I'll preface this by stating that I may never do an Ironman race. A lot of stars would have to align properly for that to happen -- I'll need the blessing and support of my family, I'll need the motivation for a long training cycle, and I'll need to stay healthy in mind and body. Right now, looking uphill at a 70.3 in June is a daunting enough challenge.
And that 70.3 is a challenge to me. Especially when the goal isn't to "finish." I've done enough endurance events in my time (8 marathons) to know that I could muddle through training, go slow, and I'd still make it to the end. But my goal is to finish with style -- "style" defined by me as being in the top half of my age group (45-49). Maybe a bit ambitious, since after three sprint tris I still haven't managed that feat. But I'm doing all the right things -- training consistently with a coach's guidance, giving myself plenty of time, and taking care of my body (down 15 pounds since a year ago!)
But if you hang around the internet too much, it's easy to feel inadequate. Message boards and web sites are crowded with dedicated endurance athletes discussing their latest IM, their podium places, and detailing their training plans and schemes. It's like a game of one-upsmanship -- you take some pride in your twice weekly 3000 yard swim workouts, only to be brought down by someone discussing their latest 6000 yard workout. You've just had a nice 30 mile bike? That's not as hot as the 60 mile super-fast workouts the other guy is talking about. And that 30 minute run doesn't compare to the brick workout the local Kona-bound athlete has just posted.
Oh, it's unintentional -- no one is trying to make anyone feel bad (mostly). But it's helpful to step back sometimes and remember that the internet isn't the whole world. Like an amplifier, it can take a small signal and make it very loud, so the voices of a few seem like the roar of a crowd. The extraordinary seems so ordinary that you lose perspective on what you're doing, and the personal challenge you've given yourself.
No, I'm not doing an Ironman -- and I may never do one. But a triathlete -- at any level -- is a pretty unusual speciman. And I'm happy that I'm doing the best I can.