Ironman Bolton 2023 Finisher

Greatness Has A Cost

Alexander Novicov
11 min readJul 5, 2023

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Words don’t inspire, actions do. We can say all day long that we want to inspire and motivate or do something that is bigger than ourselves but nobody will believe us, because actions speak louder than words. It’s the same with quotes. We can post on social media “nothing grows in our comfort zone” but it’s different when you actually show how you move from your comfort zone.

Last year I signed up for one of the biggest challenges of my life — Ironman Bolton. Ironman is considered one of the toughest endurance races on earth. It consists of a 3.8km swim, 180 km bike ride and then a 42.2 km run on tired legs in the end. All stages have to be done before the cut off times. The total cut off time is 17 hours.

Ironman Bolton is considered even more difficult than most because the elevation is just over 3,048 meters / 10,000 ft.

Cycling through

The challenge for me started with the swim. I have never swum in open water and I’m petrified of it. I’ve never cycled more than 5 kilometers. The only cycling I do is with a Santander Bike from home to pick up my laundry and to do errands in the city. The running part is more familiar but is it really the same when you have to run a whole marathon on tired legs?

Last year, I was at a running festival in Wales called Love Trails, and by coincidence a woman was standing in front of me with a branded Ironman bag while I was sipping a soya latte. I started chatting to her and asked about her experience. I said that I would love to one day do an Ironman but I’m scared of the whole thing. She told me that “Anything is possible” with enough training and recommended a book called Iron Fit.

Love Trails 2022 / Wales

I read the book right away on my way back to London. Then I signed up for Ironman Bolton 2023. Joined Hampstead Triathlon Club, found a coach, bought a bike, a wetsuit, got all the cycling gear and started training. The countdown began — 12 months of training to finish Ironman Bolton. In the beginning everything is exciting because the dopamine hits you and you are all motivated and ready to go.

Train twice per day for six days for the next 12 months? No problem. Count your calories every day and make sure that you get enough protein and the right nutrients? No problem. Forget all your weekends as you have to do long rides Sunday and long runs and swims on Saturday? No problem. It’s not a problem for a month, for two months, it’s not an issue when the sun is shining.

The problems start when you are 3/4/5 months in and you have to wake up at 04:30 am to go on that cold Sunday ride and smile through the rain. Why am I doing this, you ask yourself? What is the point of it?

I’m not a person who gives up easily but on April 18th I nearly gave up. I was tired of all the training and all the sacrifices I had to make. One of my other hobbies is skydiving — which I usually do one weekend a month but due to training I couldn’t go as often. So this meant that I didn’t jump as much as I wanted. At one point a friend who’s in a Mastermind group that I’m in told me that sometimes we need to give up things that are not serving us anymore. It stuck with me because I got so tired mentally and physically.

When I train for ultra-marathons the logistics are easier because all you need is a pair of running shoes and gym for strength training but with Ironman training you need the bike, you need your wetsuit and all the gear. You can’t just go on a weekend away and train normally because you need all that equipment, and by missing sessions you are making it worse for yourself because all the training you’ve done previously and all the fitness gains you’ve achieved are evaporating.

So on April 18th I posted in a Facebook Group called The UK Ironman Journey about me giving up and that I’m struggling. The post received 78 comments from different beautiful souls. Most were encouraging to keep going. I kept on going.

Yesterday I crossed the finish line in 13 hours and 55 minutes. It was brutal.

Crossing the finish line at Ironman Bolton 2023
Ironman Bolton 2023 Finisher

The race had 47% DNF (Did Not Finish) — nearly half of the athletes that started at 6:00am couldn’t make it to the finish line for different reasons. The main one was that it was way harder than everybody anticipated. The water was choppy, it literally had waves! Waves in a lake! On the bike, the wind was horrendous, it was a head wind and it was hilly, so you had to deal with the hills and the wind. Going downhill is supposed to be easy, but with the winds, you had to be very careful not to fall.

Once all that is done, you had to run on tired legs. The good thing is that the support was on another level.

But I have to say, the finish line was something else. It was pure magic. Once you are on that red carpet and you hear the magical words from the MC:

Alexander Novicov You Are An Ironman everything changes.

Having said all that, this journey, this Ironman journey is not about the medal, it’s not about the red carpet, it’s not about the ‘bragging rights’, it’s about who you become while you are on this journey. Yes, don’t get me wrong, it’s an amazing feeling but you get to learn more about yourself, you get to do this race and experience this beautiful transformation.

Running through Bolton Park

The transformation happened way before you started the race. The transformation happened when you made a decision that you will take on this journey. The transformation was in the small things that you chose to do every day. The days that you didn’t feel like going for a bike ride, the days that you were petrified swimming in West Reservoir but you went anyway.

You take on this journey because you want it to mean something, because you want this journey to change who you are. And it does change who you are, it changes how you see things, it changes how you look at certain things. You become mentally and physically stronger.

What you learn by finishing the race is that “Anything Is Possible”. You learn that you can achieve great things if you set a goal and execute consistently. Of course, there are some days that you don’t feel like doing things or you might be injured or sick and you physically can’t go for a workout or you can only do one workout on the day but overall you keep on going.

This is really not about Ironman, this is about our life. This is about achieving goals and doing the daily mundane work.

There are so many reflections and lessons learned through this journey. I will share with you three most important lessons I learned.

