People often turn to me for advice or suggestions as they contemplate their first ironman. Not that I am a blazingly swift triathlete by any stretch of the imagination. But I have been at this game for quite a long time on a number of levels and have completed that distance a number of times. I guess I must have some kind of staying power or I possess the longevity gene. Which translates to the fact that I have been certifiably insane for longer than many other people.
People chase the ironman dream for any number of reasons. Many reasons are quite personal and private, while some are as simple as just wanting to be able to say they did it. Ironman is a crazy beast which can often attract slightly crazy beings. The first question that I always ask people is why in the world would they want to put themselves through that. I ask the question rhetorically because I more than anyone know most of the reasons why. Although the reasons may be different from person to person, the underlying allure is not all that complicated to figure out.
But here are my words of both caution and advice…. whatever you choose to do, be humble about it. When you complete an ironman, you will want to talk and scream about it from the highest mountain. Be careful how you do that. Relish and reflect appropriately on your accomplishment. Talk about it to your friends, family, and loved ones, but don’t misrepresent that elated feeling of accomplishment and self worth into an attitude of “I, Me, Mine”.
I have seen a number of people get so sucked into the sport and in particular the ironman that their outward display of pride in their accomplishment can easily be taken as arrogance. A triathlete, check that – ANY athlete - who is true to themselves is extremely humble about their abilities and their accomplishments. They talk about them when asked but they talk about them graciously. I have seen a number of people become ousted from the real triathlon community because they suddenly started talking about themselves as having attained a greater level of existence or importance because they raced an ironman. Guess what? They didn’t. I often see guys raving about their results or broadcasting their workout distances, and that posture turns off more people than it impresses.
I don’t want to under value the enormity and the significance of crossing the finish line of an ironman triathlon, or tarnish the brass ring of the sport. This is huge and you should be very proud of the fact that you even had the courage to attempt the distance. And the redeeming point here is that if you carry yourself right, people know. They just know. You don’t have to promote yourself. You can passively wear your accomplishments and achievements like a merit badge and never say a word about yourself. And I don’t mean because you show up on race day with a lot of high end race gear, or go out and get one of those M-Dot tattoos strategically placed so everyone and their Aunt Martha can see it. I’m talking about transcending your accomplishment into actions and by who you are and how you live your life. Particularly how your treat the beginners to the sport, and those race volunteers who work endless hours to make your dreams come true.
Ironman, and the triathlon community have enriched my life. The camaraderie and respect among the athletes are like nothing I have ever seen before. The total triathlete is greater than the sum of his or her parts. The triathlete heart, spirit and the bond that connects us is deeper than that which you will find among swimmers, cyclists, or runners.
So I say, if you really want to race an ironman, make sure you know why you want to do it. Don’t race for the medal. Don’t race for the finisher photo. Don’t race for praise from someone else. Race because you want to dig deep and challenge what’s inside. Race because you want to see what you are made of. Race because you have an ounce of doubt that perhaps you can’t do it – and want to prove yourself wrong. Race to expand your personal comfort zone. Race to raise money for charity. Race for the right reasons. Be a gentle giant in the triathlon community. And use your talents and accomplishments to make a difference … not to make a statement about yourself.
At the end of the day, it’s just a race. It’s a big race. It’s a long race. It’s an incredibly rewarding race. But it’s just a race. Merely finishing an ironman won’t make you a better person. Hell, winning an ironman won’t even make you a better person. But if you make the right choices in how you handle yourself and your accomplishments, if you make honorable and meaningful decisions regarding what you do with what you’ve earned, you can make yourself and those around you better.
And the next time you want to tell someone what your finishing time was, be sure to also tell them how much money you raised for a favorite charity.
Thank the volunteers