SPECIAL

Philosophy, reminiscences, etc.

And so it came to pass that, on October 14, 1989, in the petrified seas of Kona, the irresistible force known as Mark Allen met the immovable champion called Dave Scott.

But nobody was recording what was going on inside Dave's and Mark's heads. Without that insight, we can't know the whole story.

I sat down with both of them to see if I could ferret some of it out. During the course of those conversations one thing became clear: You could devote a long chapter to each minute of that race and still be no closer to really understanding it. The best you could hope for was a highlight reel.

It's so not PC to focus on gender differences these days, all of us being equally-favored children of the Great Whatever, yada yada yada. But there are differences, and sometimes they matter, which is why we have two sets of public bathrooms, separate aisles at the local Rite-Aid, and very few men prowling the eyeliner displays at Bloomingdale's. We also don't have much head-to-head athletic competition between males and females.

What we don't see much of, though, are organizations dedicated to the unique needs of female amateur triathletes. Most of us have never given this much thought, but Martha Szufnarowski (rhymes with "shove her off-ski") has spent most of her waking hours over the past few years thinking of little else.

I’ve written about challenged athletes and hung out with them, and attended the annual CAF event in San Diego every year it’s been in existence. But it was only recently that something odd occurred to me, and that is that I didn’t know exactly why it was difficult for a challenged athlete to compete in Ironman. Sounds like the most obvious thing in the world, but when I began thinking about it, I wasn’t sure I could explain it to someone if asked, at least not in any kind of detail.

Experience is a harsh teacher -- she gives the test before she gives the lesson – and once in a while we need a reminder that toeing the start line at Ironman isn’t an automatic ticket to a lifetime of bragging rights.

Ed. Note: Barbara Warren, 65, legendary endurance athlete, many-time Ironman finisher and twin sister of Angelika Drake, passed away Tuesday night as the result of injuries suffered in a bike accident during the Santa Barbara Triathlon last Saturday.

Forgive me for being serious just this once. Thankfully, it doesn't happen often. I'm not normally prone to a lot of touchy-feely romanticizing about spiritual matters that are largely the self-serving inventions of people to whom concepts like "evidence" and "science" are regarded with suspicion. The way I look at it, anybody who believes in homeopathy, astrology, oxygenated water or wheat grass deserves to get swindled.

But one thing I've come to believe in strongly — because the evidence for it is overwhelming — is the mind-body connection and the extraordinary degree to which the mental can affect the physical.

For those of you competing in it, and those in the business, and those of us who photograph and report on it, Ironman is important, for many reasons.

But it actually matters well beyond the sphere of people who are in direct contact with it. Bear with me for a second and I’ll explain why.

The greatest compliment we get is when someone tells us they didn’t even know we existed.

-- John Bertsch, Director
Ironman Race Operations Center

My conversation with Bob "All Around Funky Dude" Babbitt, top kahuna at Competitor Magazine, went like this:

BAAFDB: How about writing a daily blog from Kona for us?

Lee: You bet.

BAAFDB: But you can't write about golf.

Lee: Up yours.

BAAFDB: Okay, you can write about golf once.

The first time I came to Kona thirteen years ago I was intrigued by all the hand-built lava walls in and around town. Many of them had no visible means of support that I could see, such as iron bars or cement, and seemed to maintain their structure by virtue only of gravity acting on the intricately interlocked pieces. I thought this was pretty amazing, yet there was no mention of these walls in any of the tourist guides or brochures and, when I asked some locals, they'd just shrug. "It's just a wall, brah…what's the big deal?" So I figured that maybe I was making too big a deal about it.

As it turns out, looking at these walls as no big deal just because there are so many of them in Kona is like looking at Michelangelo sculptures as no big deal just because there are so many of them in Florence.

If you're reading this right now, I'm guessing you're not in Kona. That's because no one who is in Kona in his right mind would be sitting in front of a computer screen blog-slogging when there's so much other great stuff to do. (I suppose you could be on a beach or boat with your wireless laptop, but if that's the case, you have no life and I can't help you. Then again, I'm sitting in front of a computer screen in Kona, so what the hell do I know?)

The point is, you're not here. And you should be. Here are seven reasons why.

One of the reasons for the exploding popularity of triathlon is that, unlike nearly every sport in the world except running, ordinary folk can not only compete but can do it in the very same events as the best in the world. This is like me teeing it up next to Phil Mickelson at the Masters. (I actually did tee it up once next to Phil Mickelson at the Masters, and it took nearly everything a dozen of my friends and family had to post my bail.)