Wading into the cool, brackish water of The Woodlands I thought, "I'm not supposed to be here, but there's no other place I'd rather be.
As I mounted my bike I thought, "I'm not supposed to be here, but there's no other place I'd rather be."
As I put on my running shoes I thought, "I'm not supposed to be here, but there's no other place I'd rather be."
As I ran into the finisher's chute I thought, "This is where I am supposed to be. Right here, right now, and no other place will do."
Thus is the sum of my fifth and final iron-distance race; Ironman Texas. This time it's for good. My career is indefinitely suspended. The display case is filled and there are no more slots so stop being dismissive or rolling your eyes because this time I mean it. I'm done.
After my forth Ironman I suspended my long distance triathlon racing and wrote there would be only two Ironmans I would consider; Ironman Hawaii and Ironman Texas. Because I didn't plan on entering the Ironman Hawaii lottery, and at that time, the long asked for but never announced Ironman Texas wasn't as much as a rumor, I felt certain I wouldn't be doing the 140.6 dance any time soon.
That goes to show you how much I know about the World Triathlon Corporation.
Only eight months later, the date of the inaugural Ironman Texas was announced. June 25, 2010 was the day of the announcement and that day - the morning of that VERY day - I received no less than five phone calls and at least a dozen emails calling me out of my short lived suspension. Any thoughts of backing down from my not-so-prescient provisos was quickly abandoned when all of the messages either threw down the gauntlet or questioned my manhood if I didn't commit to race.
In the Ironman races prior I attached each one to fundraising for charity. Using the long race metaphor to define the mantle of cause and call attention to the need of those suffering from cancers Ironman took on a greater meaning for both myself and those who came to know my triathlon story.
I'm reminded of a Dana Farber Cancer Institute advertisement for running the Boston Marathon as a fund raiser, it read: “We are engaged in our own difficult kind of marathon, a long road to discover solutions to complex problems about the cause and cure of cancer… We need people with qualities you possess, dedication, discipline, energy, and the belief you can change things for the better.”
That's how I see my ideal self. I hope you see yourself that way too.
Training for an triathlon as a way to fitness alone has limited, shallow value. As a fitness program it has purpose, but no meaning. On the other hand, completing an Ironman has tremendous meaning, but no purpose. Still, that goal dancing in our heads can convert the most boring days of long run and early morning swims into something meaningful, to the point where we can almost taste the sweet triumph that we know will occur at the Ironman finish line. But when you combine your Ironman training; the dedication to attaining a goal, keeping the discipline, an example of how a life should be lived, a life that should be lived by those suffering or who's need is unrecognized or under appreciated, then you give true meaning and a lasting purpose to Ironman.
In the last year I've written a couple of times there's an entire different world on the other side of exhaustion seen only by the athletically drunk and never the sober man. I know this to be true because I've been to that place myself. Still, with only a few days away from Ironman Texas I was struggling to find a purpose to my race. For this Ironman my focus was unclear and my sights focused on myself. I was resolved I was in this only for the finisher's medal, only to run the gauntlet laid down by other athletes and not my purpose. I feared there wouldn't be much to see beyond the personal.
And then I remembered these words: "The human heart sees things the eyes cannot," writes professor of psychology Robert Valett, "and knows what the mind cannot understand."
That was it. I then understood this race wasn't about finding a purpose or a greater meaning for someone else. This race was for the love of the sport and the people I know in it. That alone was more than enough to race as well as I could for the experience of a life few dare to live.
The athletic experience consists of three parts: the training, which the Greeks called askesis; the event, or agon; and the aftermath, which the Greeks termed arête, which can be variously translated as “excellence” or “vigor.” This day, wading in those Texas waters was the beginning of my arête.
You don't have to complete an Ironman to be a triathlete because Ironman is not a title or an event. Ironman is a place; a moment in time. And if experienced for its truth that moment will last the rest of your life. If you want to live the life of a triathlete you'll do just fine with racing sprints, Olympics, and halfs. But if you want to live another kind of life, race an Ironman. The person who descends from a mountain is not the same person who began the ascent. Nor is the person who finishes an Ironman the same person who started the race.