When I started dating my now husband he already had kids. Every so often I ended up chilling with his son who was 4 or 5 years old just the two of us while his sister took a cello lesson. We frequently played Chinese Checkers. Chinese Checkers is a game with colored marbles and the first one to move all of their pieces to the other side of the board wins. My step-son didn’t really understand the rules and he just hopped around and then declared that he won.
At first, I thought I should teach him “the rules.” Turns out that he wasn’t really old enough to understand. Forcing that issue made it a horrible unhappy morning for both of us. Instead, I just settled into a pattern of letting it go and having a nice day. Eventually, he decided he wanted to know the real rules and we did play it correctly. But for months he invented his own rules and of course, he always declared himself the winner.
I was thinking about this regarding Ashley Horner the fitness influencer who has announced that she is doing 50 Ironman-distance triathlons in 50 days.
At least that’s how ESPN reported it.
If you have been in the Ironman “infosphere” very long you won’t be surprised to hear that this was met with much scrutiny and even displeasure.
Some people jumped on this to attack it before it even started. Some are declaring it over on day one because she didn’t do her first “Ironman” correctly. I put the word “Ironman” in quotation marks because anybody who knows what an Ironman Triathlon is would say that what Ashley Horner is not actually – that.
Semantics – what’s in a name?
Ironman is the name of a brand of races owned today by a company called World Triathlon Corporation … and above that I think Wanda Corp. In those events a participant (who pays to participate) swims 2.4 miles (in open water – there is no pool swim in an Ironman Triathlon produced by WTC), ride 112 miles (most of the time) and then run 26.2 miles on a course prepared and measured by a race director. All in one day, all under your own power. At the end you get a time, a hat and a t-shirt that you can treasure forever.
Then there are races called Iron-distance. and Ultra-triathlons that go far beyond the 140.6 distance. They are produced by a bunch of different race directors. Still those events are produced and supervised by an outside person who sets up the rules and then participants take part.
There are several sanctioned ultra triathlon events that I know about where a race director sets a measured course and you pay them and you go out and you do it. Some are done as daily 140.6 distances. Some are done all in one place like the deca. Some involve travel like the Epic5. Others are done where you do the whole mega swim, the mega bike and then the run. The most famous of those that I know of are the Ultraman series and the Anvil series.
Ashley Horner is doing something else entirely.
Self-supported, self-invented, slightly ridiculous record attempts
When you make up your own rules, your own contest, your own standards, I guess you can never lose.
Like backyard tag you can change it as you go.
Ashley Horner is not the first person to attempt something like this.
The first I ever heard of was Dean Karnazes who ran 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days. I remember being confused because I had never heard of a race happening on a weekday so how could he run a marathon during the week. He was running 26.2 miles on his own when there was no race available. I thought that would be impossible but he did it. There’s a book and everything. I wasn’t really following his journey. I’m not sure if there was controversy from the peanut gallery.
Years later James Lawrence said he would do a similar stunt (50-in-50) with Iron distance triathlons. Much more complicated because they take a lot longer than a marathon. James Lawrence calls himself the Iron Cowboy. I remember being very skeptical that this was humanly possible and I followed him daily. Around day 8 I got sort of frustrated with the whole thing because it seemed he was changing the rules as he went. It was crazy – there was a hurricane that changed his schedule. He fell asleep while riding the bike. Seriously – pure Insanity. He wrote a book that says he completed them. Like I said when you make up your own rules nobody can ever say you didn’t do it correctly. What he did was crazy and amazing – mad props to him. I will say that.
There are other people who have done or attempted things like this. There’s John Mergler and Debi Hazelden in Sydney Australia who did what they call the Iron Century. The man was attempting full distance daily and the woman half-distance daily for 100 days. I’m not totally sure if they completed it. It never got any kid of media like this that I saw.
There is a guy I know in Miami who says he’s doing what he calls the World’s Longest Triathlon. I actually know this person – more accurately, I know his brother. I have mad respect for the challenge he’s undertaken. During this challenge he was almost hit by a car and his bike was hit by lightening. Not a typo. It just isn’t the same as a traditional triathlon – because he invented it. He started with the bike. He went out and biked everyday. Some days he biked more than others. He records it all and he’s tallying it up to call it the world’s longest triathlon. At the end of every day he goes home and goes to bed and starts again the next day. Which makes it very different from any race I’ve ever done. Every day he posts online that he’s now setting new world records. After the bike he ran. He’s now swimming. I’ll update this when it’s done when he posts the data. Here is a link to an article about his story.
Luke Tyberski created his own event – he called that the Ultimate Triathlon. He made a little movie about it and it looks like it was insanely hard. Mad props to him for what he did.
Part of the challenge of race day is following the rules
A few years ago a person I know was signed up to do his first Iron distance race. Hits in Naples. It’s in January and as it turned out the weather on race day was pretty crappy. So he didn’t do it. Instead the next week he just did a self-supported “Ironman.” I don’t think he felt complete after this although I never asked him. He did go on to do Ironman Florida later that year. He’s a talented guy – the distances were never in question for what he could do.
Another friend of mine participated in the Ironman Maryland with the wacky weather. No swim – flooded run. It was his first Iron distance event. He felt very unfulfilled and came home and did his own solo 1-day event. Mother nature served up a truly crappy weather day of wind and rain for him and having witnessed it in person – it was epic. Together I think those did satisfy his itch to say he could do it.
Still, part of the challenge of any race or game is to do the race following the rules set by somebody else. You start when they tell you, go where they tell you and you are finished when you cross their finish line. You have to deal with the other competitors. When you set your own rules – it’s not quite the same. Could be easier, could be harder. It’s up to you.
Sorry – not sorry – don’t really care
I can’t even get worked up enough to care very much about the specific nomenclature and records.
I consider these stunts to just be entertainment. Like watching Michael Phelps race a great white shark. Now, that’s 30-minutes of my life I’ll never get back. They are a little silly. There’s no way to certify it. The person who is racing is making all the rules and can change them on the fly.
Every once in a while they are wildly inspiring. It’s crazy and insane and a sometimes a little bit awesome.
I wish Ashley Horner a ton of luck. Even with making your own rules the odds of completing this physical challenge are slim.
I wish her the best. If she actually stays on track (or sort of) then I might try to see her at her second-to-last event in Jacksonville Florida. Why not?
I don’t pretend to understand her intentions. She’s apparently connected with an orphanage in Haiti which is a great cause. If she makes them some money – it’s great.
Don’t be a hater – you’re not wrong – it’s just not worth the energy
It appears that some people are … let’s say annoyed… that Ashley Horner is doing this “wrong.” She didn’t measure the pool, she may have ridden the wrong bike, she’s taking too long of a break. Her data is questionable. Her record attempt is over before it started. She’s not respecting the distance.
You are probably right.
Why do you care? How can she be doing it wrong – when she’s making up her own rules?
Then again – I took the time to write this whole thing out.
Maybe I’m the fool.
Could be. Who am I to judge?