Secrets to Racing an Ironman Triathlon
I came to the start line of the Ironman 70.3 Los Cabos broken. We come to every start line—new race, new year, new love, new job—at least a little bit broken, with some cocktail of ambition, humility, and fear.
I was five months out from a serious bike crash and shoulder injury just a week before I would have raced Ironman France. Shoulder scar tissue still slightly inflamed, and thanks to life's swerves, undertrained and drained from an intense month of personal transitions. This race was not about a personal record or a world championship slot; it was about getting fully into the body and feeling everything from this past season.
Celebrating imperfect ability, imperfect recovery. Testing the spiritual strength brokenness offers. Putting myself through a bonfire and seeing what survives.
The start of an Ironman is an electric moment. Usually dusk, soft light spreading through the sky. The announcer revving up the crowd of support crew. But the athletes lined up are quiet, connecting to one another with a glance, maybe half a tentative smile, a shake of the head. Mostly looking at the water we're about to break into.
Breathing deep and slow. Mining energy from muscle and spirit. Staring down a day of work that seemed like a good idea 3, 6, 12 months ago. Coming to terms with the edges we're about to face.
Ironman is a BS-free zone. Like an epic yoga class, temple, AA meeting—a pop-up community of humans fighting from a starting point of surrender. Admitting this goal is bigger than ourselves, that we're here to grow into it. You will know yourself well at the end of the day. If you open up to competitors, you'll bond in unimaginable ways in less than 24 hours.
Fronts, masks, pretense can't stand up to this task. We're all here to flirt hard with limitation. To find out what's in the tank. How deep it goes. To recruit parts of ourselves we don't usually tap for fuel. To taste breath and water like the best meal of our lives.
The secret: A little bit of magical thinking and a lot of support from other people.
I haven't found it possible to finish a race without some serious magical thinking. Without alchemizing recent or deep failures, anger, grief, gratitude into energy and will. Without having to work through some things. Without flashes of insight about next moves. It's a holy thing to spend the day with a bunch of humans stripping down to their core, trying to learn how to suffer well.
Those side-eye glances, single nods of recognition, high-fives from people willing to be generous with precious energy can make us ask big, important questions about the economies of our lives.
An endurance event like Ironman allows us to hear our own unique, DNA-deep rhythm of resources, limits, will. Finishing demands us to respect it. Racing demands us to dance with it—challenge, improvise, play with it.
This race was the hardest I've experienced: a humid, fiery 95 degrees for most of the day, riding and running through cacti deserts on steaming roads. The highest "Did Not Finish" rate of any Ironman this year. But the deepest connections on the course I have ever experienced. No one was setting a personal record. We became a collective force pointed toward the finish line, sharing salt tabs, squirting each other with water, sharing fuel.
So many groups of athletes walking together because there was no way they would keep moving forward alone. Cheering for the lone runner who found a second, third, twentieth wind. The gift of Ironman is the possibility of experiencing that twentieth wind.
Or the tribe of athletes walking one another home. Acknowledging, challenging limits with every step forward. Not so much broken as broken in.