Immediately after, I walk a few yards to the inbound side of the run course, where Scott Poteet starts to run by, less than three miles from the finish line and ultimately a qualification to Kona. There’s a baby smile and a high five, and nothing more.
A little earlier in the afternoon, I saw and spoke briefly to another friend and competitor, James Lawrence while he was about 19 miles from the finish. James was having a tougher go of it on this day, but at least he managed a few good words along with the smile and hand slap.
By the end of the evening, Mace had finished his first iron-distance triathlon in his life. James finished his 29th iron-distance race THIS YEAR. While it may have taken one person more time to cover the course, the experience of the journey from end to end was strikingly similar.
There is triathlon, and there is “Ironman”. They are really two different things, you could easily be confused in thinking they are alike because they both have swimming, cycling and running in common. While only a few can master the iron distance over and over, time after time, it is such a long physical challenge that it necessarily strips away everything but your soul. And for many, that is the attraction of Ironman. We have created this athletic test that appears to require human physicality that approaches infinity...and thus creates the opportunity to discover that one's physical limits are beyond that near-infinity.
But to discover who we are and where the edge of our envelopes are, we need to have peeled back the layers of our skin and look at what is inside with open eyes. What you see may look pretty or shockingly ugly, to you and to others, but the iron distance compels you to shed down to (figuratively) bare nakedness.
And that's all that the iron distance does. You may think that crossing the finish line and having the title of "You are an Ironman" changes your life, as if it is some automatic, magical catharsis. That's totally wrong.
It does not CHANGE you. It REVEALS you!
I can tell you the truth today that Mace was the same person on the morning after his finish than he was before he touched the water the previous day. James is still the same genuine person that I met four years and over 5,500 racing miles ago. But both have learned more about themselves and have transformed as men from within.
James had only done a handful of triathlons when we first met (as relay teammates!) in 2008. He had a family association with In Our Own Quiet Way (www.quietway.org), a Utah-based charity that aims to build dams in Africa to retain drinking water. James sought to draw public attention to the charity by racing triathlons…and lots of them. In 2010 he completed 22 half-iron distance races with support from family, friends and donors for his travel and registration expenses, while encouraging other athletes and supporters to support and contribute to Quiet Way.
That endeavor continues to the present, where James is expected this weekend to complete his 30th and final iron-distance race this calendar year. While he is certain to gain personal notoriety (both the half and full iron-distance streaks are Guinness World Records) and perhaps future commercial gain, his primary focus has always been on the charity.
As for Coach Mace, well, he continues to live by his priorities of Faith, Family, and Fitness and learned enough about himself to start MP Multisport helping others experience the triathlon lifestyle him and his family continues to enjoy.
Make no mistake, completing a triathlon of any length is an accomplishment worthy of recognition, but we are not defined by our listings on the results sheet. It is what we learn about ourselves on the course that we can use to help us be better people and better athletes and help