Recently a well-respected local running coach and race director (and general all-round good dude who is a fixture on the local running scene) posted his race report from Ironman Langkawi. And it was a shocker.
He claimed he hadn't trained for the swim or bike since the Port Dickson Tri in August - a standard-distance tri - and had basically signed up because some friends were doing it, but he expected to DNF.
What was he doing? Noodling around for six months? I don't doubt that as a seasoned ultrarunner, he has a base level of fitness that allowed him to complete the thing. (Actually, if you REALLY want to be a good friend to your triathlete mates, be an IronSherpa and cheer squad!) But my bigger concern is that so many people liked the Facebook post and called it "inspirational".
I know that in some cultures and many athletic and academic pursuits, there is a fine tradition of casual sandbagging. Oh, I could barely swim when I signed up for this tri, but somehow I finished it. Oh, we're just going to be riding at a rolling average of less than 30 km/h, you should join us. Oh, I didn't study at all for this test, but I managed to get an A. Oh, this climb is only 5.9, why don't you try it? And I know that the people coolly saying all these self-deprecating things are frequently regarded by many idiots as amazing, inspirational heroes.
Yeah. Don't give me that shit.
And for crying out loud don't lap it all up, you're only stroking their egos. (In his defense he did post later: "Thanks everyone... but in no way this method of severe lack of training should be followed before going for such a challenge. Complacency is highly dangerous. Better to understand our body's signs & responses rather than follow what others do.")
If you've signed up for an Ironman, common sense says you jolly well ought to train for it. I would (and do) have more respect for the people who show up to training week after week, who smash themselves at the right time but know when to back off when they need it, whose training logs sometimes say "I had the perfect long ride today" and sometimes "I really struggled with that run and my self-confidence is faltering and this has been the lowest point of my training so far". I have more respect for the people who struggled with or stuck to their training plans, than someone who brags about being undertrained. So I have absolutely no clue what sort of mentality would lead people to say something like this is inspirational!
(I also realise that yeah, there is a running subculture of people who sign up for multiple, frequent long-distance races without any regard for time goals, mainly as a way of sightseeing and having fun with friends. I get that. Those folks are clear about what they want to achieve and generally go about it quite safely. And they're not pretending to be heroes for achieving all this, nor do most people regard them as more than, um, slightly eccentric.)
But I know a number of people who trained very hard for IM Langkawi and for their other iron-distance races this year. Calling an undertrained sandbagger 'inspirational' does a great disservice to the people who actually work their tails off to get to the start line. (Here is one, she is actually an inspiration when you read what she's been through.)
The toughest journey isn't the race itself. It's to the start line. People need to recognise that and stop worshipping faux heroes. Or else just shut up and run.