All of this being said, I must admit that I am not the ideal reviewer for this book. As an amateur, even beginner triathlete, I know enough about the sport to recognize some elements Chrissie left out of her story, but not enough to give an ideal critique of the elements she did share. I will express my displeasure at her neglecting to mention the crucial elements of "form" in her "The Life of a Triathlete" chapter, where she details her weekly schedule, how not to recover from an injury, and other how-to pieces of advice and information that are of particular interest to triathletes. When she describes her races, she often mentions the points at which her form "breaks down" due to fatigue, pain, etc. If she is going to spend any part of the book telling athletes what to do or not do, I think advising them to learn proper form is one essential part that she left out.
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The ironman. Just the name excites me. It is one of the most awe-inspiring events in sport. I fell in love with it the first time I attended one—and that was as a mere spectator, less than five months earlier.
Biggest is not necessarily best, they say, but it is when it comes to endurance sport. I was there because the day before I had competed in, and won, an Olympic-distance triathlon in length, less than a quarter of an ironman. Immediately, I realized that the ironman was the main event. The sense of occasion had risen with the length of the race. There is a special buzz that hangs in the air, like when the best team in the world comes to town. The occasion inspires extraordinary things in people—extraordinary excitement in those watching, extraordinary levels of performance from those competing.
But what raises ironman above other sports is the visceral nature of the contest against a fixed and unyielding foe: the contest against the race itself. You see humanity at its rawest, at its best and its worst.
The ironman brings that out in you. Finishing it is a victory. People vomit at the side of the road, they lose control of their basic functions, they collapse, they become delirious, desperate to reach the finish line, when sometimes that finish line is still miles away.
It evokes such emotion and requires you to dig to the depths, physically and mentally. And then there is the euphoria and relief of making it to the end. Inspirational is the only word to describe it. The first ironman triathlon took place on my first birthday, 18 February It started life as an argument.
Who were fitter, runners or swimmers? The debate raged around one table at an awards ceremony after a running race on Oahu, Hawaii. John Collins, a U. Navy commander, threw cyclists into the mix, having read that Eddy Merckx, the Belgian cyclist, had the highest oxygen uptake of any athlete ever measured.
There and then, it occurred to him that, if they combined the Waikiki Roughwater Swim, the Around Oahu Bike Race and the Honolulu Marathon, they would have the perfect test to settle the argument. The first to finish would be called the Ironman. He leaped onto the stage, grabbed the microphone and proclaimed his idea. They laughed at it. Fifteen competitors started; twelve finished.
The winner was Gordon Haller, a taxi driver, completing the Collins finished in seventeen hours. This inspired hundreds to compete in The U. And in , its legend was sealed. That year, a young student called Julie Moss decided to compete in the Ironman as part of the thesis for her degree in physical education. The longer she held the lead, the more determined she became to win—and the less able to carry on. With each step she was reaching deeper and deeper inside herself.
She collapsed for the first time a few hundred yards from the finish. She managed to get back to her feet and carry on, with the nearest female competitor still a few minutes behind, but her body was shutting down.
The crowd formed a tunnel, urging her on, while volunteers rushed to her aid. She fended them off, knowing that their support would disqualify her. Night had fallen, and the merciless lights of the ABC cameras captured her struggle. She collapsed again only twenty yards from the line. Volunteers tried to lift her to her feet, but she would not be helped.
At that point, Kathleen McCartney, the second-placed female, ran past, oblivious, and trotted to the finish line where she was pronounced champion.
Moss crawled the remaining yards to the line on her bloodied hands and knees, reaching it twenty-nine seconds later, after more than eleven hours of racing. Now ironman races proliferate around the world. The original race has turned into the annual World Championships, contested by 1, athletes, cheered on by thousands of spectators in Hawaii on the weekend of the first full moon in October.
More than 50, hopefuls try to qualify for it each year. The buzz at any ironman, let alone the World Championships, is palpable. Among the athletes it is born of a nervous excitement about what might lie ahead. For the elite the question might be, will I win today? But, even for them and certainly for everyone else, the main question is, will I finish and at what cost?
