I get this one a lot. Most of my friends, those who don't race, think it's insane. My co-workers think I'm nuts. And, after doing a 110 mile ride on Saturday, and 8 mile run on Sunday, and a 70 mile ride on Monday, I understand why they feel that way.
I have no problem admitting that I'm not your traditional triathlete, and I certainly don't look the part. If you hear "Ironman" and think of a lanky, ripped, and tan athlete, I'm a bit of a surprise. That's not to say that there aren't tons of people just like me. To be honest, I'm probably closer to the "average" Ironman than that image of a tall, skinny racer. That means I get even more questions, though.
But, the question remains. Why do I do Ironman races? Why do I sign up to swim 2.4 miles, then ride 112 miles, then hop off the bike to knock out a full marathon? I'm only starting to fully understand myself. Maybe we start with some background:
Just before we moved to Beaufort, as I was approaching 30, I decided I was tired of being out of shape. I've never been a fitness nut, but I fully understood that losing weight and getting in shape would be much harder the longer I waited. So, I started slow. We were lucky to live close to the Capitol Crescent Trail, so becoming a runner was as simple as putting on shoes and jogging 3 minutes to a trailhead behind our apartment. I remember, about the time I started running, a friend who had just finished the Marine Corps Marathon. I was awestruck. I simply could not imagine how someone could run that far. And that wasn't a baseless awe, but one built on my experience running 1, then 3, then 5 miles a few times a week. To imagine the training and discipline required to run 26.2 miles... I simply couldn't imagine.
Arriving in Beaufort, I found it difficult to continue running. There was no trail close by and the move had really taken some of my motivation. A chance conversation with a new friend changed that. He told me about a triathlon he was training for, in Beaufort, just a few months away. Though it seemed crazy, I enjoy challenges, so after some discussion I decided to pony up. This race was a sprint, a 500M swim, a 12 mile bike ride, and a 5K run. I borrowed a bike, had Heather teach me how to swim more efficiently, and focused on running. During my training, I started to meet other triathletes, including one who would be instrumental in my development. He is a physical therapist and works in a sports clinic in Beaufort, and was always willing to help me understand the mechanics of racing, of how my body was responding to my workouts, and how to improve my training.
My first race was insane. I didn't win any medals, but I loved the spirit of the other competitors, especially their helpfulness and kindness to a new athlete, and thrived on the challenge. Not the challenge of winning, as that's never really been a goal for me, but the challenge of pushing yourself further and longer than you expected. I enjoyed the first race so much, I headed up the road to Columbia the next weekend to race again, this time with a college classmate. I was hooked. When my friend, the PT, mentioned he was going to do a longer race, I committed immediately. That September, I did my first Olympic distance race, a 1500M swim, a 24 mile bike ride, and a 10K. I lucked out at that race and finished 3rd in my class. On the way back from the race, my friend the PT mentioned that I should start training for a longer race, maybe a half Ironman, or a full. I laughed, but something clicked in my head. I wouldn't admit it yet, but the idea of racing longer distances was intriguing, maybe even appealing.
The next spring, I finished my first Half Ironman on my 30th birthday weekend. It was a brutal, hot, painful race. My limited success went to my head and I was unprepared for the different challenges you face when you race for half a day. Though I finished the race, I was shocked at how different the challenge was. In a race that long, I think it took me almost 7 hours, your body does things much differently than in a shorter race. For me, I realized I couldn't try to be fast. Instead, I had to focus on keeping a steady pace and finishing the race. I needed to worry more about eating and drinking, and less on how fast each mile was passing.
Building off my training for that race, I decided to enter my first Full Distance race, Beach2Battleship in Wilmington, NC, in the Fall of 2010. Since then, I've returned to Wilmington once for the same race and traveled to Clermont, FL to race the Great Floridian. I've done another Half Ironman and an assortment of shorter races. Occasionally I place in the top three, especially when I'm racing in the Clydesdale division, reserved for men over 220lbs. I've also done a 50K ultramarathon, and do a 200 mile running relay every spring
But none of that answers the real question: Why do I do Ironman races? For me, it simply comes down to challenging myself and sharing a great sport with amazing people. As an extrovert, the camaraderie is vital. Being at a race, or training, with people who are just as crazy as I am is refreshing. Laughing at mistakes, at training injuries, at the crazy ways your body responds to all the training necessary to finish a race... Those things are better shared with people who understand your unique lunacy. But, even though I'm primarily an extrovert, I also crave the time alone. There's nothing more challenging, to me, than setting out on a solo 110 mile bike ride, knowing that you're going to have 6 hours of time with yourself, your thoughts, and your ideas. I know there's almost no chance I'll win a race, but having the time alone, struggling against my own body, knowing that I have to push myself a bit further and a bit harder than I did the day before is a satisfying feeling.
What about you? What motivates you to do things other people think are crazy?