Solving The Ironman Puzzle

Solving The Ironman Puzzle


By C26 Lead Coach–Robbie Bruce

“What you are training for?”

“What Ironman will you do next year?”

“Have you started training yet?”

“What is your A race for next year?”

If those are the questions you’re asking,  maybe it’s time to re-think “how and why” you participate in triathlon.

I openly admit I haven’t always thought about triathlon this way.  I have “used” the sport over the last 12 years of my life for a variety of reasons.  Some for good and some for bad.  However, over the last three years, my views on most everything has changed.

I have grown to believe that triathlon should compliment your life, not consume it. It should help you grow as a person, not define who you are. This is something that I cover with any new athlete I take on as well.  Growth as a person and growth within the sport are the most important “goals.”

One of the great things about Ironman expanding so rapidly and taking a monopoly over long distance triathlon is that races stay open longer.  Gone are the days where you HAD to camp out at your computer and register immediately in hopes of getting a coveted slot to your chosen Ironman.

As of this writing, every single North American Ironman race for 2017 is……….Open.  I think it’s amazing and will hopefully change the criteria for how many athletes choose a race.  The When, The Where, and The Why. It allows athletes to choose an event and a destination based on their desired journey.

Forget the days of being pressured into signing up because all of your buddies did, because everyone else is doing an Ironman and so should you, because if you don’t then what the hell will you be able to talk about for the next year.  Now you can choose races based on how you want to grow and what it will mean to you

Over the weekend my wife hung up our racing “medal board.”  It has over 50 medals from the last 10 years.  It’s not on the wall of our home to show off accomplishments, but as tokens of a journey.

Every time I look at a medal it reminds me of a time in my life.  A journey.  A reason.  A piece to my puzzle.

I thought, how appropriate would it be if these were all shaped as a puzzle piece?  I could lay them all out on the ground and connect them in a way that represented what they meant to me at that point in my life.  They all fit together and have their place.  It shapes who you are.

To be perfectly honest, some are flat-out painful to look at. They remind me of a time in my life I would love to forget.  Others, while the time and place where insignificant, I was able to remember where I was mentally, emotionally and spiritually before the race and it makes me proud of the journey.

My medal from Ironman Wisconsin is probably the best example.

The memory I took from Wisconsin actually had nothing to do with the race itself.  It was a memory from the night before. I sat back in the corner of our hotel restaurant rocking my 7-week-old son Hayden.  About 20 feet away stood my beautiful wife and mother, best friends and other family and friends.  They ate, laughed, and enjoyed each others company.

For many different reasons it stood out as a reminder of how far I had come in my life and a grateful appreciation for all those who have stood beside me along that journey.  It represented resiliency, love and hope. It is a medal I am incredibly proud of.

If you are still planning your 2017 schedule or just have no idea what to do, then take some time to reflect. Take this time to do some inventory and contemplate the journey you want to go on. You just might find that 2017 might not be the year you decide to see how fast you can go, but instead . . .how much you want to grow.

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Robbie Bruce has coached over 50 athletes to their first Ironman finish.  He has worked with a wide range of abilities including beginner level and first time triathletes to Ironman 70.3 and Kona qualifiers, seasoned veterans and Junior USAT All- Americans.  His underlying focus with all athletes is blending a positive life change with a once in a lifetime performance extending beyond the finish line. 

IRONMAN Is Acting Like Donald Trump

IRONMAN Is Acting Like Donald Trump

I’m not taking political sides, just pointing out how easy it would be to do and say something that would make it easier for people to support your brand.  And while it should go without saying, I fully understand there are more important things in North Carolina than a bunch of triathletes finishing a full Ironman.  People’s lives have been devastated by floods and talking about a race seems frivolous.  But this blog is about triathlon, and training for my first Ironman was a life-changing experience for me.  I didn’t lose my home, but I did temporary lose my sanity, some bad habits, and eventually my job.  Ultimately, Ironman racing is about controlling ego and hopefully becoming a better person along the way.  Maybe all of these interrupted races are a sign . . . and one Ironman can use to check its own ego.  


When I heard about Ironman North Carolina being shortened to one 56-mile bike loop, I was bummed for everyone racing–especially the first-timers.  I just can’t imagine if that happened on my first Ironman. It would have been a major blow to my ego.

I have no idea if there really are more natural disasters these days or if it just seems that way because of the proliferation of video and insane amounts of weather coverage.  Likewise, I have no real facts about Ironman races being altered because of external forces, but it sure seems like it.

This year Ironman participants have been through postponements, cancelled swims, and altered bikes.  Part of me was expecting Ironman to shorten the run at Chattanooga because of the heat, and I fear the huge number of DNFs will plant that idea for future races.

