You’re Not A Triathlete!

I was going to talk about my race plan for the upcoming TriRiot 70.5 triathlon this weekend, but something distracted me and I just couldn’t resist adding my two cents.

Earlier today I was doing a light workout and listening to Triathlon Taren’s latest podcast. Apparently, someone once told Taren that, “… You’re not a real triathlete unless you’ve done an IRONMAN…”. That’s along the same lines as the other thing I’ve heard, “You’re not a real Ironman unless you’ve completed the IRONMAN World Championship in Kona.”

First of all, neither of these statements have a direct impact on me other than my desire to point out undeserved arrogance. So let’s dissect each of these two statements.

You’re Not An Ironman Unless…

Notice my distinction between Ironman and IRONMAN. Ironman is the accolade and IRONMAN is the brand.

For lack of a better term, I’m going to call this group of individuals purists. They believe that the only real Ironman is that person who has qualified for and finished the big race in Kona. I have no argument with these purists. After all, John and Judy Collins, founders of the Ironman and IRONMAN, first gave the 140.6 mile challenge to a group that would race in Hawaii in 1978. Commander Collins declared that the finisher would be called an Ironman. I don’t know that they made the same declarations at Lake Placid or in Tempe, AZ. So I suppose the purists are saying that, in order to be an Ironman, you have to race the original IRONMAN course. There’s a problem with that.

A lot has changed since 1978. The race is held on a different island these days and athletes don’t have to be self supported any more. Today the race is a corporate event designed to make the participants feel like rock stars and generate attention in addition to the competitive aspects. When the event was conceived in 1977, it was simply a challenge to see if swimmers, cyclists or runners were the better, more fit athletes.

Another issue is that the Ironman accolade ideally (maybe not legally?) belongs to WTC who owns the IRONMAN brand. Therefore, WTC can confer upon whomever they wish the title of Ironman.

And no conversation like this would be complete without mentioning Mike Reilly who started the famous finish line call, “… YOU. ARE. AN IRONMAN!”

Now on to the other claim.

You Are Not A Real Triathlete Unless…

I do have an issue with anyone who claims the only real triathletes are those who have completed an IRONMAN. On what do they base this claim?

What if I race an IRONMAN that is only 140.2 miles long instead of the standard 140.6? That happens. Does that not make me a triathlete? I’m sure you can imagine a whole plethora of scenarios like this that would put into question our membership in the “triathlete” category.

Like I mentioned before, I think this claim has no effect on me. As far as I know, my membership in USA Triathlon is not based on a prerequisite of completing an IRONMAN event. However, it is quite insulting to suggest that ITU professionals and sprint age-groupers alike are not triathletes.

This is a point I will argue, because it is not as ambiguous as a branded title such as “Ironman.” Over 100 years ago, a triathlon was a completely different event of three different sports. However, today a triathlon is generally accepted as a timed event that combines swimming, biking and running. This is where USA Triathlon and ITU and other governing bodies have a role. They define what triathlon is and is not.

I might agree that the one-and-done athlete is just that: an athlete and not a triathlete. However, those professionals and age groupers who live the triathlon lifestyle and compete in sanctioned races, regardless of race brand or distance, are most definitely triathletes.

Conclusion

Taren Gesell, YOU. ARE. A TRIATHLETE. (and soon you’ll be an Ironman too).

Until next time…