Yesterday was our tenth Ironman Lanzarote. For half of it’s twenty year life, we’ve broadcast the event on radio, written about it, worked as volunteers, or helped with the organisation.
Our role yesterday was to provide the live coverage which was streamed out on Ironman’s own, huge, website, Ironman.com Thanks to a brilliant team of volunteers, we were able to keep the world up to date with a spectacular race that saw the course record shattered by Timo Bracht, who won the men’s event, and a dominating first Ironman win for Rachel Joyce, who triumphed for the ladies.
But this isn’t a race report. I’ll write that later.
Our day ended with us returning home almost twenty hours after setting off, and inevitably, with so much action over such a long period of time, your memories can only be formed as a series of cameos that play out in front of you.
I’d like to share some of them here.
But first, let’s talk about Ironman Lanzarote. The impact this event has on the island cannot be over estimated. It’s not just our big sporting event, it’s our biggest event of any kind, and it happens every year. With 1500 competitors, countless thousands of spectators, and the involvement of 4,500 volunteers, it’s a massive undertaking for an island as small as ours.
And it’s a mistake to calculate the value in terms of race week alone. As just one example, we interviewed a group of four triathletes from Coventry. All amateurs with full time jobs, they epitomise the sport. They all had their partners, friends and family with them. Most had travelled to and enjoyed the event here before. All had been to the island to train for it, in some cases several times over the last year. Two have even bought properties here.
In every case, this single sporting event has captured their imagination sufficiently that they have become regular visitors to and strong advocates for the island. I can’t begin to sum up the value of that to an island that relies almost entirely on tourism for it’s income. Every business on the island benefits either directly or indirectly from Ironman, and that’s why it deserves our continued and committed support.
That said, let’s move on to a few short cameos. The professional athletes quite rightly inspire awe in ordinary mortals like you and I. To swim 3.8KM, cycle 180Km and then run a full marathon in around nine hours, with our hills and our weather conditions, is bordering on super human.
But it’s always been the group of people known as the “age groupers” who have fascinated me. They are ordinary mortals like you and I, and somehow they find a way combine a hugely time consuming training regime into their working and family lives and to afford the equipment they need to compete at what is the highest level of amateur sport. These are the people I’d like to focus on for this post.
I spotted TC in the area just after the finish line. He had been lying on the ground recovering, but as I walked past, he started to get up. It was obvious he didn’t have the power in his legs to do it, so I heaved him to his feet. He had “that look” in his eyes, so I asked him if he needed medical help. In a typically British understatement, he replied “Yeah, I think I probably do mate,” as he collapsed against me. As I helped him to the medical area, he told me he was here on his stag party, and that he’d entered because it “seemed like a good idea at the time!”
I’ve mentioned the Coventry guys already. We’ve followed some of their training visits through the year, so we made sure to watch them on the live timing, and I was able to greet each at the line. They range in age from 42 to 62. They all earned their medals with finishes, but what touched me most was that each was more interested to know where the others were, and how they were doing, once their own private battle was over. The gap was several hours between them, but they were all around when the last one came home. In what must surely be the most individual sport there is, they are somehow a team.
If you live in Lanzarote, you’ll know who Kenneth is. For those who don’t, he’s the man who brought Ironman to the island, and who has overall responsibility for the event. It’s made him well known and something of a celebrity on the island, as well as in the triathlon community at large. As always he was there on the finish line to meet the athletes, to congratulate them and to hand over their medals. You might expect that he’d spend a few hours doing that and make sure he spent some time with the professionals, getting the right photographs. But not Kenneth. He met the winner, with a smile and a handshake, and eight and a half hours later, he was still there, dishing out a hug to the last person over the line at midnight. In between, he had time and a word for every single athlete who completed the event. He smiled and gave me the Ironman salute when I arrived first thing in the morning, and he was still there, and still smiling, well after midnight. I remember asking about this some years ago, and his reply was simply “It’s all about the athletes. It’s my job.”
I’ve known Peter, or “Dinky” for many years. He retired years ago to “do” an Ironman. He’s since done several. I was surprised to see him at the pre race briefing and I hadn’t realised he was back for another one. At the age of 71, I suspected he’d retired. He told me he was worried, and didn’t feel he’d put in enough training.
Peter was the last person who completed the race before the midnight cut off time. Willed through the final 100 meters by an amazing crowd, his daughter, two grandsons aged 15 & 2 and his partner, Josie, he crossed the line with literally seconds left on the clock, as the crowd counted them down.
He collapsed in a heap and there were plenty of tears. I pushed through the reporters to shake his hand and told him:“You’re getting too old for this, old son.”
“I know” He said. “Never again.”
Andy is a solicitor. I first met him when we had dinner with him and a group of friends who were training over here a few months ago. I spotted him the day before the race, racking his bike. He was really, seriously nervous. The witty, chatty, urbane guy I’d come to know and like, was monosyllabic and seemed to be struggling to come to terms with what he was about to do.
I was concerned enough to make a mental note to watch his tracking. I feared the worst when his sector time at 25Km on the run went badly south. I waited an age for him to complete the final run in, and was hugely relieved to see him arrive.
He was in absolute agony with a back problem and could hardly walk. His first words to me were: “That really, really hurt. But it was my own fault, I didn’t train enough. I won’t make that mistake next time.”
As Kenneth presented him with his medal, he shook his hand and said:
“Kenneth, thank you so much. This is a really magical race.”