One of the attractions for me of doing my first Ironman was the idea that completing one would be life a changing experience and also something that would change me as a person. I thought it would somehow be enlightening or provide a new insight on life or myself.
As I crossed the finish line of my first Ironman in Nice, France back in 2008, I like a lot of first timers was in pretty bad shape. As I came to a stop and a girl placed that medal around my neck I wasn’t that delirious that I’d forgotten why I was doing this. I was almost looking skyward waiting for the expected epiphany. As I stood there I started to black out and slowly crumpled to the ground. The staff assisted me out and put me sitting on the grass. Once they ascertained I was ok they left me alone. All the time I was still waiting expectantly for that epiphany, for that moment of enlightenment.
Of course it didn’t arrive despite me checking in all day. Every so often I’d do a little mental assessment to see if it (enlightenment) had somehow slipped in while I wasn’t looking. At the risk of sounding naive and possibly stupid (if I haven’t already) I was really disappointed that the promised life changing epiphany hadn’t materialised. I felt cheated, I’d read of Ironman changing people and lives dozens of times and I wanted a piece of that cake.
Despite my disappointment I spent the next few days mostly in a state of happiness, satisfaction, pride and wonder that I’d managed to complete an Ironman. But still there was that small tinge of disappointment that it hadn’t changed me or my life.
About a week later I was back home and out watching a local race when it hit me. After only a week and a half of inactivity I was really missing the training, the discipline and the structure that Ironman had brought to my life.
Ironman actually had changed me and it had changed my life. Not surprisingly the change didn’t arrive in the form of angels flying around my head whispering the secrets of the universe to me as I crossed the finish line. Rather the changes had been gradual and had happened not on race day but during the months of training and discipline that led up to it.
I had discovered that I loved being an athlete. I’d always just assumed that being the rebellious sort growing up that structure and discipline would be anathema to me. But it turned out that I loved it. I loved cleaning up my nutrition. I even loved the discipline needed to stay on top of things like loads of extra laundry.
The other massive change Ironman made to me was that it gave me the belief in myself that I could do something that I’d previously thought impossible.
I’ve always somewhat disliked the extreme consumerist society we live in. At the same I’ve felt somewhat conflicted by the fact that I’m a bicycle retailer who’s feeding and promoting it. I’ve never really fully reconciled this but what I have done as I’ve gotten older is to buy less “things” (with the exception of bikes…I’m not that strong willed)
As I’ve spent more time thinking about this dislike of consumerism I realised that one of the things that I disliked most (aside from the unnecessary waste) was the fact that buying things very rarely led to happiness. Of course there are exceptions to this, bikes obviously being the main one.
Along with this realisation I started to question all of the purchases I was making. I asked myself whether I really wanted something or if buying it was just scratching my “retail buzz” itch. So I started holding off when I had an initial urge to buy something and waited to see if the urge was still there the next day or week. If it was then I tried to decide if buying it was likely to make me happier.
Around the same time I also realised that “experiences” more often led to happiness than “things”. The satisfaction that came from achievements and the happy memories that I carried with me for years of events and races were the things that shaped me as a person.
Things like that first Ironman, my first marathon, a week spent running through the Alps with Aisling, racing in the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii. These experiences when looked at in purely monetary terms could be perceived as being expensive but they are the things that have changed me as a person. They are the things that reinforced our relationship and our marriage. They are the things that we still talk about years later and that always make us smile.
The real cost of Ironman
When people give out about the cost of doing an Ironman it drives me a little bit crazy. I guess that looking at a €500 entry fee for a single day race might look expensive if you don’t understand just what finishing an Ironman can do to you as a person.
If I told you I could change your life for the better, possibly forever, would you think that €500 still sounds like a lot of money to do that? Somehow I doubt it.
Of course there are things that you buy that make you feel good and that can change your life but most of the things that we “consume” have little or no impact on the quality of our lives. And plenty of them impact it negatively.
If you think you’re being screwed by a race organiser then vote with your feet and choose another race but don’t confuse the fact that one race might cost twice as much as another as meaning that you’re automatically being ripped off.
Ironman can be an expensive sport. What with race entry fees costing anywhere from €300 to close to €1000. Add in travel, accommodation and then you’ve got all of the equipment. Bike, wetsuit, Tri kit, helmet, runners, bike shoes, the list goes on and on and it adds up very quickly.
But don’t forget that it’s your choice whether to race an Mdot or an unbranded race. If you want that Ironman experience then one of the costs of it is the six or twelve months training you need to do, another cost is the financial one. I’m not belittling the fact that €500 is a lot of money, especially for a one day race.
My point is that what you get with Ironman isn’t just that one day, you get the months of preparation and anticipation in the lead up to it and you get the the fact that Ironman is a life changing experience for most people, particularly your first one.
The value of a memory that lives with you forever.
When was the last time you reminisced about that handbag or jacket you once lusted over, then bought, used once and then promptly stashed it in a wardrobe where it now gathers dust? The things that stretch our perceived limits, that force us to dig deeper than we ever have before are the things that live with us and shape us as a person not the purchase of something we didn’t really need but thought would make us happier.
The months of anticipation
As adults there aren’t many things that we do, or occasions that have us nervously anticipating their arrival the way that our first marathon ot Ironman will. The closest thing I can relate it to is when we are kids and we lie awake at night waiting for Christmas and all of the magic that that day promises.
The fitness and health benefits
Aside from all of the emotional growth, change and happiness that doing an Ironman brings there is of course the more obvious physical benefits. I remember talking to a friend of mine, an exercise and sports scientist, before my first Ironman and asking him would I lose my speed (what little I had as a beginner) as I was training to go long and steady. He said that with the increased volume of training for Ironman I would be in the best shape of my life even if I didn’t do a single speed session and it turned out he was dead right. When it comes to Ironman there is just no substitute for big volume.
Related: Volume v”s Intensity
The way it changes you as a person
Ironman has changed me as a person and has changed my life so much so that it is now unrecognisable from what it was before I did my first one back in 2008. If you’re sitting there and have never done an Ironman and have always wanted to but were afraid of it. Go now and enter one. Embrace the fear and all of the possibilities that it will bring into your life, you won’t be disappointed. Maybe run it past your husband or wife first but if something does stop you doing one don’t let it be fear.