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Lynne’s Column for Week of November 15thth : Ironman

Lynne Bermel

I'm about to open Pandora's Box.

The topic in question? The Ironman craze that has developed an almost cult-like following in some circles. Writing on such an emotionally charged issue could be considered walking into a potential minefield. It might even be ill-conceived. But the effect that this Ironman craze is causing is worth serious attention.

Let's face it - an event that starts with a 3.8 kms swim, transitions into a 180 kms bike and finishes with a 42 kms marathon run is no ordinary event. It's tough. It's demanding. It requires an enormous commitment in months of training and tenacity just to get the starting line, let alone finish the event. Those that make that investment must be prepared to give up a lot. And yes, they get a lot back in return, including, an incredible fitness level, an unparalleled sense of accomplishment and an honour they will have with them forever: "I did an Ironman." Those that can claim that should be proud of themselves. It IS something to be proud of.

My point is that doing an Ironman is not the only way to define oneself as an athlete- or as a person for that matter. There are hundreds of other events and challenges out there. Unfortunately, in some circles, the hidden message is if you haven't done an Ironman - or heaven forbid- hadn't thought about doing an Ironman - you really aren't an athlete. What's dangerous about this insular thinking is that it could prevent us from seeing other achievements, or worse, make others feel that what they are doing is any less important.

More dangerous still is that in glorifying such a demanding event we run the risk of pressuring some into doing an Ironman when they really shouldn't.

I refer here to those who have severe medical conditions which could be exacerbated by the extreme training and demands of the race, those that are injury prone whose bodies simply can't take the pounding of the marathon miles or those whose careers or family obligations would be severely damaged by the hours required to complete an Ironman. Dr. Kenneth Cooper, one of the most credible experts on fitness and healthy lifestyle (he literally coined the word "aerobic") has said that for most people, a marathon is too excessive. Fact is, there haven't been any longevity studies done on the cumulative effect of the Ironman on the body. It is such a relatively young event.

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Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating against the Ironman. I think it's a highly commendable goal (and achievement) for those who have the desire, time, resources and physical make-up to get through it. I'm just pointing out that it's not for everyone. And that's fine too.

I'm also trying to say that everything in moderation and moderation in everything. I wish I had incorporated that a little more during the days when I was caught up in the allure of the Ironman. Our gang of Ironman athletes was one of the most obsessed you're likely to find. We really believed the Ironman was the only game in town. We just couldn't understand that there were people out there who thought what we were doing was excessive.

In hindsight, I was just lucky to get away with as many Ironmans as I did (15) and as close together as I did them (one year, 5 in the space of 9 months.) Not smart. Life is not about regrets but if I could go back in time, I would have done a lot fewer Ironmans and have spent a lot more time appreciating the other worlds beyond the Ironman.

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