Yep. I cry at the finish line.

October 19, 2012 · 5 comments

Have you ever cried at a finish line? From my own Chicago Urbanathlon to spectating the Boston Marathon, I’m not one to be shy of tearing up. In Hawaii, the emotions were brought to an entirely new level. All week, as social ambassadors for Timex, we interviewed the different amateur and professional athletes competing.

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Many were racing for time. However, the majority of Ironman triathletes are competing to finish. To enter the race, you must be a pro and qualify with enough points, or you can qualify at an Ironman in the top of your age group. Each age group has a different amount of spots available for Kona depending on the number of race entrants. You can’t just sign up. You must be invited. The entry fee is also $700, plus the cost of your flight and accommodations. Some people pass up the opportunity which must be accepted within hours of finishing the qualifying races, others look at is as the ultimate personal challenge, the Superbowl of endurance racing.

DSC00161It takes some people a long time to get there. Perhaps if you are slow, your best bet is to race well into retirement. The largest age group to compete this year was the mens 45-49 years old. For women, it was the 40-44 years old!

Here are the statistics regarding the older registered athletes:

  • Over 50 years old: 520 Athletes
  • Over 60 years old: 191 Athletes
  • Over 70 years old: 48 Athletes
  • Over 75 years old: 19 Athletes
  • Over 80 years old: 8 Athletes
You are allowed 17 hours to finish the race. If you are on mile 25 of the marathon, you will be pulled off the course and lack an official time. However, this midnight deadline creates one of the best finish lines in all of sports. Not only does the crowd stay until the end, but the professional winners come out and hand out leis to the finishers. The crowd gets bigger as the night goes on and the party never stops. It helped that there was an amazing DJ as well.
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We had VIP access with our press passes making it easy to get good shots and soak up the energy.

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After you cross, you are given a lei and escorted to the medical tent. After a 2.4 mile swim, 112 bike ride and 26.2 mile run, your body needs all the help it can get to repair and recover! We were standing on our feet for 3 hours waiting for the last group to cross. The energy was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced at any sporting event. The voice of Ironman, Mike Reilly, had the energy of a 12-year-old boy high on red bull. I have no idea how he did it. Dancing and jumping non stop, he kept a large crowd rowdy until the very end.

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I took so much video footage of the athletes crossing the finish line, I’m a bit overwhelmed with how I should edit and post the footage. ¬†After the last woman crossed at literally 11:59 and some seconds, I was in tears as she braced her husband. Did I mention she was 77 years old? The look of accomplishment and “Holy Sh*t, did I just finish Kona?” on the faces of each competitor was emotional.

There was a ritual closing ceremony with native Hawaiian dancing with flames! I’m pretty sure most races do not do this.

So what makes the Ironman so desirable? It sounds like torture! Right!?

For starters, it’s probably the most challenging race you can put your body through. What’s even more amazing is the number of regular people who train with full time jobs and families. I spoke with a few of the Timex amateurs and many began competing as a hobby or means to stay fit. Many tried their first on a dare after successful Olympic distance triathlons or marathons.

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Chris Thomas, a collegiate hockey player, worked in NYC for 5 years (Wall Street for 2), ran his first sprint triathlon in 2000. He became addicted and continued to push his limits. He would fit his training into his schedule by making his commute from Fairfield, CT into NYC his workout. Waking up at 4:00 AM, he would not return home until after 7:30pm. Did I mention he has a wife and 3 boys? After numerous wins and being ranked one of the top North East triathletes, in 2007, he left his day job trading and is now a sponsored Timex amateur, triathlon coach and personal trainer.

He says the sport is addicting. Chris finished the Kona Ironman in 9:25:20 this year.

The addiction consists of cross training, one of the healthiest things you could probably be addicted to. One day you’re pushing hard against the pavement, the next your joints get a break in the pool. This is why these elder folk are able to compete. Also, if you are not great at one of the sports, you can make up for it in the others. I’m pretty decent at swimming and running so with some coaching, I feel like I wouldn’t be that bad of a triathlete!

Lastly, unlike many races, you do not know who is going to win the race until it’s over! You can predict the top 5-10 athletes to finish, but there are so many variables that go into the Ironman race, during 9 hours, a lot can happen!

If you need motivation to sign up for a triathlon, look to see if there is an Ironman near you. It’s inspiring and unforgettable.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Maria October 19, 2012 at 8:31 pm

Love this post! I’ve been competing in tris for the past 3 years, but I have only been doing the sprint distances. This year I met my goal of placing top 3 in my age group! I placed 2nd in my age group and 5th overall out of women. That really motivated me to step up and compete in an Olympic distance (hopefully) followed by a Half-Ironman in 2013… I’m really nervous, excited, anxious about everything considering how training has been pretty rigorous this year already, but I am looking forward to it. There is a great community of triathletes in San Diego and I feel fortunate to have a competitive swimming background as the swim seems to be the most intimidating of all 3 legs. My tri training coincides with marathon training, I am pushing to qualify for Boston at the CIMs this year… I am worried about being burned out after everything this year so we’ll see if I continue to stay motivated! I would LOVE to go to KONA to witness a full IronMan :)

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2 Jess October 20, 2012 at 10:19 am

I can’t believe there are people in their 80s doing it!! Wow! Puts me to shame. What an incredible event!!! :)

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3 Alex October 20, 2012 at 2:26 pm

Wow, awesome post, Sarah! I teared up just reading the part about the last woman finishing! People accomplishing their goals always give me the chills. It doesn’t get anymore inspirational than that! You’re so lucky to have gotten to experience such an incredible event in person.

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4 Sara October 23, 2012 at 2:56 pm

Sarah, this post is awesome! I really love your blog and think you are truly inspiring. I even joined TIU b/c of you! :)

This is really random, but where is your teal shirt from in the picture above? I LOVE it!!! It really flatters you, and is super adorable.

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5 Sarah October 24, 2012 at 2:27 am

Thanks. The top is from DA Active!

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