Why You Don't Want To Do Ironman


by Lee Gruenfeld

Last month in Kona someone asked me an interesting question.

"You obviously love everything about the sport," this person began, "so when are you going to do an Ironman yourself?" It was a reasonable question to ask and I considered it carefully prior to replying.

"Imagine," I eventually began, "that the entire Earth is a solid ball of brass. And imagine that, once every thousand years, a butterfly floats by and brushes it with its wings. When the planet has been worn down to the size of a macadamia nut, that's when I'll do Ironman."

I've said it before and I'll say it again: You people are crazy. Your rationales for doing Ironman are dangerously delusional. I guess it's understandable, since millions of words have been written about why you should do Ironman, but millions of words have also been written about extraterrestrials building the Parthenon and you didn't fall for that, so what's up with this?

Then it occurred to me: No words have been written about why you shouldn't do Ironman. Public-spirited guy that I am, I propose to correct that situation. Herewith, six reasons why you don't want to do this race.

1.It hurts. A considerable portion of the lengthy history of humankind has been spent searching for ways to alleviate pain. This year alone over $5 billion will be spent by researchers attempting to relieve physical suffering. So why in God's name would anyone want to deliberately hurt himself? What kind of sense does that make? If you have a little headache you rush to the medicine cabinet and scarf down a handful of pills to make it go away, but you'll think nothing of running twenty-six miles on burning hot lava starting at high noon twenty-three degrees above the equator. Let me tell you something: There are cultures where running twenty-six miles on burning hot lava at high noon is how they punish people who commit murder.

2.It's addictive. A lot of Ironman athletes will tell you that doing one of these is like eating potato chips. Once you do it, you're hooked and powerless to resist the next one. You'll risk your family, your job and possibly your life trying to qualify, and then you'll think about nothing else until race day. Sound familiar? It should. This is the classic definition of addictive behavior. Addiction is bad. Everybody knows that. It's so bad the U.S. government has formally declared war on it, yet despite lavishing huge amount of resources fighting addiction, it's still losing, so what chance do you think you have?

3.The food sucks. I myself am partial to filet du beouf au poivre, potatoes au mucho gratin and crème bruleee, accompanied by a nice '61 Beychevelle and perhaps an Ypres Sauterne to top it all off. Know what you eat when you train for an Ironman? The same kind of things as when you do chemotherapy or Abu Ghraib. I've seen paramedics put more appetizing stuff on open wounds. My wife blends up beverages that would violate fourteen different EPA regulations if you dumped them in a river. And it isn't a casual diet, either: I've known triathletes who have gone to confession after sneaking a few nanograms of parmesan on their tofu burgers, so will somebody please tell me why anyone would go through this just so they can feel pain?

4.You don't get anywhere. Swimming, biking and running are modes of transportation. Look up transportation in the dictionary and you'll find that it means "going from one place to another." Swimming was invented to get across rivers, the bicycle let you go to the grocery store faster than walking, and running was good for escaping from lions or chasing down chickens. In each case, the point is to end up in a different place than where you started. But not Ironman, uh uh. In Ironman you swim, bike and run yourself into near exhaustion only to end up right where you began, and not only that, you don't even have a bag of groceries or a dead chicken to show for it. So basically, by the time you finish you're back where you started and nothing has changed, except that you look like a drowned rat, feel like one, too, and you've lost an entire day of your life. And this is something you want to train for? You could get the same effect by falling asleep in a car wash.

5.It's expensive. I remember thinking once that Ironman might be worth doing if they paid you enough. Imagine my shock when I discovered that I'd have to pay them. That's unbelievable. I could get the same punishment by joining the Marines and I'd at least get a couple hundred bucks a month for my trouble. And race fees are the least of it. My wife's bike cost more than my first car. Come to think of it, it cost more than my second car, and the tires cost more than mine do now. I can't understand why anyone would pay a hundred bucks for a carbon fiber bottle cage to save two ounces and then think nothing of slamming three pounds of water bottles into it. Yo! Put two fewer ounces of water in the bottles and save the hundred bucks! Why do you think they have aid stations?

6.Bad weather. I like to play golf. When the weather's bad, I don't play golf. If there's a tournament and the weather's bad, they postpone the tournament, even if it's a PGA major event. This to me makes sense. Ironman races, however, don't get canceled unless lightning actually hits the starter gun or the surf is so high Laird Hamilton goes inside to watch reruns of "Bonanza" until it settles down. Doesn't matter how hot it is, or how cold or windy or humid…they do it anyway, even though entire industries have devoted themselves to protecting us from those very conditions. They don't just do it; they love it. Ironman athletes are like mountain climbers: The worse the conditions, the better the bragging rights. Please. If I spend a year training my butt off for an Ironman and it's a nasty day? I don't want to waste my one shot fighting elements that my ancestors had enough brains to run into caves to avoid. Now, if Ironman got postponed on account of bad weather, then I might consider doing one.

Except for the other five reasons.

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