Beyond the Finish Line

There has been much documentation and fanfare surrounding the ironman triathlon finish line. It remains one of the most motivating and impressive images around. You can’t talk about that finisher chute with its screaming spectators without getting the juices flowing. In fact I have an ironman finish line poster hanging in my office right in front of me and I can’t look at it enough. But let’s look beyond that finish line for a minute.

Truly one of the most energizing and awe inspiring things that I have ever experienced is the post race buzz created after an iron distance race. Sure there is a lot of pre race buzz but that is much different. It’s still exciting and electrifying but there is a lot of apprehension and nervous tension in the air prerace. But after the race all of the emotions erupt. For many people the ironman journey begins years before the actual race. At a minimum, the quest starts a year before the race. So for all that time you train and you train and you read and you inquire and you train and you stress and you obsess and if all goes well, you are blessed with being able to run, walk, or crawl across that seemingly elusive finish line. This is the ultimate culmination of all of your hard work. You have made it… “You are an IRONMAN” And when the finisher’s medal is placed around your neck, you have just attained the quintessential triathlon brass ring. You look at, you embrace it, you kiss it, and you hold it up for all to see. You swear you will sleep with your medal, never wash your numbers off, and leave your athlete’s race bracelet on for at least a week.

After mulling around the finish area for a while to cheer on your friends, you finally decide you have had enough for one day. And eventually, at some point you find your way back to your hotel. You are exhausted but completed elated. Still buzzing and talking a mile a minute about your day. Eventually, you may feel like a few thugs with baseball bats had pummeled you for a dozen plus hours. You may have aches and pains in parts of your body that you never knew existed. But it is probably the most gratifying pain you will ever experience. You know you have accomplished your goals. And if you’re mortal, you know you will be taking some time off from racing and training. Some time to just relax and enjoy it. Some time off to savor it.

After a month long shower and a well-deserved beverage of choice you find yourself sitting in bed replaying the day over and over again. Yes – with the medal still around your neck. Eventually you drift off to one of the best night’s sleep you have had in quite some time. And you don’t need to set an alarm. Not this time. No way. You are going to sleep in until at least 8 or so.

If you’re anything like me, you may need to make a few trips to the bathroom during the night due to all of your ultra hydration during the day. And with each step you’ll probably say “Ouch! This feels awesome”

The day after can be summed up in one word – “ahhh”. You spend it doing a whole lot of nothing and loving a whole lot of everything. You meet up with friends and eat basically everything that is not nailed down. You are still glowing from the day before and are now getting excited about picking up your pictures and going to the awards dinner. You make your way to the evening’s festivities – the awards dinner and banquet.

OK, the food is probably not going to win any awards but that doesn’t matter. In that tent you will find a thousand or two of your newest and closest friends all (very) slowly walking around wearing a finisher’s T shirt and oh yes that medal that never came off. More smiles than you can imagine. And everyone has a story to tell. They’ll tell stories about an aid station, or a volunteer or a flat tire. Stories about people they ran with along the way and how friendly everyone was. Even talk about registering for next year’s race. You look around the tent and see so much happiness and positive energy. You have formed new friendships that will last a very long time.

As the award presentations commence you find yourself drifting in and out of awareness. You are interested in the speaker but even more interested in all of the balloons and festivities and the expressions on everyone’s faces. You are curious about all of their individual stories. Some are probably a lot like your own. Some are probably very different. But you all now share one thing. You are made of iron. A distinction and an accolade that can never made taken away from you, even if you never race another race. You have done it. Embrace it and savor it but don’t boast about it. Your accomplishment will become you. You don’t need to walk around and announce it to everyone. You have become part of a very special extended family. You are an ironman.

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