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Real.
Editorial by Tom Demerly.

Tom Demerly announces  race
It's Ironman season. More people are doing Ironman now than ever before and there are no signs of it slowing down.

I love Ironman, I've done three: Hawaii '86, Canada '97 and Canada '99. I've never had the Ironman experience I wanted. This year I was entered in Wisconsin but a rotten economy, the death of a close friend and a broken relationship have turned my personal life into a temporary trainwreck so my focus isn't on training for Ironman right now, it's on damage control.

Oh well, sometimes you have those years. I'll be back, looking for that ultimate Ironman day at the end of that ultimate Ironman training season when everything comes together. Maybe next year, maybe the year after that.

With the rise in popularity of Ironman comes an influx of people with a new mindset. It's the "It's not that hard" mindset. Not to be a wet blanket, but this is a reality check.

Boys and girls, Ironman is big and bad. It will hand your ass to you on a silver platter and not think twice. No matter how many people do it, Ironman will always be hard.

This new group that comes into Ironman is better equipped and with better training resources than any previous generation. They should have good races, and many do. But there is that contingent that thinks they can "just wing it". There is no where to hide at Ironman. The 140.6 miles will exploit every weakness, find every hole in your training. You will pay with interest out there on the course if you cut corners in preparation.

Now, I want to make it clear: I respect every single finisher out there. Any way you make it, if you cover those tough 140.6 miles that is quite an accomplishment. Good job.

There is a "deflation" of Ironman though. Remember when running marathons was a big deal? About 20 years ago if you were at a wedding with 300 people there might be one person who did a marathon. Now, depending on the crowd you run with, 10 people at that same wedding have done a marathon. Your aunt has done one. Your little sister's sorority did one to raise awareness for people with chronic bunions. Pretty soon doing a marathon is not a whole lot more unique that getting the mail.

It was mundane.

I'm afraid that, even though Ironman will always be tough, it is headed that way. What makes me think that is people who have a cavalier attitude about it. Like it is one more thing to notch in their top tube, one more medal to hang on the wall. I don't see Ironman that way, and you're right, that's my problem. But consider this: Ironman as a graduation exercise.

You put in your time, you do the races, you learn about the sport, you do your own "coaching" and you design your own program. You go to the line with the preparation you were able to muster on your own and when the cannon goes off you do your best. You and the clock decide the quality of your effort. Is every effort equal? No, they aren't. I recently heard of a celebrity who was granted an invitation to Ironman Hawaii based on his celebrity. He had four months to prepare for the event.

In fairness, when the gun goes of it is all him. But, let me ask you, does any part of this rub you the wrong way? Does that mean Madonna can get a spot in Ironman? Or Oprah? Don't kid yourself. It sure as hell does. In a hot minute. Ironman is a business and business is good. There is a lot good about that, and there is no denying that much has been gained but something has been lost.

If you hate reading "When I was…" dialogue stop right here, because I am returning to my own personal age of imagined grandeur here for a moment.

When I did Ironman Hawaii in 1986 it was a big event to be sure, but it wasn't really what it is today. I think there were about 6 books in print then about triathlon training. There were no aero bars. Powerbars had not yet been invented. Sports nutrition was Famous Amos cookies, orange slices and Coke and water. We had a sports drink called "Gookinaid ERG". There were TV cameras but the athletes were the TV stars. It was before Baywatch people did the race. It still had this "realness" to it.

Is that gone? No, it isn't. Not really. But a little. At least for me.

People will call me stuck up and snobbish, but I did a race a few years ago I fell in love with. I read a magazine article in Outside magazine called "Where have all the Wise Men Gone?" It was about the Marathon Des Sables in Morocco. Based on the images of the race and the article I entered it. I can't put my finger on what it is, but that race has whatever it is Ironman has lost. It was weird and quirky. It was f*%#ing hard. It was above my ability level and I finished about middle of the pack. Very few people have heard of it. When you tell people about it they have the same reaction that people used to have about Ironman: "You don't do that all in one day, do you?" People say, "You can't run 155 miles in the Sahara with a pack on your back can you? People don't really do that, do they?" Yes, they do. A few of them do. About 600 people from all over the world a year do. And it is awesome.

I don't mean to come off as a snob. I am doing Ironman again and again because I think its cool. But it has changed. Everybody is doing it. That's good for business, but it sort of dilutes the event a little. Does that make me a bad guy?

I remember when there were fewer people there. You didn't have to stress about running into ex-girlfriends, unruly customers, suppliers and others. You just went, did your race, got your medal and came home with a good feeling about it. Now the feeling is both better and worse. Better because there are a lot of people you can share the experience with. Worse because there are more people to share the experience with.

Does that make any sense to you?

 

© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
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