The Why To Race

[What follows is my speech at the 2015 Subaru Ironman Mont-Tremblant athlete and volunteer awards banquet, held the Monday afternoon following the race. When Dan posted my first speech, from Ironman Canada 2011, I never expected it to get the reception it did, nor for it to resonate with so many people. In the times I've been lucky enough to give a speech since then, I've tried not to copy that speech - though there are some inevitable similarities given that they are all about doing Ironman - or to even attempt to write something that would be as popular. I try to think about what Ironman means to me, and why it continues to inspire me and so many people around the world. For better and for worse, they recorded the awards ceremony, so I've included - against my better judgement - a short video of me actually delivering the speech, if you prefer it that way. It's maybe worth watching just to see and hear me butcher the French language.]

It is always a special opportunity to speak to after an Ironman, after everything that all of you invested in your journey yesterday - whether you finished or not and whether you raced yourself or were here supporting someone else. But before I speak to all of you, I want to speak briefly to the community of Tremblant. I said before the race that coming to Canada always feels like coming home. My wife is Canadian and our children have dual citizenship, but even more than just the practical identity of my family, Canada has been a home to me during some of the best times in my life. Quebec is a special place, where I have had fond memories and have even more now. While I do not speak French, I wanted to respect the history and culture of the province and of Mont-Tremblant by giving a quick thank you to all of you in your own language. I asked a friend for help with translation and pronunciation, so please forgive my very rough rendition.

Avant la course, j’ai dit que la ville de Mont Tremblant est tellement plus qu’un autre lieu de course. C’est un chez soi, loin de chez soi, pour ceux qui aiment le triathlon.

Vous avez reconstruit vos routes, refait vos autoroutes, construit une piscine et tellement plus. C’est la seule ville que je connais où les indications de courses sont écrites de façon permanente avec de la peinture permanente.

Mont-Tremblant représente le meilleur que Ironman peut offrir. Merci d’avoir fait de votre ville un paradis pour les triathlètes. J’espère que nous pourrons vous remettre autant que vous nous avez donné.

[I said before the race that Mont-Tremblant is so much more than just a race venue. It is truly a home away from home for anyone who loves triathlon. You have rebuilt roads, paved highways, built a new pool, and much more. It is the only town I know where the course is marked with permanent paint and with permanent road signs. Mont-Tremblant represents the very best of what Ironman has to offer. Thank you for transforming your town into a haven for triathletes. I hope that we can give as much back to you as you have given to all of us.]

To the athletes, it is my goal in speaking to you to focus on what it is that brought you here, through the miles of training, and what drove you to get in the water and travel 226km powered solely by your own will. Nietzsche wrote, “he who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” Well, he actually wrote something unpronounceably German, but I’ve been hard enough on foreign languages for one day. I think that it is fair to tweak that a bit for Ironman. He - or she - that has a why to race can bear almost any how.

And there were certainly many hows to be overcome yesterday. How can I see in this fog? How am I going to do two loops of this bike course? How am I going to make it up that hill on the run? How am I going to make it down that hill on the run? How am I going to survive this heat? You certainly needed a strong reason why to keep going.

I ate dinner last night at Au Coin, the restaurant in old town Tremblant right before you turned on or off of the nordic trail. It was inspiring to see all the athletes continuing to head out and return in the darkness. But one moment spoke powerfully to everything amazing that Ironman embodies. You will certainly remember that as you head away from Lac Mercier back towards the mountain, there is an incline. At about 9:30PM, one of the physically challenged athletes came past in his wheelchair on his second lap. With tired arms that had already carried him for 3.8km of swimming, 180km of hand-cycling, and - by that point - over 35km of driving his wheelchair, he slowly made his way up the hill. At times he slowed almost to a stop, but he never did. He pushed steadily up that hill and away into the night and towards the finish. As he came by, everyone stopped their meal to cheer. And I hope that it gave him a boost. But whatever external motivation we might have provided paled in comparison to what that man had deep inside. His why to race carried him. And, I believe that to be true for all of us.

My why is my family. To show them I can be a great athlete and, I hope, a great dad. And to show myself that as well. Your why is what led you to sign up for Ironman in the first place. Your why pushed you through day after day and week after week and month after month of training. Your why put you in the water yesterday. And it drove you forward when the cannon sounded. Your why is what carried you up the Duplessie and La Conception climbs. Twice. When the temperature soared and you wanted to just stop moving - I know I wanted to, it is your why that kept the pedals turning and your feet moving.

Ernest Hemingway wrote, “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” And I think that is at the heart of every Ironman athlete’s why. Ironman requires sacrifice, discipline, hard work, but also reliance on others, humility, and - most of all - passion. Ironman makes us better than we were. You are all better today than you were yesterday - though admittedly a bit more sore. Whether you finished or not, you dared to try. You dared to try something that at times might seem impossible - or at least improbable - for something inside yourself. For your why.

Ironman tells us that, “Anything is Possible.” But you need to have a reason. You need to have a why. Why do this? I hope that all of you not only answered that question for yourself yesterday, but perhaps even found a new why somewhere out there on the course yesterday.

Thank you.