Life is the marathon we design to be the best version of ourselvesJULY 15, 2021
“Patience, grasshopper” were the words Ed Shifflett said to himself while training for the June 6, 2021, Ironman 70.3 Virginia Blue Ridge triathlon. Following an unexpected series of race-suspending conditions, it had been 33 months since Ed had crossed the finish line of his last triathlon in 2018. And while he couldn’t control the situations that put a sudden halt on his training and competing, he did use the experience to strengthen his journey toward perspective and gratitude.
Ed’s participation in organized sports began in his formative years and continued throughout college. After college, he thought, “Now what?” It was then that Ed realized he did not need to rely on someone else to pursue his passion for athletics. So, in 1998, he began his career in triathlons with the completion of his first Ironman in 2001. Ironman is a triathlon race consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and 26.2-mile run. As a self-proclaimed introvert, Ed’s training for Ironman competitions allowed him to pursue his individual goals while enjoying the energy and uplifting experiences of the race.
“I never raced because I wanted to be the best; I raced to be the best version of myself,” said AlphaGroup partner, Ed Shifflett, Ph.D.
In 2018, Ed was racing at his peak—he had never trained as hard and been as fast. So, when he and his wife saw an obvious lump in his neck, it was a shocking whirlwind to learn Ed had cancerous tumors on his thyroid and parathyroids. The diagnosis, however, would not stop him from competing in that year’s Ironman competition in Cambridge, MD. While he finished the race in 22nd position for his age group and 169th overall, Ed struggled to finish. Almost immediately upon finishing, Ed was sent by ambulance to the hospital where doctors performed an EKG that indicated he was having a heart attack. Ed’s body was saying, “Stop!” and in May 2019, he underwent thyroid and parathyroid surgery and medication management.
In July of 2019, Ed jumped back into training for his next Ironman. Again, his body said, “Stop!” The immediate return to physical exercise resulted in a torn plantar fascia. This injury kept Ed from running for more than a year while he underwent intense physical therapy and PRP (platelet-rich plasma) injections to accelerate the healing of his injured fascia.
At the onset of the COVID pandemic in early 2020, Ed refocused on being even healthier and took to stability, strength, core, and mobility work. Ironically, COVID allowed Ed to not worry about race prep and allowed him to spend more time at home. For him personally, COVID was somewhat of a twisted help. By the fall of 2020, he was able to start walks/runs, one small step at a time. With the help of his coach, Lisa Colvin, Ed worked on a gentle cycle of progression in swimming, biking, and running. This closely regulated training increased his strength and stamina and, again, during this time of mandatory social distancing and working from home, suited Ed’s introverted nature.
Ed proclaimed he was nowhere close to his top level of fitness yet still prepared for his return to competition by signing up for the June 2021 half Ironman in Roanoke, VA. With 33 months between races, Ed was grateful for the opportunity to return to what he loved without any pressure other than to race against himself.
The morning of Sunday, June 6, Ed felt more nervous than ever before—he thought he forgot how to race. He struggled to separate himself from his anxiousness. As he jumped in for the swim in the first leg of the race, Ed thought he was going to drown. Anxiety almost overcame him. Relying on his years of training, he slowly and deliberately repeated each swim stroke and regulated his breathing. About a third of the way through the swim, Ed had found his rhythm and was back in the race!
For the remainder of the race, Ed recalls staying in the moment and not worrying about anyone around him—a skill set that is well in-tune with an introverted personality. In 90-degree heat on a steep upward bike to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, Ed repeated to himself, “Keep it together—stay within yourself.” With a moment to appreciate the natural beauty of the course, Ed knew he was having a good race, especially in the last five miles of biking when he realized, not only had he passed many competitors, but he had passed all the other competitors and was now riding his bike alone to transition to prepare for the run.
To his surprise, Ed qualified for the 70.3 World Championship being held in St. George, UT, in September 2021. When asked about his feelings regarding this remarkable story of mindset and strength, Ed shared, “I like to be alone and do my thing in solitude. Life is about perseverance. We all have a story. We all have a journey. It’s about keeping things in perspective and practicing gratitude.”