The Great Ironman Debate

Posted on November 15, 2015. Filed under: ironman |

Dip me in paraffin and prepare the torches for I am about to commit heresy.  Oh yes, I am going to go there.  I am going to take the debate by the balls and swing it around the internet.

Will I grapple with religion?  Hell no, nothing so trivial.  The future of the monarchy?  Get back in your box with these lacklustre topics!  No. The BIG QUESTION – can you call yourself an Ironman if you haven’t done an Ironman branded event.

Yup, I’m diving into that thorny box of cockwomblery.

Screenshot_2015-11-13-20-31-47Why now? Well, regular as clockwork the debate kicked off on social media last week.  Melanie asked the question.  Don’t blame her, someone always has to.

Thankfully, 79% of people were lucid and sober.  However, 21% turned out to be muppets.  Or should I say, not to offend their sensibilities, they turned out to be generic, unbranded puppets with a hand up their arse.  Seriously, get a grip.

Firstly, indulge me in a history lesson.

As happens with most things the Ironman story started with a bunch of blokes getting pissed up and willy waving.  “Who was fitter”, they debated, “swimmers, cyclists or runners?”.  Being the early days of triathlon they decided to settle it with a race.  And what a race.  As the rules read, “Swim 2.4 miles! Bike 112 miles! Run 26.2 miles! Brag for the rest of your life”.

As the 15 pioneers were ready to set off it was decided, “Whoever finishes first, we’ll call him the Iron Man.” And so it was on February 18th, 1978 on O’ahu, Hawaii that the first Ironman started.  A different beast from the one we know now – no swimskins or carbon bikes or helmets that make you look like a knob.  The competitors wore denim shorts and tennis shoes and when the water ran out they drank beer.

When Gordon Haller won that first event he won a trophy – the shape of shoulders and a head fashioned out of metal junk.  It is now known as the MDot – Ironman branding and the ubiquitous tattoo.

Before long Ironman became big. And then it became commercial. And then they started viciously protecting their brand.  And somewhere along the way we became seduced by a brand instead of the spirit that took those willy waving loons to the beach in Waikiki in 1978.

Let me make something very clear before we proceed.  For me, there is a chasm of difference between business and individuals.  Any race promoter that calls their race an Ironman without licensing the name is a thief and should suffer all the pain inflicted by World Triathlon Corporation’s Harvard educated lawyers.  Brand protection in business is important.  However, and this is a big however, some things are bigger than business and the sterile machinations of corporations has nothing, not a single thing, to do with the endeavours of humans.

As Henry Ford said, “A business that makes nothing but money is a poor business.” And the Ironman brand makes a lot of money.  The premium from the brand means that an event is about a third more expensive than a non Ironman race, thats profit.  But the spirit of Ironman is bigger than profit.  It is a brand that is built on the sweat, grinding sinew, chafing, vomit, sharts and the mental battles of those that have come before.

In my opinion anyone who has started an event and completed a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile cycle and a 26.2 mile run within the cut off can call themselves an Ironman.  Hell, if they can do that they can call themselves whatever they want.  Anyone fancy telling a Celtman or a Norseman that they aren’t an Ironman?  Good luck with that.

IMG_20151004_155139Sometimes the ownership of the brand is just irrelevant.  Take for example a situation that a twitter friend (who I won’t name in case they are still being pursued by the plastic lav Feds) found themselves in recently: a demand to remove the word Portaloo from her running blog because “Only genuine Portakabin(TM) facilities may be referred to as a Portaloo. It is not a generic term.”  This is obviously a big deal for plastic thunderbox manufacturers but not so much for their customers.  When I have to go into a festering plastic hole and avoid the excrement stained walls 130 miles into an Ironman I care not whether it is a Portaloo, a Heilan loo or a generic unbranded plastic hell hole of a shitter.

You get my point? To me, as a man on the run course, it’s just functional.  Likewise anyone who does 140.6 miles in under 17 hours is just following on the trail of the Ironman pioneers.

Ironman themselves say that “anything is possible”.  Except calling yourself an Ironman if you haven’t done an Ironman owned race, obvs.  Dickery.

Did those that raced Weymouth or Vichy last year suddenly get “upgraded” to Ironman this year when WTC bought the races?  Or did those that raced Ironman Canada get “downgraded” when it became Challenge Penticton?  Of course not.  140.6 miles is 140.6 miles regardless of whose name is above the finish chute.

Trademark law is one thing but bragging rights earned through sweat and guts is another.

I did Ironman Regensburg as my first Ironman; it is now Challenge Regensburg.  Same course, same distance, same challenge.  That day in August I puked and bled and cramped and visited the generic plastic khazis way more often than is either healthy or desirable.  And I endured.  And the people that endure this year have earned the right, in the spirit of the original athletes, to call themselves whatever they want.

I hate to see it when people diminish their efforts by saying “I’m not a real Ironman”.  Bollocks to that.  Drop the capital “I” if it feels better but if you have finished an iron distance race you are an ironman or an Ironman whether you have paid the brand tax or not.  Suck it up and wear the label with pride.

And the tattoo? Should you get an MDot if you haven’t done a “real” Ironman?  Do whatever you want. If the toe nail loss and permanent sun scarring aren’t enough of a reminder then get whatever the hell you want inked on you. You need no one’s permission – it’s a deal done between you and the distance.

There I said it.  Flame me bitchez.


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3 Responses to “The Great Ironman Debate”

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Your writing is hilarious! I’m always happy to see you’ve written another post. I wholly concur too 🙂

Liked by 1 person

Thanks Lee. I’m just an opinionated gobshite with a keyboard 😉

Liked by 1 person

I concur. Oh, hang on….


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