We often hold a mindset looking for the ‘est’ in everything. The biggest, best, tallest, famous…est. The athletes at the top of their game competing for the top of the podium. But when we look only at the ‘est’ of the race, you can end up missing it all.
I found myself standing knee deep in the starting bay for the 2011 Penticton Ironman trying to step back to see what it was all about. Not looking at the pros with uniquely coloured swim caps highlighting their importance over the rest of the field, or the nun trying a second time to become the oldest female Ironman finisher. So, what is it about? Closing my eyes for a moment, I found my answer in the sounds of the Ironman start. The announcers voice booming over loudspeakers, fans lining the beach and promenade cheering for their friend, sister, son, granddaughter, and the oddly pressing silence surrounding the triathletes themselves. Calmly re-hearsing their race plan, moderating their stresses and anxieties, keeping warm in the morning cool.
The announcer continues spitting statistics and interesting facts about the soon to depart professional group while the breadth of the emotion goes unmentioned. The solitary experience of every athlete in the race; a largely muted experience; breathe in, breath out, breath in, breath out. Contrasted, and ironically intertwined with, the social, boisterous, and frequently comical nature of the fans.
Ironman is a race, and in being so is inherently intertwined with the identity of the sport. However the race is more, and bigger than a sting of digits quantifying the achievement in statistical information. Ironman is solitary, individualistic, yet in the same breath its an experience of culture, of encouragement and relationships.