I was driving back to the hotel after the race with my 15-year-old son and a familiar feeling came over me that should have a word created to embody what is was. It was a sense of how real the Ironman is. The race cannot be scripted, predicted with accuracy or truly defined by words. You can't buy it or open a bottle and drink it. It’s not available on any shelf in the store. You can't have someone else do it for you. It's certainly not easy, and the second you think you've got it all figured out the race comes up with just one more little something to overrule your sense of total control. Doing the race is a real experience. It only comes when the big cheese inside takes a break and humility takes over.
Craig Alexander said this in his own way to the crowd moments after finishing. In a state of total exhaustion and complete elation, he said the day was so, so tough- that he saw parts of himself he didn't know were there. That's not the kind of admission you would expect from a guy who did what few others have been able to do-defend his title.
Women's champion Chrissie Wellington echoed this sentiment immediately after setting a new world's record. She said it was the toughest thing she has ever had to do in the sport. We do have to wonder what it was that was tougher in her life that made her qualify it that way!
Anyway, back to the conversation I was having with my son. Relating it to something he has experienced, he said it’s like how with some people you can talk and talk and talk and never really feel like you go deep with them, but others you can just say a few words but feel like it was deep. He said he would rather have that than talk forever but never really feel anything deep about the conversation.
As a teenager my son is at the point in his life where parties, dances, hanging out in the mall and playing video games are the call to action of many of his peers. What will his peers search for to replace those things as adults? Lavish vacations? Buying big houses? Extravagant social gathers? Hopefully not more destructive distractions like drugs or excessive alcohol. Maybe, just maybe they along with my son will stumble across something that gives them a real experience.
This brings us back to the magnetism of Ironman. It’s not like saying just a few words, but certainly it goes deep and it’s very real. There have been articles written about post-Ironman depression. It happens to people in the weeks after coming here. People can feel lost, without purpose, really down. Some chalk it up to the lack of endorphins that happens when training stops.
But I think it’s something else. It’s a lack of something real to sink their teeth into. You’ll not be able to quantify it, but I am sure we are all hardwired to crave experiences in life that are real, where we do those thing that require us to turn over the steering wheel to destiny and see where it leads us, where the outcome is far from predictable and what it will take to get to the finish only becomes clear when we have the guts to take a leap into the unknown. Some scratch this itch with a spiritual path. Others get it by helping someone in need without asking for repayment.
All this may sound way outside the realm of sports. But this is what Ironman inspires in you. It’s the kind of reflection you have after the race, more than say finish times and your place in your age group although there is certainly enough of that going on. The race draws out something in you that feels real. So maybe we have found the word that describes this experience. Perhaps it is simply “Ironman”!
Congratulations to all our MarkAllenOnline Ironman participants. We look forward to being here in 2010!