Why 140.6?

As I consider my thoughts before I embark on this journey to full ironman, I realized the most important thing would be to figure out exactly WHY I want to do this.  After all, this training will take up 8 months of my life and will end in one of the most grueling events ever devised.  It’s going to cost me considerably, in money, in time, and in effort.  I ought to know why I am doing it.

I think it’s mostly so I can stop being asked about it.

For those unfamiliar, Triathlons for the most part are a swim, followed by a bike, and ending in a run.  There are some variations but that format is the one I personally do.  I started triathlon when I was 37 for a variety of reasons (more on that later), but when I started I was doing what are called “Sprint” triathlons.  These events are designed for the beginner, but can get pretty competitive among amateurs.  They are generally 500-750 meter swims, 12-14 mile bikes, and a 5K run (3.1 miles).  It sounds like a lot to do in one shot, and it is, but these are considered “short distance”.  I did that for a few years before I decided I was really into it and wanted to take on the next level of distance.

So when I was 39 I started doing “Olympic” distance.  It’s essentially double what I did in Sprint: 1500 meter swim, 24.8 mile bike, and a 10K run (6.2 miles).  This is the same distance that the Brownlee brothers and the Gwen Jorgensens of the world do (if you don’t know who Gwen Jorgensen is, google her.  Awesome, dominating athlete!).  This is the official distance competed in the Olympics (thus the name).  I found it to be the perfect distance for me: I can go all out and complete the course in a little under 2.5 hours, it requires a good deal of training but not overwhelming for my schedule, and I can do 5-6 races a season without overburdening me.  It’s great!

But it’s so hard to explain.

See, everyone outside the sport, when they think of triathlon, they think Ironman and Hawaii.  They may even know Kona.  So when I tell them I am training for a triathlon, the conversation nearly invariably goes something like this:

“Oh, you do Ironman?”

“No, actually I do the Olympic distance.  It’s shorter”

“Oh…so do you do the Hawaii one?”

“Uh…no.  That’s Ironman, and you have to qualify for that and it’s insanely hard to do”

“Ah” (slightly disappointed, and always losing interest).

I know they don’t mean it, but it’s disheartening nonetheless.  Sometimes I try to explain the distances I do are the same as the Olympic athletes, that the training is still really hard, but I know they’re only listening out of politeness.  It’s like what I do is suddenly unimportant.

And that’s hard.

Ironman, for those unfamiliar, is 140.6 miles, and that’s really, really long.  Those who are into endurance sports get it, but for those who aren’t, let me try to put it into perspective.  Think about a marathon.  26.2 miles in one go.  That’s a very long distance to run, and most folks will never even attempt it.  I have run 3 marathons, and they are a grind on the body.  An Ironman requires you to run a marathon as part of the event, but you have to do it after you do 114.4 miles of other stuff.  You see, in Ironman you start by swimming 2.4 miles.  That’s just .7 miles short of a 5K.  Then you have to bike 112 miles.  Have you thought about doing a century ride?  That’s 100 miles.  In an Ironman when you get to the 100 mile make on the bike you still have 12 miles to go.  Then you have to run a marathon.

It’s hard.  It takes all day long.  It also takes a great deal of training, and strategy, and dedication.  And for many years I never even considered it within the realm of possibility.

When I turned 40, I decided to try a Half Ironman, which is half all the distances in the Ironman for 70.3 miles.  That race got truncated because of bad weather, but since then I’ve done 2 Half Ironman races and a 125K race called the Leadman.  That allowed me to at least answer “Yes, I have done Half Ironman!” to the question, but it still leads to the same answers.  “Half?  So you don’t do the real Ironman?  Oh….(disinterested)”.

This year I turn 45.  I can sense my body is starting to head in the direction age invariably takes us.  I’m not getting any younger, so if I was ever going to do this I decided this would be the year.  Yes, I am doing it for myself, to achieve something I never though possible.  Yes, I am doing it for personal pride, for fitness, and for fun.  All those things will propel me on this journey.  But I’d be lying if I said a big motivating factor wasn’t finally being able to say, for the rest of my life when I answer those questions…