I work with a guy who plans to compete in an Ironman race this Sunday. That consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run–all in one day. When he crosses that finish line, I imagine he will be awash with simultaneous feelings of exhaustion and exhilaration, both so consuming that he won’t be able to tell them apart. He’ll hear the words, “You are an Ironman!” from the announcer as he lumbers the last few yards, and he will know it’s true.

You know what I think? He’s already an Ironman. It won’t be the race that brands that title on his heart–it’s the training that got him there. For the better part of the last year, he has trained, trained, and trained some more. He never lets it slide. He gets up early, forsakes much social life, gives up his weekends. Countless hours on indoor and outdoor bikes, in various pools wherever he can gain access (it’s tough to swim outside in Wisconsin for all but about three months of the year), and on streets, trails and treadmills wherever his job takes him, prove his dedication and rigid discipline. A year. Not a week or a month or a season. He has been gutting it out and pushing his limits for a whole year. To me, that’s what makes him an Ironman.

Think about it. An event might be your goal, but the event itself is simply the culmination of your preparation and training. Whether you decide to run a 5K, lose a few pounds, change your career, or publish a novel, what makes you–add the label of your choice: a runner, a fitness freak, a doctor, a writer–or more simply, a success, isn’t that singular event. What makes you a success is the time, effort, and discipline you invested to get there. By the time the event rolls around, you’ve already become that person. The event just proves it to the world; it’s your medal.

Wear your medal proudly, AK!