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  • Writer's pictureConor Hillick

IronMan Ireland & Ivan - What I learned

I’ve been trying to put words down to describe the last few weeks. Last year I wrote a blog called “IronMan, the metaphor for life”. Unfortunately this year that metaphor rang a little too literally at IronMan Ireland. In the past year I’ve learned a lot, training every day for 12 months for this race, managing it with work and life. It’s something I still want to write about, my learnings from it and the experience. Learning that it really is the process and the path you take that matters, day in and day out, rather than the end result. That’s a story for another day though because this one is about what I learned from one man, Ivan Chittenden. A name not too many people knew in Ireland but that most of the country and Triathlon world learned of a few weeks ago.


“To leave the world in a better place than how we found it.”

This is the effect Ivan had on many of us. He may not know that he was doing it but everyone I have spoken with in the past few weeks can agree that he had that effect, whether it was a long term friend or someone he had a brief encounter with while in Ireland for the IronMan.


To leave the world in a better place doesn’t mean you have to create the next best tech company. It doesn’t require millions in philanthropy as a billionaire. It can be as simple as being a good person, lifting up the people around you. Ivan left a lasting effect on the people he met. When you feel good about life, you feel good about yourself and you have a smile on your face. He told you what you needed to hear, he was optimistic, while also being realistic. His calming presence made you feel comfortable and secure, while his endless discipline gave you the motivation to succeed.


The quote, to leave the world in a better place, can be traced back to Ralph Waldo Emerson and I think he puts it perfectly with this line


To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived — that is to have succeeded.

In the week leading up to IronMan Ireland, I spent more time with Ivan than most. I have always said that I learn a lot of life lessons at IronMan events and this was no different. This time a lot of my learning was done in the days leading up to the race, as I got to spend time with a man who was a Professional Partner at EY, where he worked for 42 years. A man who dealt with his own grief to live an extraordinary life full of positivity, determination and optimism.


Control the controllables.


On Saturday 19th August, the IronMan Ireland 70.3 race was canceled at the last minute. Many of my friends were freaking out to say the least. Some were a little pissed off that the race was canceled, some relieved that it was canceled, all of them unsure if they wanted to race the following day and finding ways to be annoyed. Ivan, however, was cool, calm and collected. He knew it was out of his control. He was one of the first to be at the beach that morning only to find out it was canceled when he turned up. Oh well, back to the hotel! He regrouped, had a nap and was calm. There was no doubt he was racing on Sunday, it was a matter of resetting on Saturday and starting preparation again. The only thing he was disappointed in was not getting to have a celebratory dinner that night. Instead it was back to the restaurant with me for pre-race pasta and chicken! When things are not going your way, take a step back, look at what you can do, what you can control, reset and go again.


Discipline is greater than motivation.

When you race, your motivation will fluctuate. Nerves kick in and so does doubt, this is when your discipline matters. The necessary discipline in order to put in the work for the event, as well as discipline in your preparation. When things are not going as planned, motivation tends to be low. This is the same in our day to day lives. I don’t always have the motivation to go for a run or to train. Ivan had discipline in every aspect of his life. Every training session he did his best to do as planned, at the targets set. He was always early. Always communicating. His race equipment was perfectly prepared, each item ticked off, checked and set up. When the Saturday race was postponed, it was the discipline that helped him stay in control. To set everything up again as if it was just any other pre-race day. This is the same discipline that can be carried into everyday life. When things are not going as planned in work, back to the process. When our nutrition and sleep are out of kilter, have the discipline to get back to the process and start again.


All we have is this present moment. The past is merely a memory arriving in this moment. The future is merely a thought, arriving in this moment. All we have is the here and now.

This is a quote, slightly adapted, from Sam Harris. I happened to read it the week before the race. It really stuck with me. On the day of my race, it kept me in one of the best mental states I have been in for a race. It was the first time I wasn’t sick before a race. When my bottle of carbs (half my race nutrition) fell off as my bike went over a pothole, it kept me positive and helped me to adapt. What I didn’t know was this quote was about to be a little bit more literal than what I wanted it to be. When I got the news about Ivan, I didn’t realise that dinner the night before with him would be that last moment. I’m thankful we left our phones down, that we spoke about our lives to date, what got us into IronMan, what our favourite race moments were. That we spoke about future races we would do together and even a little about jobs and careers. I joked that living in Toronto is something myself and my finacé should consider having just had one of the worst summers, in terms of weather, in Irish history.


The advice to be present is everywhere on the internet. It’s nothing new. The quote is something that stuck with me and helped to remind me that the present moment is all we really have. However, what happened to Ivan, is something that reminds you that we really must take advantage of every present moment we have and to enjoy them. He was someone who did that, whether it was racing IronMans around the world or hosting dinner parties and sharing tips on wine with friends.


That day didn’t turn out how I envisaged. I was planning on a celebration with friends and family. One where maybe I’d get a world championships qualifying spot that I secretly coveted. Where I’d celebrate my hard work and the joint effort my fiancé put in to support me.


Ivan also envisaged similar.


We don’t always get the days we plan for. We can never predict the future and we really do only have the present. When you realise that, it can be daunting at first and then it’s quite freeing. It helps you to be where your feet are. To live that moment, to give it your all and enjoy life. Enjoy the sip of a coffee in the sun. Enjoy brunch with your friends or the freedom of a cycle in the mountains.


I think Ivan recognised that and definitely took advantage of it. Hopefully I can do the same and maybe you will too.


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