Saturday, December 6, 2008

What do you call the last person across the finish line?

In Ironman, what do you call the last person to cross the finish line before midnight? Ironman!

The folks at North America Sports, the organization that produces Ironman branded events throughout the continent, know one important fact: the athletes who push through the pain, exhaustion, and in some cases overwhelming feelings of defeat, still complete the 140.6 miles under their own power, in less than 17 hours. Each one is, by definition, an Ironman.

Everyone else at the race knows it, too. Although the crowd is big, and loud, when the pro winners come through after eight and nine hours (I know this because I started my run as Bella Comeford, came in for yet another first place at Ironman Florida), they get louder and more excited in the waning hours of the race. Many people who finish the race earlier in the evening come back to the finish line to cheer on the people who finish in the literal, physical, and emotional dark as the clock races toward midnight. They know what it takes to get wary bodies through those last few miles and yards, and they give it with gusto.

Eighty-seven people did not finish Ironman Florida. Some pro's abandon the race for various reasons, but most of the the DNFs (did not finish) are age groupers, amatures, who get injured, suffer exhaustion or dehydration, or just don't have the speed on race day to make it to the finish before midnight. I've been out there with those people - I was on the run course with many of them, although at least three hours ahead of them. I can tell you that many of those people, knowing it was physically and mathematically impossible to finish before midnight, kept pushing as long as they could.

An Ironman event is about completing the 140.6 miles in under 17 hours and claiming the title, Ironman. But it's also about not giving up when every part of your body is telling you to roll into the gutter for a nice, ten-hour nap. So although Mike Reilly won't give you a title after midnight, everyone who finishes the course has something amazing inside themselves.

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