Kurtz’s Stronger Than Iron

Stronger Than Iron: Not Finishing Was Not An Option
Wayne Kurtz and Stefan Zetterstrom

There are endurance events, like a marathon, or even a half marathon. And then there are ultra endurance events, like 50 milers and hundred milers, and, I’d argue, ironmans. But then there is shit that is just so crazy that’s its hard to even fathom. These kind of events are often lumped into the category of “multi-day” or extreme ultra endurance. They include things like the 200 mile foot races, double ironmans, and things like what this book is about – a triple DECA ironman. Or three x ten times the distance of a standard ironman.

 

For those counting at home, that’s 72-miles swimming, 3,360-miles biking, and 786-miles running.

 

Yeah, a lot more than a half marathon.

 

This is a self published book about the exploits of the very unique brand of athelete who has the drive, time, and means to engage in this sort of craziness. It focused on a single event that occurred in Italy where a number of the top athletes in this world of ultra endurance ironmans tried to take it to the next level.

 

I’m not gonna lie, this isn’t very well written, in fact, its pretty bad. But if you need a dose of inspiration to get out the door for a 5k, it can be inspiring to read about these everyday people who do incredible things.

 

Recommended for the enthusiast.

Review: Wellington’s A Life Without Limits

A Life Without Limits: A World Champion’s Journey
Chrissie Wellington

Chrissie Wellington is one of the most successful triathletes of all time. But she’s more than that. She’s an activist for environmental issues, a legit player in the world of international development, and a survivor of a serious eating disorder and more.
She covers all of this in her much better than I expected memoir.
Honestly, I figured I’d get the usual – plucky athlete trains hard, gains success, remains humble. What I got instead was plucky girl battles eating disorder, becomes mid-level political operative in the world of international development, travels the world, starts doing triathlon, getting really good, works with controversial coach, becomes best in the world. It’s a good story, competently told.

Wellington has had a fascinating life. But perhaps most fascinating to triathletes and fans of endurance sports is her relationship with the very controversial Brett Sutton. Sutton, who was once convicted of having a relationship with an underage athlete, is legendary for how hard he is on his athletes, and how unorthodox his training regime can be. Wellington documents some of that. She tells of how he pitted her against other athletes, how he put them through incredibly punishing sessions, how he would lock himself in his room for days at a time, emailing the athletes their work outs. It’s fascinating stuff. I’m left with the opinion that while Sutton did create Wellington, one of the top five greatest female triathletes of all time, he also has created a lot of wreckage in others athletes who trained with him. I’d be curious to read a memoir of one of his athletes who ended up not being as successful.

Anyway, worth the read if this is your thing.

Recommended for the enthusiast.

Review: Fitzgerald’s Iron War

Iron War: Dave Scott, Mark Allen, and the Greatest Race Ever Run
Matt Fitzgerald

In 1989 Mark Allen and Dave Scott, two of the greatest triathletes of all time, competed in what is still the closest, and my all measures, greatest Ironman world championship. This book is the story of those men, that race, and the early days of triathlon. It is also one of the best books on endurance sports I have ever read.

Sure you get the story of the 89 Kona world championships, and the backstory on two of the most fascinating endurance athletes of all time (Scott, hyperactive, incredibly driven, old school; Allen, innovative, spiritual, haunted) but you also get so much of the history of the sport, the physiology (and psychology) behind elite performance, and some thoughtful ruminations on what it means to be an aging elite athlete.

If you’re interested in endurance sports, whatever they may be, this is a book for you. Hell, even if you’re just interested in what it takes for fascinating people to be the best in the world at what they do, you’ll find this one interesting. Very pleased I took the time to read this one.

Recommended for the enthusiast.

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.

Friday Video: The 1991 Ironman world Championships

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.

 

Friday Inspiration: Why Endurance Athletes Choose to Suffer

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.

*An Ironman entrance fee alone will run you about $700, the gear and time can raise that price considerably.

Friday Inspiration? Moved by the struggles of others

The other night, bored during a six mile treadmill run, I started scrolling through so-called triathlon inspiration videos on youtube. I got mostly what you’d expect. Chris Lieto finishing Kona. An age grouper struggling to the finish line. Many of them were set to Eminem for some reason.

Then I came across this one:

Viewed almost 1.5 million times this video is almost all images of people falling to pieces. There are images of bike wrecks, runners collapsing, runners suffering from back spasms so bad they can’t stand up straight, people on stretchers, ambulances, all in the name of inspiration.

I was of two minds watching this video. Part of me was horrified that these images of people’s bodies failing them would be seen as inspiring; but another part of me was inspired by it, admiring the determination. As someone once said about the classic video of Julie Moss finishing the Ironman, “there are those who will look at that video and know they never want to do the event and those who will look at it and know they have to do it”.