Even if your body does not break down through sheer fatigue, there is ample scope for an unsuspected injury, be it in the mass brawl that is the swim, the high-speed road race on the bike, or the relentless pounding of the streets as you drag yourself through the marathon.
The effects of any illness are magnified in bodies that are being pushed to their limit. And then there is the perennial threat of mechanical failure on the bike, gastro-intestinal problems, dehydration or overheating. As a result, the rituals of the ironman athlete are meticulous. After the pre-dawn breakfast, it is down to the start with hundreds of other athletes to begin the extensive application of Vaseline. It pays not to stand on ceremony. It may not stop you, but it hurts like hell, mostly round the crotch, the underarms and the nipples.
These areas need copious amounts of lubrication. The less shame you have about it the better for your race. Ideally, you take to the water and warm up about fifteen minutes before the start.
Ironman swims are almost always conducted in open water. The temperature determines whether you are allowed a wetsuit. As the start approaches, you scull in the water, lying on your front, staying afloat, waiting for the gun. At some races, as in the tropical waters off Hawaii, this can be one of the most beautiful, sublime moments of your year—certainly of your day.
Then the gun goes off, and all hell breaks loose. It is, effectively, a fight. Limbs flail and can catch you anywhere on your person. People might swim over the top of you. The water churns up, making it difficult to breathe. If the sea is choppy it is worse still. You are in a washing machine. For the elite, this will go on for around an hour. For anyone who wants to continue beyond the swim, it must not go on for more than two hours and twenty minutes.
Here is another cruelty to contend with—the cut-off times. If you do not complete the 2. The same applies to the other two disciplines. If you are still cycling ten and a half hours after the start, you must stop.
The resultant scenes are heart-rending. You might think that people would feel relieved to be spared further punishment on a course that is so clearly beating them, but no, that is not the ironman way.
They are distraught, inconsolable that they will not be allowed to finish what they had started, not just a few hours earlier when they began the race but years earlier when they began to dream. Everybody has their own reason for taking on an ironman; nobody enters into it with anything less than all their heart. The sun rises ever higher during this stage. In hot countries, this is when the race becomes truly punishing. But rain brings its own problems too, and wind, particularly when combined with either of the above, can play havoc.
A tailwind is all right, but riding into a headwind is much the same as riding up a hill. Crosswinds are even worse. If they are strong enough they are quite unnerving, making the bike difficult to control and sometimes blowing you off the road.
It is on the bike that you may first develop a need for the toilet. Again, it pays not to be squeamish. There is the occasional Portaloo on the course, but the most time-efficient solution, I find, is to go in my pants. But on the bike, unless a flat tire causes a natural break, going in the saddle is the best way. This is when the earlier application of Vaseline really comes into its own.
We call it drafting. To get too close to the bike in front is not only dangerous but cheating. There are a series of official penalties for anyone caught doing it, but people still do. If anyone does it to me, I let off a warning shot, and they usually back off.
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Chrissie Wellington is probably the best female triathlete ever born. She has won every single ironman she ever started including 4 World Championships in Hawaii and improved the previous Ironman world record by more than half an hour. Before starting her career as a triathlete in her late s! Here are my notes:. Related Leave a Reply Cancel reply Enter your comment here Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:.
A Life Without Limits
The ironman. Just the name excites me. It is one of the most awe-inspiring events in sport. I fell in love with it the first time I attended one—and that was as a mere spectator, less than five months earlier. Biggest is not necessarily best, they say, but it is when it comes to endurance sport.
A Life Without Limits: A World Champion's Journey
For an accident-prone "normal girl from Norfolk" who didn't run a serious race until she was 25, Chrissie Wellington has done pretty well for herself. A multiple world champion and record-holder, she remained unbeaten in 13 straight races at her chosen event, the Ironman triathlon, before her retirement in December. And what a fiendish event it is — a 2. Wellington's account of how she graduated from entering her first marathon on a whim in to the Ironman — surely Ironwoman would be more apt — title five years later is inspirational in the truest sense, because she feels strongly that sport can make ordinary people do extraordinary things. Despite receiving an MBE in , Wellington has yet to receive all the recognition she undoubtedly merits. On the evidence here, she deserves to be at least as famous as her ducal namesake.
Book Review: A Life Without Limits by Chrissie Wellington. Autobiography