Since March of last year, I’ve been training for Ironman. I have always been physically active, and then I got running. Started with a 5k Turkey Trot. Then I progressed to a half marathon, then full marathons. That’s when I considered broader challenges, and branched out into triathlon. Not stopping there, a couple years ago I started searching for the next challenge. And that’s when I set my sights on Ironman. An Ironman race consists of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bicycle ride and a marathon 26.2 mile run, raced continuously in that order and without a break.
What I was surprised to learn is that Ironman is not just an individual’s physical feat. It takes a whole community. The race event draws big crowds, forms communities and brings people together. And it’s not just the athletes and their families, either. Local people feel it, too. Everyone comes to cheer, support and encourage, whether they know you or not. It creates this very powerful energetic space for everyone to thrive in.
Ironman is not just an individual’s physical feat. It takes a whole community.
There are Ironman competitions all around the world today. But the legend of Ironman is all about Kona…..Kona, Hawaii, where it all started. Kona is the Ironman World Championships, it’s the most sought-after race that everyone wants to do and requires qualifying in another race during the year to even think about toeing the start line.
But wherever you race Ironman, if there’s one symbolic place that captures the spirit of the event, it’s actually at the very end of the race—at the finish line. When most people think of a finish line, they just think of a big arch and a giant time clock ticking away. But at an Ironman race, the “finish line” is a whole experience that starts about 100 yards before the actual finish point. This special ending is lined with red carpet, sign-laden barricades and beyond that, hundreds of friends and family witnessing a monumental achievement that racers were never completely sure they could achieve.
If you’re fortunate to be at the right event, Mike Reilly, “voice of Ironman,” will be there at the finish line to acknowledge you. Starting back in 1989, he has a now famous announcement for every single person that crosses: “(insert name here): YOU. ARE. AN. IRONMAN!!!!!!”.
The great thing about the finishing line experience is that it celebrates a life achievement and really a new identity. It’s an achievement experience that isn’t just for a first place finisher, but reminds us all that anyone who conquers this epic journey can now be called Ironman.
My passion and enjoyment about Ironman, and I think it’s a feeling shared among most of the athletes and even many spectators, is seeing all walks of life competing, no matter age, race, gender or shape, and accomplishing arguably the hardest physical challenge they will ever face. Probably the biggest misperception about Ironman is that normal everyday people can’t do it. Yes, it’s very time consuming and yes, it will be probably the hardest physical thing you will ever do, but it is doable and thousands of people do it every year all across the world.
Probably the biggest misperception about Ironman is that normal everyday people can’t do it.
People gather together at Ironman to either fulfill a big life goal achievement, or watch others do so. I think that as we grow older there is always a big focus on career-driven achievements, especially professional tests and mental challenges. And that often leaves this gap regarding our physical lives. Racing—whether it be running, biking, swimming or all three—gives people a physical achievement to check off a list they have created. Just like studying and taking a test, some people train and cross finish lines.
In the end, what I think convenes around Ironman is not always well-articulated, but it’s a question about what “success” really means to people and what do we race for? A few years back I started asking myself what success is and asking others as well. Most people would point to material things and concepts that are inherently career based (like job title, salary, type of car they drive, etc.). There’s not a right or wrong answer to the larger question, of course, but it made me start to reflect: What if those things were just outward symbols of inner success? What if I focused more on my emotional aspect of achievement? That feeling you get when you achieve something great. With that in mind I started thinking about my own moments of success in life. The material “symbol” of that moment (a championship ring, diploma or even an Ironman medal) is nice, but for me, I couldn’t remember those things nearly as vividly as I did that Ironman finish line experience. On any given day, when I take just a brief moment to think about that finish line experience, it always takes me back to a whole set of intense emotions. It’s a powerful memory.
On any given day, when I take just a brief moment to think about that finish line experience, it always takes me back to a whole set of intense emotions.
It’s that feeling of completing a challenge that’s yours forever. Nobody can take it away from you. I still remember one of my Dad’s friends telling me when I was in college, “Get your education because that is one of the few things that someone can’t take away from you.” Just like learning a new skill, an emotional memory belongs in the same category to me and always helps push me harder.