Over my years with Ironman, I have seen the slow changes away from an athlete focused event, to what appears to be one intended to keep shareholders happy. In the last few years, Ironman has moved from being a test of individual determination to an event that anyone can do. While I do believe in people participating in events in order to have a goal for becoming healthier, fitter, happier, I disagree with an individual competition being diluted to allow participation as a relay. Triathlon in its inception was an argument about who was the strongest athlete. In 1978, the idea was conceived by John and Judy Collins as a way to find the toughest endurance athlete. It combined the Waikiki Roughwater Swim, the Around Oahu Bike Race and the Honolulu Marathon. In that first year, there were 15 people who took on the challenge; fast forward 41 years and there are Ironman events all over the world and some of them sell out within days of registration being announced.
Having done 12 full distance Ironman events, I know what it takes to train for months to have it all over and done with in less than a day (17 hours or less!). I know the early mornings, the dives into the cold pool when you are not quite awake, the dark and rainy morning and night time runs and the endless hours on the indoor trainer to maintain bike fitness during the winter off season. I know the hours in the gym to improve strength to take just a few minutes off the bike and the speed work required to improve your run. I do it because I love it; I would not change anything as I choose to follow this lifestyle.
My disappointment is not in the relay participants but in Ironman management, and this became crystallized for me when a good friend of mine participated in the 70.3 relay in Whistler a couple weeks ago. The people behind the brand have taken an event that had humble and honest beginnings and turned it into a money focused business. This devalues what it means to be an Ironman as all participants, individuals and relays, get the same medal but have not had to endure the same race.
I will still continue to participate in Ironman events as I am hooked on the lifestyle and they do run good events in great places throughout the world. But I just might start looking for other events that are true to the original roots that the Collins’ had aspired for – let’s take three athletic endeavors and see what happens when we throw them all together.
While the spirit of ironman is being sacrificed for corporate greed, I just hope the relay participants are not lining up for their M-dot tattoos…