“When people first hear about this race. This event, they often have but one very simple thought, ‘Why? Why put your body through a test that doesn’t seem possible? Why put your mind through such an extreme exercise of will? Why try to become an Ironman?’”
“35 years in, only they know the answer, the men and women who seek the challenge of this race…. They discover it in a test of strength, resolve, endurance that altogether mirrors how they approach their lives. A challenge in which determination conquers fatigue, will overcomes pain, and struggle becomes the ultimate triumph. Why Ironman? Because it’s everything in the world they wanted to be.”
I’ve been watching a lot of Ironman triathlon lately, starting with the 1991 Ironman World Championships in Kona on YouTube and working my way towards the present day. I just passed into the new millennia online a couple weeks ago, and I watched the 2013 NBC broadcast on the 16th and then again Wednesday. If this year is anything like last year, I’ll watch it about a dozen more times before I delete it from the DVR.
A lot has changed in Ironman triathlon since 1991, not least of which is the athletes’ wardrobes and technology. Sometime around 1999, the men started wearing bike shorts—well tri shorts actually—for the entire event instead of speedo briefs. (Having done 70.3, I just can’t imagine that . . at all.) Wetsuits and swimskins came on the scene. Coincidentally, the producers reduced the coverage of the swim. As for most triathletes, the producers seem to see the swim as something to get through on the way to the more exciting part of the race.
There’s also more focus on age groupers like you and me. (Unless you’re a pro triathlete, that is. And if you are, please leave me a comment, m’kay? Pretty please?) And the producers also pay more attention to the cut-off times. Apparently there’s drama in seeing if someone can finish the swim in two-and-a-half hours and the whole 140.6 race in 17. Thankfully, hair and fashion have definitely gotten much better since the 90s.
What hasn’t changed is how crazy the announcers make me, especially Al Trautwig. I love watching the event, but I just wish they would stop with the “These people are nuts!” schtick. We may, in fact, be a little touched, but there’s method to our madness. Things happen for a reason, and it would be nice if the announcers actually recognized that most of the people watching probably know something about triathlon and probably like it, too. Why be so condescending?
Now that I’ve done some shorter races, including a few 70.3s, the enormity of an Ironman is more obvious. Basically, it’s going to take a long time. There’s a kind of glow you get from watching something on TV, and that glow lies about how difficult it really is. On television an Ironman takes 90 minutes, including commercials. In 2012, Lisa was out of town, and I watched the coverage live on the Internet while cleaning house. Every 20-30 minutes I would check back on the race: “Yep, they’re still on the bike. Time to make dinner.” The winners took over eight hours.
I usually take 50% longer than the top finishers. If the best 70.3 time is just under four hours, mine takes closer to six. Winning Ironman times are routinely between eight and nine hours, so I’m looking at 12-14 hours to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112, and run 26.2. My only free-standing marathon took 4 hours, and I rode a fast and flat century in six hours. And I almost swam 2.4 miles in 90 minutes. Stitch them all together… at least 12 hours. Most certainly more. That’s a really long day.
The idea to do triathlon first occurred to me when watching the Port Macquarie Ironman recap show on the plane back from Sydney in 2010. “I swim. I bike. I run. I could do one of those. Man that seems like a long way!” I watched that race again on YouTube last spring, and I honestly don’t know what about it made me think it looked like fun.
But I do want to do it . . . at least once. Okay, who am I kidding? I want to go to Kona. I want to do that crazy race I’ve seen on television, one of the hardest of them all, although I didn’t know that when I first learned about it. Of course, first I need to do an Ironman.
Which brings me to 2015. At this year’s JDRF ride, I met a woman who is trying to get at least 50 people with diabetes to do an Ironman. So join me at Ironman Wisconsin in 2015. You have lots of time to get ready. Even if you only do one in your whole life, think about what a gathering like that would mean. Join me!