta do that someday.”

With everything in place, I kicked off training. Plan in action. And, as no one saw coming, a global pandemic right along with it. Okay so we’ll stay inside for a month, all shall pass, races will resume in June. Okay, a few are cancelled but the race in August is definitely still on… no way they’ll cancel. Ok they might cancel, but just keep training. Then surely the unthinkable, the race was called off. (Remember I was actually committed, I didn’t even buy race insurance, there was no backing out!) But I was stopped dead in my tracks come April, all training derailed, no alternate date in sight.

The first stages of grief set in. Denial that it was really cancelled. “It MUST be rescheduled soon!” Ha, no. Wishful thinking. I was devastated, upset, then disappointed. Why am I training anymore? And for what? I could just sleep til 8 and roll up to my first Zoom call all nice and rested. Why start your day at 4:30am if you don’t have to?

And so I accepted it. Not my year, not meant to be. I took the summer off from any structured training entirely. Did whatever I wanted, whenever. “Wow, I have so much time and freedom on my hands.” Sounds great! And I hated it. I hated not waking up with a plan. I hated how my body felt. I hated knowing I could trash myself with no immediate repercussion. Drink what you want, eat as you wish, smoke weed until you can’t feel your face. Stay up late and sleep in with the guy you actually can’t stand just to fill some void. Whatever your vice, why not!

And in the moment I realized races would be called off for the foreseeable future, I also realized something else.

It’s not about the race.

It’s not about the race, it’s about mindset.

You can’t enter a race assuming you’ll come in last. And you sure can’t get through a pandemic thinking it will never end. But perspective and mindset change everything. This year wasn’t cancelled, maybe it was the pause we all needed. Maybe this year has actually been one of our greatest opportunities for change, reflection and growth. There are many things we can’t control right now, but mindset is something we can. Positivity and hope are key sources of fuel needed to get through any form of mental or physical pain.

It’s not about the race, it’s about showing up.

There are good days, bad days, I’m on top of the world, and today I want to hide from the world days. (Cue Dr. Seuss?) But, you just gotta keep showing up. No giving up. Everyday. Consistently, whole heartedly, authentically. Not half-assed. Not only on the days you feel like it, or the days you feel most alive. Not just one day every six months. Every. Single. Day.

It’s not about the race, it’s about the process.

Trusting the process. Enjoying the process. The baby steps. The accumulation of progress towards one larger goal. With patience, commitment, dedication and time. All of these ingredients, some of which you may question, are going to form an amazing dish. Your dish may actually be a meal, or an event. Overcoming addiction or getting through a pandemic. Just have faith in the steps along the way, and surely you’ll reap the benefits of the outcome.

It’s not about the race, it’s about the people.

Races, meets, tournaments, matches — competing is fun. We thrive on the adrenaline, the blood rush, the butterflies in our stomach. But it’s truly only a small portion of the bigger picture. We remember few details of the races, but what we remember most are the people we meet along the way. The teammates that turned into family. The hellacious century ride with friends that curated unforgettable inside jokes. That bomb cookie from a janky road side stop that saved your bonk, and the heaven sent guy that helped fix your tire to make it home. It’s these deeper bonds, and irreplaceable connections we make along the way. Knowing who will be there to peel you off the pavement, and pick you up in the depths of your despair.

It’s not about the race, it’s about passion.

What get’s you out of bed in the morning? It’s not email, and it sure isn’t Instagram either. Maybe it’s getting to the pool before the sun comes up. Taking your dog to the trails. Making the best damn coffee for your partner. Day after day you need something that excites you, puts fire in your belly, and drives you to be the best version of yourself. What is your purpose? What keeps you going despite all odds? Just because a star on your calendar got crossed out doesn’t mean you’ve lost all purpose. Goals, no matter how big or small, keep us focused and grounded. Passion and purpose drive perseverance.

It’s not about the race, it’s about balance.

Workout for 12 hours. Work for 12 hours. A bottle of wine to the face. As we all know, it turns out anything in excess isn’t heathy. But a mix of training, work and social time can keep us from falling too far to one extreme. Balance keeps us energized and less likely to burn out, in whatever form that is for you.

It’s not about the race, it’s about gratitude.

There may not be a big event to look forward to right now. But if you are fortunate enough to wake up with fresh air in your lungs, healthy legs beneath you and a roof over your head, a sheer feeling of gratitude for your capable body and good health are far more valuable than any event, material item or experience you could pay for.

It’s not about the race, it’s the journey.

You aren’t training for a day, you’re training for life. It’s about making the most of your hours, days, months and years here. You’re training to stay healthy to be present for your family, your colleagues, your community. To combat illness, stay strong, and wake up with energy. To look back over the years, not just one day, and be proud of what you’ve accomplished, where you are now, and the path you’re headed on.

So, maybe it was never about the race.

It doesn't matter if you were planning on competing in an Ironman, 5k, or 100m sprint. It doesn’t matter if you compete at all, or have even considered yourself an athlete. What many may not have realized is that we’re all in the midst of the greatest endurance event of our lives. This pandemic isn’t a 17 hour race. Or two month event. It’s seemingly relentless. We have no idea where the finish line even is, or when it is.

But what we do know is that the only way out is through. By going forward. By showing up and not giving in. By staying positive, together. Understanding that the small efforts day in and day out will pay off. We are growing, and becoming more resilient with each new day, with grace and grit we didn’t know we had.

And somehow, we’ll all come out of this far stronger than we ever could’ve imagined.


(Btw — in times more uncertain than ever, I am no less a commit-phobe, but that 140.6 is on the calendar for 2021.)



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Ursula Nickerson

Ursula Nickerson


Actually not a sea witch. Creative director, designer, swimmer & triathlete. Mainly here for coffee and tacos.