6 things I learned from my first Ironman race (the one I didn’t finish)

What I learned from my first Ironman race, CCA in ColoradoAs you’re digging into a new semester, you may find some of these points useful. I pondered for months what went wrong on November 20, 2011, when I DNF-ed my first Ironman race, and I came up with this (DNF stands for the dreaded “did not finishâ€�):

1. Have realistic goals
As long as you do your personal best, that was a good day/week/semester. Before the race I had a race time goal; once I realized I would not make it, the ego took over and I arrogantly quit the race more than 3 hours before the cut-off time.

2. Always have a plan B
Life will deal you a bad hand now and then, some things will hit the fan occasionally, be ready to deal with it. In my case, after a year of smooth training, I hit several snags during the race. They completely caught me off guard, and I folded.

3. Always, always, always leave your worst enemy (that nagging inner voice) at home
If you tend to wrestle with that negative inner voice, do anything possible to re-train your mind. If you think positively, you are generating options and finding solutions; if you think negatively, you are counting obstacles and limitations. During the race I thought way too much about things that went wrong and psyched myself out of finishing it.

4. Keep your eyes on the prize
You will not like all your classes, you will not like all your teachers. But you can still be a great student at most, if not all times. You actually become a better student with a bad teacher (if you possess personal initiative). The prize is many times so far ahead that you can’t see it, but surely you can imagine it. During the race I completely forgot to keep just one clear thought in my mind: “By midnight, you will be an Ironman.â€�

5. Don’t compare yourself to others
The only person you should impress is the one you see in the mirror every morning. When I started the race, all I saw were people I presumed were much better triathletes than me. Today I know how wrong I was (on any given day I am better than many of them). If I hadn’t been comparing, the false negative thoughts and feelings wouldn’t have affected me.

6. Pain is temporary; bragging rights are forever
(This is not my original idea, it’s something I heard in several IM videos). Nothing in this school was intended to crush you but to make you better and stronger. At the same time it was not designed to be easy. On a lighter note, Chuck Norris never went to college, so draw your own conclusion: Who’s a tough guy/gal here? (Hint: YOU ARE)

Sasa Jovic finishes Ironman Cozumel, CCA in Denver

Sasa and his wife as they complete Ironman Cozumel in December of last year. The couple have each completed 3 Ironman races since Sasa’s DNF in 2011. They have upcoming races in Boulder and Austria for 2014.

About the Author

A faculty member in the Mathematics Department since 2008, Jović has master’s and bachelor’s degrees in geology from the University of Zagreb in Zagreb, Croatia. He also earned a master of science and completed all his classwork towards his doctorate in environmental engineering from the Colorado School of Mines in Golden. He claims that nothing he has ever experienced in life matches the feeling of crossing the IM finish line and hearing one’s name called together with the words “You are an Ironman!â€�  


  1. James Gray

    February 12, 2014

    I remember when Sasa came home from his first IM. I also remember when he came home after his second IM. Huge difference between the two, and I really think successfully completing the second IM meant that much more to Sasa because of the experience in the first. A sunny day becomes more enjoyable when if follows a rainy day! Congratulations, Sasa!!!

  2. Natasha Turner

    February 12, 2014

    Thank you Sasa for such inspiring and realistic pointers. They will apply to every person that reads them in a daily life experience. It certainly helps to be reminded of these pointers when things seem out of reach.

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