With Vermont City Marathon behind me, its time to focus on the New York City Triathlon in July. I’m really excited to spend more time on the bike (though less excited about spending more time in the pool). Come July, I’m gonna be all:
Some dude on youtube has posted a bunch of old videos of NBC’s coverage of the Ironman world championships in Kona. Being a bit obsessive, I’ve started watching them in order during my Wednesday night treadmill tempo runs. Here’s the 1991 edition with Mark Allen, Paula Newby Fraiser and John Tesh narrating!
1991 was smack in the middle of Allen and Newby-Fraiser’s dominance of the sport, making this not much of a race by halfway through the run. Still, its fascinating to look back at the steel bikes and lack of wetsuits. So much has changed, yet the distance, and the challenge of finishing it, has stayed the same.
Like everyone in the northeast, I’m sick of this winter. I’m sick of the cold, and the ice, and the half frozen black slush. More than anything else, I’m sick of running on the treadmill. On the weekends, I generally head outside, regardless of the weather. But during the week, when I’m often running before dawn, or after dark, I tend to head to the basement treadmill. It gets dull, but it gives me loads of time to watch inspiring videos.
Lately, I’ve been watching a lot of Ironman coverage. The Kona championships, the regional championships, inspiration videos edited together by amateurs. Basically its been just lots and lots of nights watching videos of people in spandex, suffering. Last night, I watched the end of the 2014 North American Championship. At the end of the video, when the final runners of the day were trying to squeak in by the midnight deadline, I got goddamn emotional. Why? Because I’m a softie? Yes. But also because these efforts touched something inside me.
Of course, the Ironman is a contrived event, as are all modern endurance events, and of course these people volunteered (and in fact paid) for this experience. But that doesn’t make the suffering any less real or the accomplishment any less meaningful.
Many have hypothesized that the rise in popularity of endurance events among the first world middle class is tied to a longing to be physically challenged in a way that the “real” world no longer presents – that in what has become a post scarcity economy (for certain demographics), people feel the need prove themselves in a visceral, physical way. I think there’s something to that. I see it in myself, and my friends, and I saw it in the athletes in this video.
Many people (including myself) make fun of this desire to suffer for no reason. I understand why it can seem silly. It’s certainly a luxury.* And endurance athletes definitely take themselves too seriously at times. But watch the last ten minutes of this video, and think about all that went into getting these athletes to that place, and tell me you aren’t at least a little inspired.