Saturday, September 12, 2009

IM Moo Update: Nutty and Nice

I think we can all admit that doing a 140.6-mile triathlon takes a good dose of nuttiness. Doing an Ironman more than once requires total nuttiness. There are a lot of totally nutty people in Madison right now. The above picture was taken at Minona Terrace of the line to pre-register for NEXT YEAR's race. Only athletes competing in this year's race can pre-register. Regular registration begins on Monday morning and will likely fill the race quickly...within an hour or so, usually, though the recession is hitting IM races a bit.

George hemmed and hawwed about signing up for next year, but as far as I'm concerned, it was a no-brainer. He's totally nutty, he suffers from a primal need to do an Ironman every year, and guaranteeing a slot makes sense. So here he is, resting his legs while waiting to pay his fee and get yet another opportunity to abuse himself:

While waiting, I struck up a conversation with another IronMate. IronMates are a gregarious group, united in our awe and wonder that our significant others are so, well, crazy. This IronMate's husband is doing his fourth IM race and signing up for next year. His bib number is 1908, so if you follow the race tomorrow, check on his progress. They were very nice people, and I hope he does well.

In fact, I hope they ALL do well. Ironman isn't your average competitive freak show. Ironman competitors are nice. If they see someone struggling on the course, they help. A few years ago, Chrissie Wellington, a professional, got a flat at IM Hawaii. Though she was a favorite to win, her race was essentially over because no outside help is allowed. Bek Keat, another professional, gave Chrissie her spare CO2 cartridge to inflate the tire, and Chrissie went on to win.

That's what we call serious, world-class sportsmanship. Gives you hope for humanity, doesn't it?

Among the non-professional athletes (the majority of Ironman participants), this same spirit of mutual support shines through. Athletes share gels, salt tablets, and encouragement all along the way. Last year, an Air Force Academy student half George's age participated. George encountered him on the run, where the cadet was struggling. George paced with him for a while, trying to help him through the rough patch. George doesn't know if he finished, but I'm sure he remembers the retired Lt. Colonel who stuck with him for a bit.

Some racers who finish with really good times will clean up, eat, and return to the finish line to cheer the slower athletes on. A few even hang out until midnight. That's the cut-off for finishing. If you cross the line after midnight, you don't get the t-shirt or a medal or your name called out as an Ironman. You get nothing. Some of those earlier finishers hang out at the line to give their own medals to the folks who didn't quite make the cut-off.

140.6 miles. No one can do that totally by themselves. Family, friends, spectators, volunteers, and fellow athletes all contribute to every single finish called out by announcer Mike Reilly. But only the athletes go the whole distance: every stroke on the swim, every push of the pedals, every stride of the run. It takes a lot of nuttiness to push your body that far. It's a big warm fuzzy for humanity that there's also a whole lot of nice involved, too.


  1. I had no clue there was such a sense of community about these (crazy) people. What a nice thing to learn.

  2. I think the niceness is because in Ironman races, you aren't really competing against the other participants--you are competing against the course, against the feat. All the participants are facing this same daunting adversary, so in that sense they are on the same side.

  3. Sharon, I totally agree. The pros start ahead of everyone else, so they are in their own little pack. The vast majority of Ironman participants are just in it to finish.

    When George did duathlons (run-bike-run) and striaght bike races, people were not nearly as friendly, even among the spectators. Here at an Ironman, we all know that the athletes are crazy (even the athletes themselves, LOL!) and endurance changes the dynamic for the better.


Thanks so much for taking time to comment!