Review: You Are An Ironman by Jacques Steinberg

You Are an Ironman: How Six Weekend Warriors Chased Their Dream of Finishing the World’s Toughest Tr iathlon

As the subtitle suggests, You Are An Ironman traces the stories of six age groupers as they train for, and race, Ironman Arizona. Given my obsession with mortals attempting events of long distance, and the fact that the author is a New York Times reporter, I was really looking forward to this one.

It was a bit if a let down.

In following the six athletes, Steinberg jumps back and forth between the characters. The book is two pages on an soldier in Colorado, struggling to find the time to train followed by a page on a mother in Sacramento juggling her five kids, followed by three paragraphs on a teacher in Arizona whose Ironman dreams have hurt his family’s finances, followed by a page on a husband and wife in South Carolina who train together to raise money for charities. It’s all a bit confusing. Further, it appears Steinberg never really got to know these people. Much of the insight into their inner lives (such as it is) comes from the personal blogs of the athletes, and all of their experiences are told from their perspective, with little context given. We read, briefly, that one participant’s wife isn’t particularly supportive, but we don’t her from her as to why.  We learn that one woman has a deep religious faith, but we don’t learn how that plays out in her life.

Its all a bit surface level.

Still, there were moments of inspiration. Many of these people overcame incredible setbacks on their way to the race, including cancer, injuries, and just the stresses of everyday life.  Training for an Ironman is an incredible time commitment, and much of it is absurdly boring. Steinberg’s attempt to make it interesting left me wanting more context on the life of the athletes, yet it still almost brought me to tears when while reading of their struggles, especially in the race itself.

I’m going to rate this one as recommended for the enthusiast. If you’re interested in what it takes to train for the Ironman culture, you’ll appreciate this. If not, you’re better off with something else.

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