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Ironman or Masochist?

July 26, 2011 - John Stack
This past weekend was my favorite event of the year, the Lake Placid Ironman. There is a joke, which is actually more true than most. “How do you know you are having dinner with an Ironman? You don’t. They will tell you”. (Yes, I did the ironman in 2005 and am shooting for 2013). But, what does this mean? Are we just a bunch of braggarts compensating for some slight from childhood? Is it overcompensation for what Alfred Adler’s theories about the “inferiority complex” of what cognitive therapists refer to as schema compensation? Ie – the kid who was thought himself too small to make the football team in high school now attempts and completes the ironman to show everybody he isn’t the 90 pound weakling. Ironmen (and women – although anyone who completes an Ironman is referred to as an Ironman) attempt the Ironman for many reasons. Some truly are the overachieving lone wolf A-type personality. They have to achieve. Some run to prove to themselves they can overcome cancer or some other tragedy. Some race in honor of a family or friend (I wore my late father’s employee ID laced into my sneaker).

A friend of mine Patty said she had always thought of Ironmen as stuck up selfish people, till she met me. Not that I am some great altruist. I think she meant I am just some normal guy. I will stop down at Grizle Ts and have a beer. I spend a lot of time with my kids. Regular job. I never had a special ironman coach or trainer. I have a bunch of regular friends who are not athletes. I think most triathletes are just great regular people. The great majority of triathletes are more than willing to offer tips to other triathletes. When a top triathletes has finished, and you are still on the course, they will cheer you on even if you finish 20 minutes behind them at the Monday night mini-tris.

The latest Lava magazine (its an ironman specific magazine – Lave for the mac-daddy of all triathlons – the Hawaii Kona Ironman run on lava baked roads) has a great article (and cover shot) of local ironman Logan Franks. Logan is from Keeseville, was a good athlete growing up, but found himself drinking too much and getting in too much trouble while being a reservist in the Marines, and going to Plattsburgh State. He truly buckled down during a tour of duty in Iraq, cut way back on his drinking and anti-social behavior and last year broke the Lake Placid age group record for the 19-24 age group. Although he plans on turning pro soon, he still works in the meat department up at Price Chopper in Plattsburgh.

I have a friend Wes Wilson. I’m not sure of how and why he chose to become an Ironman. He’s a regular local guy from Vermontville. A long haul truck driver. 5 years ago he tipped the scales north of 300 pounds. Sunday, he finished his second Lake Placid Ironman coming in just before 10 PM. I don’t see any maladaptive schema maintenance attributes in him. My buddy Phil is 60 years old. He’s my main training partner. We’ve run in all types of horrible weather, snow, rain, slush, hail, wind. 15 years ago Phil drank too much, smoked too much and was a real omnivore. In the last 15 years, he slowly stopped drinking and smoking completely and slowly became a vegetarian. He has finished a handful of marathons, a dozen half marathons and this year finished his second Tinman. No one would ever claim Phil has anything close to an A type personality, or that he is a selfish loner who escapes on his bike or on long runs. He’s never told me his ‘come to Jesus moment’ about why he has finished so many punishing tough races. I don’t think he had one. Its just become a progression over the last 15 years. He doesn’t brag about his accomplishments.

I think for many of us, these long triathlons were more about ourselves. It isn’t to show anyone up, or prove anything to anyone else. Its about proving something to ourselves. Its about believing in yourself, and proving it to yourself. For me, came a lot of peace in that I had finished a long strenuous project. No one else did it for me. I don’t have to worry about being as good or better than anyone else. I know what I am capable of. Without the Ironman, I would never have had the courage or belief to write this blog. I believe I can do just about anything if I just try. I think most Ironman finishers think this way also. Not that we feel better than anyone else. If I want to learn to play the guitar, I believe I can. If I think I can video and produce a documentary, I believe I can now. Can I learn to design websites or remodel my house? I believe I can even though I have done none of these things.

The Ironman is a transformative experience for many, if not most or all. I claim that most people come out better people from the event. Just stand at the corner of Mirror Lake Drive and Main Street at 11:30 PM and cheer in the last of the finishers. The looks on their faces or the tears in their eyes will make you believe this race is more than just some masochist’s crazy dream….


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