Ironman Lanzarote, 21 May 2016.
A qualifier for the world championships, some say that Lanzarote is the toughest course on the whole Ironman circuit. Be that as it may, everyone who has the courage to even enter, the determination and discipline to train and take part, the spirit to succeed that keeps them going when their bodies must feel they have given their all, is a hero as far as I am concerned.
The professionals, of course, are magnificent and very competitive. They have to be, if they are making a living at it! But many participants are competing with no one but themselves.They may want to just see if they can do it once, though I suspect that success might breed success and many of those become ‘hooked’ and go on. Many take part in sport even at this grueling level just for the sheer joy of it. Some do it as a sponsored event to raise money for a good cause. For many it is a way to regain confidence and feel good about themselves after a serious illness or injury. Whatever the motivation it is a huge personal challenge.
This year I learned that believing in yourself, pushing yourself and knowing what you can do, also includes knowing when to quit. I realised this when I met a delightful lady called Mimi who had come all the way from Florida in America to compete and decided, after completing the swim and setting out on the bicycle ride that she did not want to continue. (I admit to looking her up and this is one formidable lady and experienced athlete, with nothing to prove to anybody) She withdrew gracefully when she decided that this was not a day for her to do the Ironman race.
‘I just decided that I did not want to race anymore,’ she told me. That, I think is the way to stop, and is a lesson for life. When you have always been an achiever it is often hard to bow out gracefully and leave things to the next generation. Few things are more heartbreaking than watching someone fail dismally when they have pushed themselves way beyond their prime and refused to move on. Quitting while you are still on top means that, after years of dedicated participation you have time and energy to spare for other things, new challenges, things you may have missed without even realizing it.
After ‘guarding’ Mimi’s bike, while she retrieved her transition bags, and spending a short while chatting to her I left her to return to her hotel, feeling strangely uplifted. Mimi may do other Ironman races, or maybe different events, but today she made me aware and showed me a new way to look at competition and courage, especially the courage to listen to your inner self and accept. When you have nothing to prove to anyone but yourself, you have the freedom to do what is right for you.
The athletes were now spread out over the cycle course so I took off for a coffee.
I wanted to use the internet and also was looking out for some friends so I found the very friendly and pleasant bar called Palms where I could watch what was going on from the terrace. Not liking to hang around too long with only a drink, I thought I should order a snack
I rejected a pizza, as more than I wanted and asked if I could have the ‘chicken melt’ sandwich-filling as a topping on a jacket potato. I, and the very nice people I had met and been chatting to on the terrace agreed that as snacks go this was ‘something else’!
Watching the course we observed the young volunteers taping down the running track in the breeze ready for the next leg of the race.
As the first riders came in a whole team of yellow shirted volunteers took their bikes from them and wheeled them to the bike stands before going back for another, and another, and another….1,888 entrants with very few not continuing to this stage gave them a mammoth task. I decided they must be pretty fit themselves as they ran back and forth enabling the runners and riders to take the track to the transition point for their running shoes, and off again on a full marathon.
These volunteers include youngsters who come every year from abroad to help out, as well as local school members, young athletes and older volunteers from all over the island. They work tirelessly through what is a seventeen hour day and remain cheerful and enthusiastic throughout. They are an inspiration in themselves, and a reminder that the bad press that youngsters are often given is only deserved by a minority.
A personal friend, Sandy was wearing bib number 475 this year.
She is so typical of the Ironman spirit of endurance and perseverance. Her first entry was thwarted when she was injured in training and had to withdraw before the day. Last year her bike was stolen, a major setback as well as a horrible experience. 2016 was Sandy’s year!
Someone asked me last week, why anyone would want to put themselves through the physical punishment of the Ironman Race. I am no athlete but I think I get it. Maybe those who need to ask the question simply do not. That’s okay, there will be things that they understand that maybe I don’t. But I think it would be hard to miss something of what it is all about if you go along as a volunteer or just a spectator and experience the atmosphere, see the joy as each competitor achieves their personal best of the day, the pride and delight of their family and friends, the camaraderie of everyone involved, the teamwork and sense of a day well spent. Clearly the athletes feel it is worth all of the preparation, the months, or even years of training and I, for one, never fail to be inspired, awed, uplifted and to come away feeling I have learned from the day.
There seemed to me to be more security people this year, a sign of the times I suppose. But isn’t that another reason to hold events and festivals of achievement and to celebrate culture, sport, the arts and everything that lifts and demonstrates the human spirit, brings people together in shared fun, striving for excellence and love of life.
Many congratulations to this year’s winner of Ironman Lanzarote, Jesse Thomas from the USA who completed the swim, the cycle ride and the marathon in 8 hours, 42 minutes and 33 seconds! A fantastic win.
But I think everyone involved would agree that the event is far from being ‘just’ about winning.
22 May 2016