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An Ironman Soap Box…….

The definition of a soap box according to Webster is “an improvised platform used by a self-appointed, spontaneous, or informal orator; broadly : something that provides an outlet for delivering opinions.”  I’m about to give my opinion, well it is my blog I don’t know what else you would expect, just be prepared :)

Unless you have been living in a cave or under a rock these past 6 months in Southern Utah, you are pretty well aware that Ironman St. George (lovingly referred to as IMSG) came to town on May 7th.  So many of my friends and acquaintances have been preparing for this race for the last 9 months to a year.  It has been a wonderful journey to witness these fellow athletes working so hard and occasionally getting to take part in small moments of their training.  Ironman is big…….No……..Ironman is HUGE!  It is a sport in and of itself.  It combines the challenge of triathlon with the brutality of an ultra endurance race.  It is not something you just go out and do one day.

I learned about Ironman back in the late 90s as I watched one or the sweetest ladies I knew prepare to race.  She was well into her 60s and I loved hearing her chatter about riding and running distances I at that time could not even comprehend.  Lynn was an inspiration.  She was a spunky “old” lady with better abs than all my friends combined and was an IRONMAN!  I have no idea what her times were.  Back then it didn’t even cross my mind to ask her.  I was inspired to take part in my first triathlon and decided that before my 40th birthday I would have an Ironman finish on my resume.   That goal still lives on today.

As the years went by and I continued to learn and grow in the ways of triathlon, Lynn’s Ironman became more and more impressive.  She was one ROCKIN’ old lady.  She had completed 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of biking and 26.2 of running all in one day……ONE DAY!  I was just barely learning how to survive the marathon and wasn’t doing very well at that.  I knew that my Ironman finish was going to take years of practice and patience.

So where is this soap box that I was talking about……….Well here it is……..I’m pretty much fed up with people asking me if I have done IMSG and when my response is “Nope.” getting that look of “Oh……I thought you were a triathlete?”  ARE YOU KIDDING ME!  One does not need an Ironman finish to their name to be a triathlete, nor do they need it to be a GREAT triathlete.  There are MANY (many, many, many) triathletes who are the best in the world without an Ironman finish to their name.  Triathlon is NOT Ironman.  Ironman is NOT triathlon.  Ironman is IRONMAN.  It is its own amazingly brutal challenge.  I understand than many people asking me this question probably don’t realize what they are asking, but it is the look of disappointment that I can’t get over.  I appreciate the support that so many have for me in my athletic endeavors.  I have more support than I ever thought possible.  I LOVE YOU ALL!  But Ironman is a big deal.  It is something that takes preparation and time.  It is not something, that you just go out and decide to do one day…..which leads me to soap box Part 2 :)

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with IMSG two-time women’s champion Heather Wurtele.  Heather and her husband, Trevor, are professional triathletes who hail from Canada.  They spend weeks and months in St. George training and preparing (as well as everywhere else in the country) and I have had such a great time watching her walk into the Washington City Community Center when she is in town to use our facility.  (Yes, Heather.  I have a triathlon-crush on you).  What I love about Heather (and Trevor for that fact) is what down-to-earth, graceful people they are.  Watching Heather finish IMSG in first place the past two years has been a lesson for me in hard work and preparation.  Heather and Trevor train tirelessly for their events.  Everything in their lives are geared toward their sport and doing their best.  When watching her win IMSG, I know that she has worked so to achieve her goal and I bubble over in respect and awe at her efforts.

What has been difficult for me is to hear are the stories of those who decide merely weeks away from race day that they will compete in the Ironman.  They jump in last minute and hope for a “Hail Mary”.  Okay, I have to say that I mean no disrespect in saying this, I just think some serious respect needs to be given to those athletes who have worked for hours, days and months preparing for this event.  The event doesn’t have a 17:00 hour limit to encourage ANYONE to take the challenge, but for those who are prepared and suffer the trials and struggles that come along with this type of event.  It just seems that even the media glorifies the fact that some people jump into a wetsuit and on the back of a borrowed bike one day and toe the line.  I almost feel that it is like sending an unknowing lamb to the slaughter.  Encouraging someone to take this challenge without the months and potentially years of training is complete insanity.  It take more than a desire to hear “You are an Ironman” to cross this finish line.

Believe me, I’m in the business of encouraging people to do hard things.  We should constantly be stretching ourselves and our abilities, but within reason.  If you’ve never done a triathlon before, do you really think you should sign up for an Ironman.  Don’t you think if you do decide to go for it that you should leave plenty of time to prepare.  There are many times in life that digging deep and pushing through can help you to accomplish tremendous tasks, but I don’t think you would ask your toddler to get up and run a mile the day after they take their first steps.

Again, it is not that I am unimpressed by the efforts of those who jump into Ironman feet first.  My hat is off to you.  I myself would be scared to death to do that.  I know I could “finish” and Ironman if I toed the line with my current fitness level, but I’ve had glimpses of what those many hours might feel like if I was unprepared.  Even under circumstances of the best training, the Ironman is going to be HARD…..more than hard.

