I do not think everyone needs to race Ironman Triathlon.
Not because I don’t think anyone can do it; rather, I feel the need to put out this disclaimer in order to preface my post. I do believe everyone needs to move in some capacity, and once you read this, you’ll see what I mean.
Yesterday, my husband raced his 16th Ironman. ( He’s two ahead of me; my 15th will be this coming weekend at Ironman Vineman in California’s beautiful wine country, Sonoma. )
Despite having a complete avulsion of one of the heads of his left biceps tendon and a partial tear in the second head, he was able to complete the swim and make up for lost time on his bike and run to place sixth in his age group.
So, while much of my day was allocated to sherpa duty, with pleasure, I might add, as it’s part of my job description, there were plenty of occasions to be in the moment and spectate, support and cheer other athletes who were out for a challenging day at the office.
Some were clearly quite experienced; from the professional men to the top age group athletes.
Others were having their first go at the distance and despite how they may have been feeling, carried themselves proudly through the rigors with a smile on their face, determined to finish the 140.6 miles no matter what obstacles might come their way.
While it’s a tough day for everyone who competes, I always find it interesting to observe from afar how different people handle the journey. Without knowing each person on an individual basis, it’s so intriguing to watch body language, hear the comments uttered to their family along the way and even feel the energy in the way they carry themselves throughout the distance.
What makes an 84 year old man limp along with nearly a full marathon to go, at the same time others are finished the whole race, keep a smile on his face, knowing he may not even finish in time for the 17 hour cutoff, while another man, 50 years his junior shouts angrily at his wife that ‘he feels like crap and the whole day sucks’?
How is it that Lew Hollander, pictured above, was able to race Ironman World Championships last year at Kona, at age 85, setting the record for oldest man to endure the distance on the most sacred course of all, while the statement on the US Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion states that “most, but not all older adult (which they categorize as over 65, have one or more chronic conditions, and these conditions vary in type and severity”? (1)
Why does a grandmother with her daughter and grandchildren spectating on the sidelines happily shout with a laugh that she reckons she’s going to win the walking division (there is no walking division) while another gal who appears to be disappointed with her bike split scowl at the volunteers in the transition area to hurry up and pass along her run gear?
And an even broader question… why do so many people choose to not even try?
Not that everyone needs to complete an ironman, or any triathlon for that matter but to opt to remain still, seated, stuck and stiff?
In all of the scenarios, for good or for bad, it’s all down to the attitude we adopt and the energy that goes along with it.
Whatever we believe to be our truth, positive or negative, can create the path we follow and the outcome we decide is our reality.
I did my first triathlon in 1998. I was 24. I wanted a fun reason to work out, rather than wanting to see a certain number on the scale or size on my jeans. I liked swimming, biking and running but aside from being in swim team as a kid in the summertime at the lake, I had no competiitve background in any of the three disciplines.
I ‘raced’ (I should say completed) the sprint in Catalina. I had an 80 pound Schwinn I bought from Sears and I forgot to take my helmet off during the run. Every mistake in the book would follow, from not having a bike that fit properly, to eating the wrong foods to not having a race strategy, but I still found it fun enough to keep at it.
A friend at the time asked me if I’d ever do an ironman.
I laughed at her, told her she was crazy to think I’d be that crazy and explained I could never do something like that.
And so it was said.
A few years later, I went to spectate a friend who was racing IM California, which was a full ironman for two years. It was fun to cheer her on and I lingered at the finish line to see more athletes come across, enchanted.
What really caught my eye was not so much the incredible athleticism and prowess of the professionals, but an athlete who came over in a wheelchair. Then one who was an above the knee amputee. Then a gentleman who was in the 80-84 age group.
With goosebumps on my skin and tears in my eyes, I took a good hard look at myself and asked what the hell I was thinking when I had told my friend, three years earlier, that I could not race an ironman.
I had a body that worked and I was 26 years old, for Pete’s sake!
I signed up the next day for 2001 and one year later, completed (the ‘L’ in that word is intentional- my finish time was over 15 hours) my first Ironman Triathlon in the second and final year of the CA full (it’s now the 70.3 we all know in Oceanside).
It would be a good four more years of making mistakes and botching races with slow finish times before I qualified for my first Kona and boy, did I learn a lot along the way, but through it, I grew so much as a human as well as an athlete, and met so many incredible people along the way, including my husband who also had been racing for many years prior to when we began dating.
So, here’s the deal: no, not everyone is interested in doing a triathlon or even in swimming, biking and running on their own.
BUT we all need to move. All of us. Men, women, young, less young, any place, any color and any time.
I cannot put enough passion behind this statement: we all have the choice to put energy in motion, move the one body we have, nourish it with real food and as a result, enjoy a long, healthy life of balance. There is no ‘have to’ when it comes to being a lump on a log.
What did you do today in terms of physical activity?
Do anything that sounds fun. If you don’t know what that is, get a move on and starting trying new activities. Keep trying until you find one that makes you feel like screaming with glee like you did when you were a kid on the playground.
Got a body? Well, move it!
Need a reminder?
Go watch an ironman or watch one on YouTube. Even better, watch this one on YouTube. You’ll be in tears… and you’ll get your butt in gear. Trust me.
See the amazing athletes fighting the odds and look within yourself and remember that you have a body that can move, that needs to move and that very body is a gift.
You have the choice.