What’s the Difference Between a 5k Finisher and an Ironman Triathlete?

Monday, 28 July 2014  |  Bullish Insights


Whats the Difference between a 5k Finisher and an Ironman Triathlete?

My answer: Everything…and Nothing.

The runner who works his ass off to train for his first 5k is a champ. For the first time in his life, he laces up after rousing from sleep, he heads for a run instead of smoking a cigarette. He can now run for 30 mins straight. Just a month ago, he could barely run for 5 minutes without feeling like his heart would pop out of his chest. Only last Sunday, he finished his first 5k race! As he crossed the finish line, he raised his arms in victory and his children came to hug him exclaiming: You’re our winner, Daddy!

The Ironman triathlete trains 6x a day. Twice a week he works out twice a day. He has a 9 to 5 job and a family, but he wakes up in the wee hours of the morning to swim, bike, or run so he can enjoy breakfast with the family before everyone leaves for school and work. If you ask him to do a half Ironman next week, he can do so with ease. Just last week, he finished 1st in the age group category of an Olympic Distance. His kids came up to him at the podium and cheered: You’re our winner, Daddy!

There’s a world of difference between these two people. The number of hours they put in for workouts, the total kilometers they travel on their training journey, the amount of money they’ve spent on their gear, and the experience and skills gained from past runs or races.

However, these two people are the same. They’ve both worked equally hard to achieve their respective goals. One goal isn’t necessarily bigger or better than the other; these goals are the same from the eyes of the person who sets it.  They both want it badly, they both believe it is challenging and unnerving, and they will stop at nothing to conquer it. They have the same fire, the same drive, the same heart.

I write this post because, as an athlete who races for fun (sure I can get competitive but I never take myself too seriously), I’m slightly concerned about the direction in which running and triathlon are headed.  In this day and age where more athletes are conquering Ultramarathons and Ironman distances, where Instagram and Facebook posts make Ironman finishers look like rockstars, where more pain, more kilometres, more suffering and more of anything and everything makes you a hardcore athlete, I sometimes wonder if this is a good thing.  Is running and triathlon just a numbers game where the best athletes are those that put in the most hours, hit the highest mileage, and go further than the rest?  (Give him even more praise if he did it under searing heat and with blisters!)  Why do we always feel the need to go longer and faster?  Are we doing it for ourselves or to proudly announce our achievement on social media?  Why do we not give the same recognition to the guy who has been running 10k every other day for the past 20 years?  Is he less of an athlete than an Ironman finisher?

I’m so tired of hearing runners who think that the only way to progress is to dive into triathlon.  Absolutely not.  You can be an exceptional runner by running 10k for the rest of your life.  Triathlon is a great sport and has an awesome community, but so does running.  Get into triathlon only if you want to swim and bike.  If not, then stick to what your passionate about.  I’m also uncomfortable with runners who say “I’m just running a 21k.”  Never use “just” for a half marathon; running for 2 hours is a feat that you should be proud of.  In fact, getting out of bed to lace up every morning is an achievement!

My point is this:  Whether we finish our first 5k or our 15th Ironman, at the end of the day, we are all people who want to become better than our past selves.  Look past the numbers and see that we are all one and the same.