So I guess the bottom line is that people need to respect the Ironman.  Spectators and athletes alike.  Ironman is not something you just decide to go out and do one day.  It is something that takes preparation and sacrifice for months and months.  It costs you precious time with your family and friends.  It takes a concerted effort day in and day out.  Some may be able to “finish” when they are underprepared, but the real winners are those who have worked so hard for so long.  We too easily overlook all the very well prepared (even professional triathletes) who DON’T finish.  It doesn’t mean that Joe Blow who decided the week before to sign up is better than the pros, Joe Blow just got incredibly lucky.   Everyone who completes an Ironman has my respect, prepared or not, but I have a far greater admiration for those who put their entire lives on hold to complete this goal.

To all you newly-crowned Ironmen in St. George and elsewhere……..YOU ARE INCREDIBLE!  You have completed something that is AMAZING!  You worked hard and suffered much.  You have inspired many.  I have so much respect for you and the race you just completed.   I will join you one day as a FINISHER, but for now I will continue my preparations and race my butt off every time I toe the line.  I WILL do an Ironman.  Mark my word.  But, please, neither myself, nor any other triathlete for that matter, are any less of a person for not have completing it yet.

Soap box complete :) ……….Please chime in!  I’d love to hear your thoughts.  I think this is an interesting topic on many levels.  I want to listen to your point of view!


11 Comments to An Ironman Soap Box…….

  1. Okay, I’m NO WHERE near this point, but the thing I wish all people knew was that if someone is competing in a race, many times it is because of a dedication to self-improvement. I’m just in the 5k phase and that is a challenge for me, and while it is much less of an accomplishment, I feel that look when people hear that I’ve been running for several months now and that I’m only doing a 5k. And that I’m shooting to break 30 minutes. It’s like I can’t refer to myself as a runner unless I’m at least in half marathon range. So I don’t. I say I’m going running if I mention it at all. I wish we could get to the point in life where we applauded people’s accomplishments for where they were instead of trying to get them to where we think they should be without knowing who they are.

    Off my soapbox now…

    • admin

      Amen Sister!

  2. I totally agree with everything Colleen. I had a ton of the same questions and reactions this year when asked if I was doing it again. I totally agree with you on the people jumping in unprepared too. Part of what made my Ironman so special, was all the time and effort and preparation that I put in to the training, the previous 6 months of my life were so dedicated to something, and it made it really sweet to know I’d accomplished such training and then the race. I’ll let you in on a little secret though, once you do Ironman, it messes with your head. You have to remind yourself that Ironman is not eveything, that shorter races are hard and valid and that you don’t have to train 20 hours a week. I don’t believe Ironman is everything, it’s a really amazing experience, but it does not make a triathlete. It will be an amazing day for you when it comes, but you’re an amazing athlete now Colleen, Ironman or no Ironman!

  3. I also agree with Tasha. I really don’t like the idea that anyone getting into races has to get to the marathon/century/Ironman/farthest race possible, in the quickest time. Shorter races are races too and are different. Do what you enjoy, don’t worry what people think. I really don’t like when someone who’s been in their sport for a year goes all the way to the farthest distance, just get there in your own time and don’t feel like you ever really have to go the full distance

  4. So 2 years ago is when I decide to go from couch to tri/race. Like Tasha I felt that a 5K was quite the loft goal to accomplish. I was able to meet that goal and others. Over the last 2 years I’ve been told “if you walk some of the marathon you didn’t really do a marathon” or if you don’t run a 8 min/mile pace or faster you reall aren’t running” or ” If you don’t place in the top 5 of your age group aren’t a triathlete” or ” if you haven’t done an ironman you haven’t accopmlished the ultimate!” to that I say BULL@#%! I’m no a natural born an athlete and I accept that, but I also know that I’ve acccopmlished many things that I never thought I would ever do, whether it was my first 5k, or half ironman tri or my first marathon. Each goal has been accomplished with much sweat, sacrifice from me and the family, and some grit and determination. I also want to complete an ironman, I’ve had a small taste of the training it takes to prepare for such an event and before I sign up I need to be willing to make such sacrifces and have my familly’s blessing. For me its about the journey, its the things you learn about yourself durning a long run at 430 in the am or the mental clarity you get during a long swim, or the frienships forged during all the training. Its seeing the scale drop and your energy go up! I may never run a 8 min/mile pace in a marathon or place in my age group, but I’m fine with that! Wow that soap box thing is kind of fun!

  5. BS! I love you Colleen!

  6. Daisy

    Loved this post! I totally agree as well. I don’t do a lot of shorter races because I think they are much harder to do. I am definitely more endurance, one pace…slow and easy all day. It is exciting how the Ironman presence in St. George is opening eyes to people who probably would never think of doing an Ironman like the St. George Marathon has done. But I do think it leads people to jump way before they are prepared. At first was getting so bugged when I learned people were doing it, without much training or without a lot of triathlon experience, but now I am looking at it differently. Now more and more people will know the difference between a 16:59 Ironman or 14:00 or 12:00. And maybe those of us who work our butts off will get more props for doing it and doing it well. Nicely done and well said!

