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The Big Show.
Editorial by Tom Demerly.

Tom Demerly at Ann Arbor Tri.

I do the same thing every other year. I enter Ironman. -Did it again this year, Wisconsin.

There is that question people always ask: Why do you do this? I have no problem answering that question.

In life you are either a spectator or a player. Sounds cliché but its true. I'm a rotten spectator.

So here It goes again. I will be frequently tired for the next year. All my travel plans between now and September 7 will revolve around one thing: The big show. Actually, nearly all my plans will revolve around it. I've done this three times before and I know what it takes. My summer is already shot. Hundred mile rides, 20 mile runs, hundred mile rides followed by 20 mile runs. Long swims, weights, sleep, better diet- all that healthy stuff. There are the massages, I like the massages. I already bought two new bikes and a race wheelset.

So why? I don't know about why you do it, but this is why I do:

At Ironman Canada in 1997 I remember coming back into town with about 3 miles to go on the run. I was having an OK race (10:42:24), not great. I felt good though, I mean my legs hurt like hell, but I was still in the fight and I hadn't walked a single step on the run. Some guy with a loudspeaker was on top of this bar (I'm sure some drinking was going on) and he had the newspaper with everybody's race number, name and hometown. There was a girl with binoculars up there too. She spotted the race number, told the guy with the loudspeaker and he found it as quick as he could in the paper, then he shouted it into the loudspeaker to a huge crowd down below. The crowd went on for about four blocks. So by the time I entered the gauntlet of noise a thousand people were yelling my name and urging me on. I think I did that last mile in 7:30, supersonic considering how my legs felt. So that's one reason. You don't get that elsewhere and it feels pretty good.

The other reason is the race itself. I wanted to do triathlons in the first place because I saw Ironman on TV in the early '80s. It was all about Ironman then. By the time I had done 40 triathlons and people would introduce me as a "triathlete" they would always ask me "Have you done that one in Hawaii?" The inference was clear: You aren't a triathlete until you've finished an Ironman. I don't necessarily agree with that 100%. As a matter of fact the best triathlete I know, Sheila Taormina, has never done an Ironman. But I still think the race is mystical. Personally I won't wear all that Ironman finisher stuff. Stuff like Ironman you carry inside yourself, not silk-screened on a T-shirt. I give the finishers medals away too, usually to someone who helped me get ready for the race. I do still have my Hawaii one though. That one is special.

Here's another reason to do Ironman: If you are a football fan you probably make a point of watching The Superbowl. Maybe one year you even get tickets and make the trip to see it in person. Like Ironman, it is arguably that one big day in the sport that defines athletes. But no matter how big of a football fan you are the only place you'll actually play in The Superbowl is in your dreams. If you're a triathlete you can get in an Ironman pretty easy. The tough part is getting ready for it and finishing it. But you can really do it: You can be in the Big Show. Try all your life if you want, you're not getting in The Superbowl, you aren't going to be racing Formula 1 and you aren't doing the Tour de France.

But you can do the Ironman. You can be a part of the big show.

And then there's this reason: Ever see the movie Gladiator? Remember the scene where those guys are going into the arena for first time to face combat with the other gladiators? That guy pisses himself, the steam is rising off their bodies, there is the roar of the crowd, and they are all coming to grips with their own terror. They may not be able to do this, they may fail. This is real world. So at 7:00 a.m. on September 7 you face the biggest, baddest obstacle of all: Yourself. And you need to come to grips with that at Ironman. When you do that feels awful good.

Ironman is a day of ups and downs. In every race there are points where you think you won't make it. So you boil it down to this: "Just a couple more minutes". And in a couple more minutes you feel, if not better, at least bad in a different way. And that's enough to keep you in the fight. A metaphor for life.

I do enjoy the training too. There is something magical about climbing off your bike after 80 hard miles to go out and run 15 on a hot day. It seems like it purifies you. I like training alone too. I think it builds some type of strength in you that you don't get when you always train with other people. Also, on race day, it's all you anyway.

And finally, there's this: In 1999 I was at the nasty 20-mile mark on the run. I was having a shitty day. I was doing 9:30 miles that were turning into 10:30's. I had to walk. Other people walking were passing me. As I left an aid station I saw a guy in a wheel chair- no legs- with a sign that said "Go Ironmen".

I don't think I have to explain that one.

 

© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
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