The Five People You Meet at Kona.
By Tom Demerly.
Prosers race as a “pro”. They may have won Ironman Istanbul and the attendant $184.23 USD prize money after spending $5000+ to get there. They never go more than five sentences in conversation without mentioning they are “racing pro” or “used to race pro”.
Prosers complain incessantly about how the pros are treated by WTC. They remind you they always get a discount- since they’re pro. They have a day job, but did I mention? They are a Pro… And by the way, they are looking for sponsorship, a home-stay and a free meal- and they coach, here’s their website. And Twitter. And Facebook. And Instagram. And Pinterest. So you can see how Pro they are.
Prosers have weighed down the sport with their Walter Mitty, self-feeding super reality. Festooned in sponsors’ logos they never give anything back to, the proser is to the selfie as Van Gogh is to the landscape. It is their medium.
What good can you say about the proser? Well, every triathlon community has one, and usually only one. Except for Boulder, Tucson and San Diego, prosers are territorial. Those places are their winter mating grounds. Prosers are like a living, breathing Strava segment since their over-the-top countenance makes you want to catch them on the bike, beat them in the pool and stay with them on the run. Say what you will about the proser (and I have) but they push us. They keep the bar up for the rest of us while reminding us of how incredibly lame we can truly be without an occasional ego check.
Pretty obvious: Races for the win. Has won. They’re not like you and I. They are so otherworldly fast it’s tough to imagine. The bike speed of Andrew Starykowicz at Ironman Florida: 112 miles in 4:02:17. That’s an average of 27.73 miles per hour- for over a hundred miles. That’s alien. The courage of Sebastien Kienle; going off the front at Ironman on the bike- and never looking back. With courage like that he probably needs special tri shorts.
If you put previous winner Chrissie Wellington between the sun and you, the light would shine through her she is so skinny. The miles Pros put in would be fatal for us. Phenomenon Mirinda Carfrae makes running in Kona look so effortless it is weird to remember how awful we feel off the bike. Most of us couldn’t get our knees that high on any run, let alone at Ironman with a 6:30 pace.
The downside of being a pro is triathletes don’t remember anyone but the winner. Ask a triathlete who won the Ironman World Championship last year. Ask who was third. Because triathlon is a participant sport the people who finish often have no idea who won overall. Triathletes are participants, not fans. We don’t give our pros a very high pedestal. We prefer to have one of our own.
Something bad happened to them. Lost a leg. Lost both legs. Lost a family member. Had a disease. When they cross the finish line at Ironman it will cast away their demons of affliction, addiction, depravation, crucifixion. Ironman is the filter through which they must pass. It sets them free. A Warrior is just as likely to win their age category as they are to barely make the midnight cut-off. Never, ever count out The Warrior.
The Warrior deserves most of the credit for the success of our sport in the modern era. Without their use of Ironman as a medium of exposure our sport would not be where it is. No other sport has Warriors like Ironman does. Their stories have inspired us. They serve as an adult version of the speech your parents gave you about children starving in Africa. Their message is clear and relevant: Use what you have while you have it. Life and vitality are ephemeral gifts not to be squandered. When you see a warrior, thank them.
An Olympic Gold Medalist may mention a charity, may have overcome a tragedy, but that is an accessory to their performance. For the warrior, their Ironman performance is an accessory to the cross they bear. For the Warrior, it is all about what brought them to the start line, and getting to the finish line. The Warrior reminds us that Anything is Possible, and Ironman is the filter through which they must pass to achieve redemption.
The soft-spoken, amazingly fast people in the age groups: The Super-Groupers. They surprise us with their results. Races because they love the sport. Probably been doing it for a while, may have been to Kona before. Reserved about their accomplishments but turn in great races while trying to balance their racing and training against that ephemeral annoyance called “normal life”. You never know how fast they are until one day you look for them on the results page, and then you’re blown away. This is the unassuming girl or guy who kicks butt and finishes in 9 hours, 10 hours, 11 hours, 12 hours, 13 hours.
When you go on a training ride with them, you bleed through your eyes. They are often unassuming in appearance. I know an average looking lad who went 9:50 something at Ironman Arizona while he kept his day job. Another Player I know is a top-level exec for an automaker. He kicks butt at Ironman and seldom mentions it. I saw him out on a training ride one day and had a tough time catching up to him on his bike. In my car.
Super-groupers often ride an inexpensive bike from five model years ago, use off-brand aero wheels, have served as President of the local tri club and volunteered at races when they weren’t racing. They are givers and quiet local heroes contributing to athletes around them in ways we often never realize. And they still kick butt on race day.
They may not belong in Kona, but they are in Kona. And God bless them. Julie Moss is the original Struggler, and she put our sport on the map. Without enough training, with bad equipment and even worse race nutrition they somehow make the cutoff. These are the real “Ironmen”, and by God, they earned the tattoo. The citizen athletes. They will take 40 electrolyte tablets in a race but not drink more than a water bottle per hour and then wonder why they cramped on the run, but run they will. All the way to the finish. They finish in the hour before the cut off, the best hour of the day at Ironman.
When you ask, “What did you eat on the bike?” They answer casually, “63 salt tablets, a can of tuna, a bottle of NutraSludge, eight soggy Fig Newton’s and a GU.” And they wonder why they had G.I. issues that rival an above ground nuclear test.
Ask them how their race went and they’ll tell you, “I shit, peed, barfed, cried and even high fived myself. It was awesome!”
You think the pros are tough? They have been showered, eaten a meal and had their feet up for five hours by the time these girls and guys drag their pee, barf, mucus, energy gel and poop encrusted bodies across the finish line. They are the real Iron(wo)men. And the next morning they line up to register for next years’ race.
The Strugglers are the finishers who make our sport great. The Strugglers are the everyman with so much passion in their heart for Ironman they make it on almost entirely guts, really weird race nutrition and very little training.
Love it. Great post. And I think you have it pretty well down. I so agree triathlon/ironman is largely a participant support. Sure we marvel at our pros but we marvel at the disadvantaged just as well. I remember the ovation Lew Hollander got at the finish line a couple years ago…To me, this is the beauty of this sport. It is about self-discovery and that best comes from incredible challenges like the ironman. You know, the sport might just do OK with the pros but I am not sure it could do without the everyman, the everywoman out there pouring themselves out, overcoming the seeming impossible.
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