  7. Well, I am in the same boat. It is hard. I feel so much pressure to do Ironman SG next year and I hate it. I am considering it but if I were to sign up it is going to be because I really want to and not because others want me to. Aehm. I have too much to say on this topic, so I don’t feel like writing anything. It gets me all worked up… :-) We’ll talk about it some day.
    Nice post!

  8. Breanna

    Oi we triathletes get emotional about this stuff don’t we?! Perfectly said from someone who “gets it.” Agree that triathlon does not equal Ironman or vice versa. I truly feel that what is one man’s 5k can be another man’s Ironman. We are all at different places and one is NOT better or more important than the other. What we are all doing is the same- going out to challange ourselves and become better in one way or another. It’s about the heart. When I signed up for IMSG I did it because it was for me but I’m not going to lie that reaction when someone asks you the question “did you do Ironman?” or “are you doing Ironman?” and the answer is ‘no’ is….well you said it and got difficult to take. I just had to take deep breaths, shake my head and know that they just don’t “get it.” The one thing good and bad about this is that it is about YOU. Nobody else. And it has to be your decision when you are ready to put into it what YOU want. I had the same thought last year Colleen- “sure I know I could go out there and finish an Ironman but it’s so much more than that!” I put *a lot* of work into my preparation and planning for this and so did my training buddies. And that is after the extensive amount of time I spent trying to make the decision itself (you remember this!). Even though some of my buddies may not have finished as well as they wanted, I have incredible amounts of respect for them because of what they put into it and I feel that it is just as important as completing the race itself in your best expected time-it’s about the building process. I was greatly offended by a friend of mine who after last year’s Ironman said “yeah, I’m going to do Ironman next year!” who has never even owned a road bike much less been in a triathlon. My IMSG was an incredible experience for me because of everything I put into it, definately not just the race and I have no regrets about MY preparation. What you and I and other “real triathletes” (at least us age-groupers) want is a whole experience and to put our whole heart into it. Not just something you did to check off the list. It changes you and challanges you and it’s sad to me that some out there don’t get that. But maybe that’s just me.

  9. Rich

    Colleen, It is never ending with what people are going to say. Even with the marathon, it wasn’t good enough for people if you trained and ran the marathon, it was: “Did you qualify for Boston?” I say no, but who cares. Don’t take it personal because it doesn’t stop with: “Have you done Ironman?” or “Are you doing Ironman?” because after that its…. “Well…what was your time?” “What place did you get?” or “You have only done one, two, three?”. Just smile and let it be. Of the races I have done, the best one was not the one I finished on a podium or raced my fastest time, it was actually one of the races that took me the longest, racing with my best friend and crossing that finish line while raising her hand high above our heads!! Knowing we sacrificed many things to get to that line was awesome, nobody can take that away. I think I know you well enough to say you have high goals and will not do Ironman until you will go a sub 12….oh heck sub 11, ok sub 10 finish time. Everyone has different goals and I respect their goals. I am ranting on and on, this is not like me!! I think it can all be summed up with part of the narration of the 2010 St. George Ironman sizzle piece from last year. Pardon me for not knowing who said it or if I don’t quote it perfectly but it goes something like this: “Everyone goes out there with different race goals, whether it is to race to win or to push as fast as you can. Others want to finish and make it through the day and cross that finish line. Either one is not better, it’s just an excellent event to even tow the line to begin with and it’s just awesome that you get out there and do it. TAKE IN THE EXPERIENCE, NOBODY CAN TAKE THAT FROM YOU REGARDLESS OF WHAT PLACE YOU ARE IN OR REGARDLESS OF THE TIME THAT YOU FINISH.” There you have my soap box!! Wow!

  10. Jamie

    I know I’m a bit late chiming in on this, but I just can’t let it go by without my two cents! I totally agree with you that Ironman is not triathlon or vice versa. Those shorter distance races are every bit as hard in their own way. And I will admit that one reason I signed up for the IMSG is because I was tired of, “Oh, you’re the tri club president? Have you done the Ironman?” When my answer was no, it was raised eyebrows and the look that said, then how can you call yourself a triathlete? Now, it’s like Rich said – What was your time? I guess he’s right – it won’t ever change and until someone invests the time and energy and sacrifice of completing it, they can’t comprehend the difficulty of that one day! On soapbox #2 – I AM SO GLAD someone else said this first! I am so sick of hearing about people just signing up and doing this event with no preparation! It somehow feels like a slap in the face to those of us who did put in the time and training to finish and finish as well as we possibly could. Thanks for saying it!
    All that said, I am really glad I decided to do it. I will probably want another shot at it. When my family and I are ready to make all the necessary sacrifices again, I will do it. The experience is really amazing and so is the journey! And in the meantime, I love encouraging new athletes to challenge themselves to do their best – no matter what the distance or time may be!

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