This is for all those that feel like they have to question their “status” as an Ironman athlete.
We see this question posted on social media almost weekly, prompted by a more frequent occurrence of Ironman races being shortened in some capacity, whether through cancelled swim, shortened bike, etc. The resulting commentary is mostly encouraging, but sprinkled in is a disappointing amount of cynicism from those that believe that in order to be an Ironman, you have to do exactly 140.6 miles.
SwimBikeMom addressed this new negative trend on triathlon related social media in a post called “Where Have All the (Nice) Triathletes Gone?” It is sad that a number of people are choosing to disparage others in a sport that has evolved into one that is welcoming, encouraging, and inspiring. I feel these people are REALLY missing the point.
To those that may have crossed an Ironman finish line in a race that had been shortened, and are feeling a bit lost in an identity crisis, I would tell you to question yourself no further. I say that you are, definitively, an Ironman, and you have every right to proudly own that title, along with the finisher gear that you may receive. If you have overcome your own personal challenges, great or small, to make it to the starting line of an Ironman Triathlon, you represent the spirit behind this sport. I’ll tell you why, but first a little context.
Ironman began as a challenge to determine who was the fittest out of three types of athletes; swimmers, cyclists, and runners. The original race distance was established as the respective distances of the long races already established on the island of Oahu, the 2.4 mile Waikiki Roughwater swim, the 115 mile Around Oahu Bike Ride (cut down to 112 miles), and the Honolulu Marathon (26.2 miles). The winner of the race would be called the Iron Man.
If we’re being true purists, the argument would end right here, and only the winner of the race would be called the Ironman. The rest of us poor schmucks would be left to wallow in the sadness of defeat (and probably ice cream).
Over time however, the race evolved, the participant lists grew, and the spirit of the race began to shift away from defining itself by those who were fastest to the stories of the age groupers. Doctors, lawyers, military personnel, moms, dads, cancer survivors, amputees, people with ALS, everyday people taking on the challenge to get to the Ironman finish line became the story line. Each of them became an Ironman because they overcame their own personal challenges to achieve something great.
So now we get to your story. Are you an Ironman even though the race that you signed up for, trained nearly a year for, and poured your heart and soul into was shortened?
You bet your ass you are. Furthermore, you’re my hero.
Back when I was struggling with my own demons, it was not the fastest people or the professionals that inspired me to begin working toward a dream of becoming an Ironman, it was the people that had stories like me, everyday extraordinary people, who inspired me to change “I can’t” to “I will”. Those are the athletes I have to thank for my life becoming what it is today. It’s those athletes, whether they finish in 10 hours or 17 hours, that I look up to.
If you finish an Ironman, regardless of what the final distance turns out to be, know that you have trained to complete 140.6. You worked your butt off to conquer the distance, and it’s not making it to the finish line that makes you an Ironman, it’s making it to the start line. Through the training, hard work, and dedication, you’ve proven to yourself that you are capable of conquering the distance, the race itself is a celebration. The point is that you showed up that day prepared to face whatever the race threw at you.
Remember that even if a race is cut short, and regardless of what your finish time is, you are inspiring many people. You never know whose heart you’re going to touch just by overcoming a personal challenge. While your story is unique, many parts of it will resonate with others, and you may inspire them to take action in their own life.
The spirit of the Ironman triathlon is not in the exact distance of the race, it’s in the community of encouraging people, like yourself, choosing not to let personal obstacles prevent them from achieving their dreams, but instead achieving something great that many others may consider impossible.
You are an Ironman. Own it. Don’t let anyone else try to convince you otherwise.