Monday, October 23, 2017

Ironman finishers are the 'best' triathletes?

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Reading some triathlon magazines, a sprint or standard distance triathlete might be forgiven for thinking they are part of some sort of triathlon 'under-class'.  Every month, I seem to find some article which suggests that "anyone can do a triathlon" and that the only real test of physical and mental strength is to go the full hog and finish an Ironman.

Now, I am full of respect of for anyone who completes an Ironman race, whether they do it in nine hours or 16:59.  But I have to admit I take issue with the viewpoint that triathletes that concentrate on shorter distances are somehow 'inferior' to Ironman finishers in the grand pecking order of life.  Although completing an Ironman (and being as competitive as I can be) is definitely on my to-do list before I reach the end of my triathlon journey, right now I see a far greater challenge in becoming a true 'competor' at shorter distance triathlons than becoming an Ironman 'completor'.

I guess everyone is different, but my personal driver in triathlon is to be the best competitor I can in terms of race position and time, as opposed to proving to myself how far (in sheer distance terms) I can push my body.

Does that mean I'm inferior to an Ironman finisher?  Well, yes and no. Someone who can complete an Ironman in under 10 hours is undoubtedly a fantastic athlete, but to my mind they're no more special than someone who can finish a standard distance triathlon in under two hours.  Either athlete is simply better than I am right now.

Turn the question on its head.  Am I inferior to a Ironman athlete with a similar 18 months training?  I'm adamant the answer is no. Given my circumstances of a full-time working single parent, I train just about as hard as I can, an average of 14-15 hours a week. Most people I know (and respect) who are training for an Ironman train less than that.

And so it was that I came to ask the question of the great Twitterati - are Ironman finishers the best triathletes?  In all honesty, the answered surprised me.  The sample wasn't huge, but I know that a good number of folks who answered have Ironman backgrounds, and so I expected my Twitter poll to reflect the sentiments that seem to dominate many of the triathlon media outlets.

PollBut they didn't: 75 percent of respondents stated that you can be an outstanding athlete at any distance.  Only 25 percent decreed that Ironman finishers are a different breed.

So maybe the triathlon media need to sit up and take notice?  Stop putting such an emphasis on Ironman as the 'ultimate' expression of triathlon and realise that most amateur triathletes are more concerned about being the best they can be at their chosen distance, rather than just going for sheer distance.

If someone wants to be a competitive triathlete, but due to other commitments only has eight hours a week to train, it doesn't make sense for them to choose an Ironman race.  But does that make their achievements any less significant.  In my book, no.

That's what I think.  What about you?

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Matt Fisher runs TriathletesDiary.com - so it's all his fault! He pretends to be a triathlete, but really he is a husband, father and company VP. But he has raced for the GB Age Group squad a few times and is a 2014 qualifier for the IM70.3 world champs

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