It’s quite normal to write a race report after a big event such as a 70.3 Ironman, but I’m aware that unless you are my triathlon coach or my mum, no one is that interested to hear the blow-by-blow about my race.
Instead, I’ll answer the question that my normal friends asked me, aghast, upon hearing that I had ‘done a thing’ and signed up for a Half Ironman in Salalah, Oman.
An Ironman 70.3, also known as a Half Ironman, consists of a 1.2-mile (1.9 km) swim, a 56-mile (90 km) bike ride, and a 13.1-mile (21.1 km) run. The 70.3 refers to the number of miles that participants have to think about their life choices before they - hopefully - complete the race.
‘Why?’ Why would you even do this?
As someone who came to sports later in life – I’m blowing out 45 candles this year - I first learned about the transformative power of pushing myself thanks to a dodgy ultra-running habit, but swimming in the sea terrified me and I didn’t even ride, let alone own, a bike.
“I’ve done a thing.”
Most people in my inner circle, and probably quite a few in my rectangle of wider acquaintanceship, will recognize that phrase and instinctively duck for cover.
While in my younger, wilder days this may have involved last-minute flights, regrettable haircuts and the kind of bad decisions that make great dinner party anecdotes years later, now it tends simply to involve signing up for various endurance challenges that I am in no way qualified or experienced enough to attempt.
I suspect my answer might strike a chord with you. I think that most of us harbour a desire to experience adventure, to feel like we have the potential to achieve something different, special and meaningful. Who doesn’t want to feel like they’re living their 'one and only life' to its potential? That doesn’t make us strange, it makes us normal.
And yet in today’s ‘deliver it to your door’ world, there are few opportunities for most of us who hold down day jobs to experience feelings of adrenaline and adventure. As human beings, we are not designed to while away our lives in safe, sanitized corporate environments. It actually kind-of sucks! (A couple of years ago I ‘did a thing’ and walked out on a successful office career to start my own business that I now run alongside my endurance hobby, but that’s another story – I’m just mentioning it so you get a sense of my impressively adventurous and daring demeanor).
Our society set-up means we don’t get much chance to easily connect with new communities and groups of people. Being social and feeling part of a team or tribe is an integral predictor of overall mental wellbeing but unfortunately today, despite being constantly connected through social media, feeling isolated and lonely has become an epidemic. Being part of a sports team or coaching group, and working together for the goal of self-improvement is a relatively accessible way to tick these much-needed boxes. Make friends, get fit, feel fantastic.
Our bodies and minds actually do best when we have the chance to experience some endurance and hardship, just as our caveman ancestors did. We're wired for it. We are meant to hunt hard in small groups, and then to collapse in a satisfied heap at the end of the day, utterly spent. I don’t think a week at the office followed by a weekend staring at Netflix adequately recreates this, and it’s no surprise that many of us feel that there’s an ingredient missing.
I think it is why the idea of endurance sports is so seductive and satisfying to many people – because doing these outrageously extreme things somehow feel right. Pushing our physical limits makes us feel alive, focused, our senses and potential engaged to the fullest, without actually risking our existence or safety. At least, that's my take, and I only fell off my bike twice and both times it wasn't moving.
(The red carpet, smug finisher’s medal, and nice cold drink at the end of the race also feel pretty nice).
Enter a brand that has, since its grassroots as a race organized by friends in 1970s Hawaii, achieved incredible global success making 9-5 office-dwelling amateur athletes feel like world champions, intrepid hunter-gatherers, dinosaur-wrestling superheroes and celebrities. From the exceptional branding that has even made getting the logo as a tattoo feel weirdly acceptable, to the genuine sense of occasion, friendship, camaraderie and that A-list finish, being part of an Ironman event whether as a participant or supporter feels very special.
Of course, I didn’t know any of this when I signed up for the race. So why did I sign up?
The reason I signed up for a 70.3 is because my cool running buddy Mahmoud planted a seed during an ultramarathon we ran together, and because I am quite easy to influence.
The reason I signed up for a 70.3 is that after the intense buzz of completing the ultramarathon, I was at home, dangerously unchaperoned in front of the computer, and feeling in need of a new ‘hit’.
The reason I signed up for a 70.3 is because I wanted to test who would be best to have on the team in case of a zombie apocalypse – an ultrarunner or a triathlete. (I think ultra-runner me has the slight edge, although at the end of any race I do a pretty good impression of a shuffling zombie so I’d probably blend in and escape being eaten anyway).
The reason I signed up for a 70.3 is because I have learned that the most powerful benefits of physical endurance are nothing to do with physical endurance. The benefits for me are reflected in my confidence, mental wellbeing and physical health. From going for a walk to clear your mind, to running, weight lifting, spin class or yep, an 'ultra' event of some kind, humans are designed to thrive mentally and physically when they move their bodies. To put it in a simple way, our bodies reward us with happy chemicals when we move them, and move them we must.
The training (mainly fitting it in around 'real life') was not always easy, but having done it I genuinely don’t believe that a 70.3 is out of the reach of most people, especially if you have a good coach and a supportive community of like-minded souls, who will drag you around the cycle track or out for a run and most importantly, not ask ‘Why?’ when you tell them that you’ve done a thing.
Communications & Media Consultant from Dubai
Coach: Lee Harris - Running. Rory Buck - Triathlon