Ironman has created a monster that is losing focus on where it came from.

There’s obviously a growing interest in the sport and they seem to be adding races as fast as I buy Snickers bars.  It’s capitalism at work, but the bigger you get, the more lawyers you need.

And those lawyers are there to do one thing . . . protect the stockholders.

While I fully get why they have to shorten the bike course at North Carolina, I have a hard time accepting their reticence softening the blow for people who have made this their first Ironman. This the triathlon-example of a product recall and the companies that handle those situations best are the ones who quickly admit there is a problem.

Here are a few things I think Ironman should do to make this right:

  • Offer everyone in the race 50% off 70.3 vouchers for 2017.  This would be a great way to infuse their shorter course races with energy, and build a more loyalty among people just dabbling in the sport as a bucket list goal.
  • Give each first timer at North Carolina the option of a $50 entry voucher (bought on site this weekend) that’s good for any race (full or half) in 2018 as long as they sign up on the day registration opens.  This allows Ironman to keep the money they have, take next year to figure it out, and offer a future refund that allows everyone to have another shot. I’m guessing 50% wouldn’t even use it but then it’s on them.
  • Give anyone who is racing an Ironman for the second (or more) time 50% off a full in 2018. (Also to be used on day registration opens).
  • Sell all IMNC merchandise for at least 50% off.  They’d still be making money, but that would be Goodwill they desperately need right now.

I’m sure everyone racing North Carolina is doing whatever they can to make the best of a bummer situation.  I’m reading stuff like, “We’ve trained, we’ve done the work, we should wear the medal with pride.”  And while I agree with that, the reality just isn’t the same.  Ironman has promised something it won’t deliver.

I also appreciate the optimism from everyone that’s pledged to finish the marathon, then get on their trainer for 3 hours to make it “real,” but that is just an unfortunate thought.  I can’t imagine running through the finish line after a marathon, hearing “You are an Ironman,” then riding a trainer for 3 more hours?

Ironman has a powerful brand and they keep making decisions that are chipping away at their legacy.  Frankly, they are acting like Donald Trump, when it would be so easy to smooth things over by admitting they’re wrong or can show compassion once in a while.

Ironman has a lot of money and giving back to its athletes when their dream is stripped seems like a small price to pay for the future of their brand.  I don’t care what it says in the fine print of the disclaimer, give these people the product they bought, or deliver something of equal value.

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Moms, Daughters and Ironman

I was just at Ironman Louisville watching some friends kick ass (video coming soon) and realized how easy it is to get caught up in the fast people . . . the ones crushing the race.  The finish line is always exciting and I was celebrating at 4th Street Live, but none of that moved me like what I was about to see on my walk back to the car.

Everyone I knew was having a solid race and about to finish under or around 11 hours.  It was around 6 o’clock and, after a very long day, I found myself back near transition in a daze.  That’s when it occurred to me that people were still out on the bike.

One scene in particular caught my eye and I decided to get one last shot for the video.  It was this young girl in the photo below, standing alone with a sign in the middle of the road.


Other than a few workers taking down signs, and two other women 50 feet away, this girl was completely alone.  The silence was interrupted by the two women who yelled “Hurry up, you only have two minutes!” to a cyclist who fought to finish in time.  As I walked closer to the young girl, she sat down on the yellow line with her head in her hands.

I stopped and asked her if she was okay.

She looked at me with heavy eyes and said, “Yes, I’m waiting for my mom . . . she’s still out there.”

I thought, wow, “still out there” could mean anything.

“Have you heard anything,” I asked.


I had no idea what to do, but her mom had likely been on the bike for at least 9 hours, so I decided to wait a while to make sure she was okay.  I was exhausted, I could only imagine how her mother felt.

The girl’s face was washed with uncertainty as she stared at the desolate concrete road.  Then, in what seemed like divine intervention, I heard the girl yell, “There she is!” as her mom appeared out of nowhere.

It shook me from a daze and I looked to see her mom cruising toward us at a slow pace.  She hugged her aero bars and casually looked at her daughter and said, “Hey you.”

The little girl grabbed her sign and started running.  She was yelling, “I love you mom!” the whole way.  I watched with a smile as mom and daughter faded into the distance.

I cursed myself for not having my camera rolling, but quickly realized video couldn’t have done this justice.  My imagination will always remember those little legs kicking off to each side and that sign flopping in the wind as she ran alongside her mom.

I thought my day of spectating was over, but it was this little scene that changed everything.  It reminded me that Ironman is definitely more than a race, it is a test of will and an arena of support from those who love us.

It had been about 30 seconds since the two women yelled out the 2-minute-warning and I hoped for the best.  I have no idea of she made the cutoff, but I’m certain their mother/daughter bond was stronger than ever.

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