I think people take on the challenge of endurance events because they love the challenge. They love the idea of pushing themselves, managing their own demons, and that incredible feeling of victory at the finish. (and victory can be defined very differently for every athlete). I was drawn in to the ironman because it scared me and I couldn’t conceive how the human mind, body, and spirit could endure 140.6 miles of racing. The more I didn’t understand it, the more I was drawn to it. And eventually I reached the point of magnetism as my coordinates locked on and the rest is history.
A decade ago it was easy to keep the motivation up to train for an ironman (or a marathon for that matter). But as time marches on, and the medals accumulate in a box, that well of motivation seems to become a little more finite than it once was. The races don’t become any easier, they sure as heck don’t get any shorter, and training motivation gets tougher; so that’s a potentially dangerous combination.
As much as I remain committed and addicted to the sport of triathlon, I find myself searching for that slightly different flavor of the sport. Years ago, the ironman was considered THE quintessential brass ring of the sport of triathlon. Completing an ironman was the ultimate measure. I don’t believe that anymore. Ironman has become saturated, much the way the marathon became to the running community. And what happened to road racing when the marathon became a little old news and stale? The ultra marathon was born. Runners found a way to push beyond “normalcy” and create new and longer distances. And as the masses catch on to ultra marathoning, I’m sure that bar will again be raised.
Ironman just isn’t unique enough anymore. Everyone now has become an “expert” and you can practically pick up a training plan at any local convenience store. So with ironman becoming a little too common place, what’s next? What is the next drug of choice for endurance sports junkies? I can hear and feel the underground energy as athletes search for that next …. “thing”. Eventually, endurance athletes reach a point where they feel the need to either go faster or farther.
Adventure racing is gaining a stronger foothold but I still think there is something mystical in the swim/bike/run format that John Collins gave birth to in the late 1970s. I think we will see a surge in more off road triathlons such as the XTERRA series and I even suspect we’ll see more iron distance off road triathlons being offered. But for me personally, I have a difference answer to that “faster or farther” question. I see the double ironman and triple ironman becoming the next true measure of mettle. I have had many conversations with double and triple ironman triathletes and race directors and find myself in that same position of being drawn into something because I don’t understand it … and am afraid of it.