The first lesson is that the hard work is in the mundane, in the daily grind that nobody knows or sees. Sure, everybody celebrates the finish line but the hard work was done before the finish line, the race is just a test day of how well you did in the past 12 months.

Even if you didn’t finish a race or didn’t achieve a certain goal, a key question to ask ourselves would be:

“Did I do my best with what I had?”

The answer should be honest. Even if the answer is NO, then it’s okay. Today is a new day, and all we can do is start today and do our best today. The past is in the past, the future is in the future, all we have right now is this moment.

Cycling through

I was constantly telling myself before race day that I’ve done the best I could to my abilities, I’ve planned my workouts, I executed and some days I missed some workouts but that’s okay, I’m only human.

The second lesson I learned is priorities. You have to really be clear on what priorities you have in life. One of the things I struggle with is putting a lot of things on my plate. I have a lot of things I’m doing work wise, hobbies wise, personal life and I think I can manage it all. But I keep on forgetting that we have 24 hours in a day, there is only so much you can do. We can be efficient and productive but I think I learned to prioritize better and understand that doing less but better is way more productive.

You can create 100 pieces of content for example but if they are mediocre, what’s the point? It’s better to focus all our energy in creating 50 pieces of content and put our heart and soul into the work.

The third lesson I learned is that we all inspire each other with our actions and words. My triathlon coach, Daniel Bingham, inspired me with his words of encouragement when I felt that I wouldn’t be able to finish the race.

One of my friends, Arthur, inspires me in the gym to lift heavier. He makes a huge impact in my life, and specifically in this journey because I became stronger because of him. My girlfriend inspires me to be more empathetic towards myself. She enlightens me to be more caring towards myself and my body.

Steve, my mate from Hampstead Triathlon Club inspired me to be more aware of carbs, nutrients and data. A guy from Rapha Cycling Club that I did my long rides with, inspired me to push more on hills.

Me with Steve at Ironman Stafford in June 2023

Dan Millman the author of The Peaceful Warrior inspired me to be more present and to focus on the moment rather than on the outcome. The captain of Midnight Runners, who has an Ironman tattoo on his left leg inspired me to google what Ironman means in 2020.

Ironman as a brand inspired me with their marketing to embark on this challenge. Their videos inspired me to sign up in the first place. During hard periods of training I kept on watching them again and again. One brand, one message (Anything Is Possible) can make a huge impact in someone’s life. I never even considered doing a different triathlon race.

From a customer perspective they’ve exceeded my expectations. I did Ironman Staffordshire 70.3 (half the distance in June) and I loved it as much as I loved the full Bolton race.

Finishing Ironman 70.3 In Stafford in June

Of course, I bought their overpriced merchandise and I wear their t-shirts with pride now, because it means something meaningful to me. Of course there is the superficial aspect of it as well — that I finished an Ironman but at the end of the day, the goal is not to show off, but to remind myself on a daily basis that anything is possible and I hope that somebody else sees that and gets inspired to push themselves with something that they find challenging.

People and brands can make a positive impact in our society, they can make change happen. What Ironman does is incredible. Their product is brilliant, their marketing is amazing and they’ve won a customer for life. They have people tattoo their logo and slogan on their bodies because it means something, it means that you believe in what they represent.

That’s one of the reasons they don’t compete on price, there are so many triathlon races that are half the price yet Ironman is the winner in the category. But this is for another article.

People around Bolton standing and cheering for strangers, shouting, creating funny signs is something that is magical and beautiful at the same time.

The fourth and last lesson I learned is that Anything Is Possible. I got inspired by myself. During the lows of the race I kept on talking to myself and telling myself words of kindness and compassion of how great this experience is, how lucky I am to be able to do this. I kept on telling myself that I get to do this. I get to be in this beautiful race.

Deep conversations with myself during the race

I reminded myself that this is not just for me, this is for the whole team, for my girlfriend that traveled 1,614 kilometers to support me, for Chan, my skydiving buddy that came with a broken leg to shout words of encouragement at the run course, for Arthur who was supporting me from the swim until the end, for my dad that was supporting me all the way in Montreal, for my mum that was supporting me in Cyprus and all the other beautiful human beings that wished me good luck and sent me words of encouragement.

While doing the race you see small kids cheering and sending you positive energy, you want to be an example to keep on going, to keep pushing.

Anything is possible with the right people, with the right support crew, and I’m beyond grateful to have beautiful souls in my life that supported and keep supporting me.

I set a goal a year ago, and now I’ve achieved it. This means I can push myself in other areas of my life that I want to improve. I can push my boundaries with my agency, I can help our clients even more, I can set bigger and bolder goals because I know that Anything Is Possible.

You know deep inside that you can achieve your own greatness, you can achieve beautiful things. It doesn’t have to be an Ironman, it can be any challenge you want. If you never run, you can set a challenge to run 10km, it can be to read a book, or write a book, it can be to start creating content or build your personal brand, whatever that is, I know that you can do this, I know this because you are already halfway there., You read this article, you have the growth mindset. This means something.

The key ingredient is to find joy in what we do, even in the boring stuff.

I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Dan Millman:

“A warrior does not give up what he loves, he finds the love in what he does”

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Alexander Novicov

I wake up every day striving to become the best version of myself. I’m a human, an author, ultra runner, skydiver, speaker and CEO at Way Boutique Agency.