I want to be an Ironman. Ironman is a triathlon that begins with a 2.4-mile swim, followed by a 112-mile bike ride and finishes with a 26.2-mile run.

Some people want to be fighter pilots, welders, teachers or entrepreneurs. In its own way every big personal goal is like becoming an Ironman.

Early this year I shared my goal with local Ironman Klaus Benamy-Hackel. He asked if I had ever run a marathon. When I told him no, he said I really needed to do that before I attempted the Ironman triathlon.

Want to fly an F-22 or teach at CSUB? You have to "run a marathon" first. Want to weld stainless steel pipe at a nuclear power plant? You have to "run a marathon" first. Want to create a business where there has never been one before? You have to "run a marathon" first.

Accomplishing big goals demands hard work. I want to be an Ironman, so I ran my marathon Oct. 7. But there was lots of work that needed to be done before that day.

If you want to be an Air Force pilot you start in high school. Maybe sooner. You have to get into the Air Force Academy. You have to be the best in your class. It takes work, patience, dedication and sacrifice.

Running a marathon takes training, consistently running and cross-training months in advance of the race. You build strength and endurance slowly. It demands discipline and dedication if you want to succeed.

Maybe, like me, you don't actually like the training. Being a student may not be fun for you. But if you want to be a professor at Cal State you will have to do it. If you want to be an Ironman you have to run.

As the weeks passed and my first marathon drew near I felt a certain satisfaction in my level of preparation. It is encouraging to see your milestones met on the way to your goal.

The dirty work of a welding apprenticeship actually builds proficiency and expertise in the trade. It creates self-confidence and inspires optimism in achieving journeyman skill.

I did the dirty work and my big day finally arrived. A bus took my fellow marathoners and me out to the middle of nowhere in Lassen National Forest. It was our assignment to run back to Susanville!

It was a scenic venue for sure. The weather was mild and spirits were high. It was much better than I had expected. Often the newness of the next step toward a goal creates a romantic perspective on the event. The start is invigorating but it is only the start.

I had a plan. Welder or PhD., you need a plan. It is a long, grueling journey to your certification or degree. You have to have checkpoints along the way. For me it was time and distance.

My race -- and I use the term loosely -- was going very well for the first 14 miles. In our other endeavors it may be easy to begin the work and stay on pace to achieve a goal. We recognize our progress with every step.

Mile markers slip by and others are running with us. The forest is green and the air is cool. It is almost refreshing to be on our way to an important goal. Yet I knew that I was in a marathon. That nagging thought that I could fail lingered.

As you run toward your goal, respect the possibility of failure but expect success based on your "training." I knew I was as prepared as I could be for my marathon.

Being a good test taker or being well connected is not enough. You can expect to meet people or circumstances along the way that will challenge your mental will to achieve your goals.

There will be teachers, bosses, co-workers and commanding officers who will not support you. Health, finances and transportation will seem to conspire against you. Be ready in your head.

In my marathon a small geographical obstacle came at mile 20. A short descent into the river bottom and then a steep climb back up to the trail occurred at about the same place many runners "hit the wall."

Being aware of possible pitfalls empowers you to overcome them. Whether the necessary response is mental or physical, don't let external obstacles dissuade you from success. You must keep running. And I did.

As I ran the mile markers seemed to pass slower and slower. My stride became shorter and my legs grew weary. Finishing a degree or building a business may require overcoming that type of discouragement.

You may think it's taking too long or your idea is not taking off. That is when your success or failure depends completely on the strength of your will to continue.

Physically I was barely able to pick my feet up off the ground. Every step was deliberate. I anxiously anticipated each mile marker. But I continued to reaffirm to myself that I would not walk and I would finish my marathon.

Every worthy goal we pursue and every dream we turn into reality runs a more or less grueling path. The mechanical or functional preparation is essential. Good grades. Great mentors. The best programs. Support networks.

But never underestimate the necessity of your mental preparation. When obstacles abound only your commitment to yourself and your goal will position you for success.

My marathon was supposed to be a step toward an even greater goal. When I finished I felt an Ironman was not possible for me.

But as the days and weeks have tempered my experience I have found myself thinking that I could have run faster. I wonder what it would be like to compete at the Ironman Championship in Kona, Hawaii.

Who will be the first Bakersfield girl to fly the F-22? Who will be Kern County's next Burt Rutan? They will be the people who suffer to the end of their marathons, do some ruthless self-evaluation and then recommit to doing whatever it takes to achieve success.

-- Ric Llewellyn is one of three community columnists whose work appears here every Saturday. These are the opinions of Llewellyn, not necessarily The Californian. You can email him at llewellyn.californian@gmail.com. Next week: Heather Ijames.