A couple nights ago, I watched the documentary Iron Cowboy. It’s about James Lawrence, a superhuman who completed 50 Ironmans (Ironmen?) in 50 days – one in each U.S. state. He called it the 50-50-50.
Let that sink in. Fifty Ironmans (do you know how hard it is for me to not type Ironmen?).
For those not in the ultra endurance sport loop, an Ironman consists of a 2.4 mile swim, followed by a 112 mile bike ride, and then a 26.2 mile run. Completing a single Ironman is a serious feather in the cap of any athlete. Just one.
This guy did 50… in 50 consecutive days.
I know. Mind blowing.
The documentary is a beautiful testament to the power of the human will. I love love love stories about the human will, the struggle, and the eventual triumph… and Lawrence’s story delivers.
Shortly into his journey (just a few Iron
menmans in), Lawrence was struggling badly with dehydration. I’m not sure it would be physically possible to keep up with hydration needs during 50 consecutive Iron menmans. Consequently, his body began to shut down. In the documentary, there are scenes where he can barely sit up.
Someone suggested administering IV fluids to restore Lawrence’s hydration and electrolytes, and he decided to take one. Right after receiving his first bag of fluids, Lawrence emerges a new man. Refreshed, renewed. This is a fundamental move for him. A game changer.
We are encouraged that maybe, just maybe, he has a chance of completing the 50/50/50.
There wasn’t anything magical put in the IV. It was just basic saline. Lawrence adopts IV fluids as a routine part of his recovery and powers through the next several days.
Here’s where it’s necessary to point out Lawrence’s WHY. He wasn’t actually competing in any races. He was simply completing Ironman distances of the swim/bike/run each day, on his own. Sometimes he swam in a pool, sometimes it was in a river. Sometimes he ran outside, sometimes he ran inside (during stormy weather, he ran on a treadmill). His aim was not to win any medals, but to prove something to himself. To push his body in a way nobody else had ever dared.
Just because. I dig that.
He was also trying to raise money for charity (childhood obesity). As such, the entire journey was broadcast on social media.
And where there are social media, there are trolls.
Almost immediately after starting the IV fluid regimen, grouches behind their keyboards starting calling Lawrence out. Some accused him of cheating. Others said he was a disgrace to the sport of triathlon. Some even suggested his receipt of IV fluids was a form of doping.
The criticism Lawrence received was overwhelming. As I watched the documentary, I couldn’t believe people would actually criticize him for IV hydration. And we’re talking MEAN, asshole comments. It’s not like he was actually competing against anyone for anything. This wasn’t a real competition. It was just a dude, attempting something extraordinary and trying to raise money for charity.
Long story short, the trolls got to him for a while. Then he had a turning moment…you’ll have to watch the doc yourself to know the ending.
Okay, the Iron Cowboy is a Boss… but how does that make you a troll?
So there’s not a direct correlation. But there was a realization.
I troll myself all the time. The inner critic, the voice that loves to chime in and let me know how unworthy, unsuccessful, ugly, fat, stupid, incompetent… blah blah blah …I am. I was having a real field day with myself this morning at the gym, chipping away at my spirit every time I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirrors. Chastising myself for any real or imagined inadequacies my hungry inner troll could come up with.
It was ugly.
And it dawned on me that I’m a troll. Of myself.
That’s right. I troll myself.
Embracing the troll…?
Just yesterday, I was listening to an interview with David Goggins (a total badass in his own right), and he was talking about embracing negative self-talk – that dialogue I’m referring to as my troll. He suggested that our inner critics speak the truth and if we embrace what we hear, we can use it to fuel our growth and progress. I’ve heard similar sentiments from a variety of athletes and coaches who believe doing this — uniting with your shadow — can forge mental toughness.
Maybe it can for some.
But I know from experience that doesn’t work for me. Embracing the garbage my troll spews just makes me feel worse. It makes me believe that I truly am inadequate. That my life is a failure. That there really is no point in trying anything because I’m destined to suck at it.
I don’t find that inspiring. I find it soul-sucking.
To me, mental toughness is more about quieting the troll – at least as a first step. Just as Lawrence had to quiet the external social media trolls to complete the 50/50/50 (spoiler, sorry!), I think we all have to shut up our inner trolls if we want to expand and grow.
Instead of being our toughest critics, we should each be our greatest cheerleaders.
If I don’t believe in myself, why would anybody else?
In the midst of my self-trolling this morning, I looked up and saw a girl wearing a shirt that said, in all caps:
I AM ENOUGH.
Okay, universe. I hear you.
I muzzled my troll. At least for today.