“YOU. Are. An. Ironmaaaaannnn!”

We’ve all seen the footage at the end of an Ironman race. People running, hobbling, crawling, limping across the finish line. Sometimes they cry. Sometimes they are euphoric. Sometimes they have no idea where they are.  But clearly it has been a journey for everyone to reach that moment where the announcer belts out that YOU are an Ironman.

While many people force out a smile for their finisher’s photo, my sense from speaking with Ironman athletes is that quite often people look back on their race as this long tale of pain and hard work. Of a year of sacrifices made in order to train. They are happy to finish, but I have to wonder – did they have fun?

Type 2 fun – the kind of ‘fun’ applied to activities only after you’ve finished, such as Ironman events – slowly became the only type of fun I allowed myself to have for a while. And it has definitely caught on in the mainstream with films and companies capitalizing on the idea of glorified suffering. It wasn’t long before I began filtering my activities based on the fun level, slowly weaning out all Type 1 fun in favor of sufferfests that I could brag about afterwards. Suddenly hiking 5 miles on a Sunday morning wasn’t good enough. I had to scale a mountain, puke at the top, rush back to work, run out of gas on the way and barely be functional on Monday in order for it to count.

Then I signed up for my first Ironman. Ironman Canada, 2011.

Let’s just say in this race I did not have fun, even Type 2 fun. I did not find myself smiling across the finish line. In fact, I never saw the finish line. And following my experience, I did not sign up for a single race again.

Until this year, five years later, I decided it was time to try it again. Vineman 2016 was going to be the race.

Why? Well for one thing, I had (quite literally) unfinished business with the M-Dot. But I also wanted to test a theory. What if, instead of ‘racing’ an Ironman I just approached it like a really, really long workout? What if I took on the monstrous task that is completing an Ironman and approached it with the attitude of just having fun?

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I know. The phrase “just having fun” sounds so juvenile. So silly and simple. Just have fun! Who does anything to just have fun? Fortunately, during that five year break a lot had changed – mainly my attitude. Without races to train for or mountains to scale, I had to remember why I started signing up for endurance events in the first place. Slowly but surely I remembered that the driving reason was, quite simply, to have fun.

It may not sound revolutionary, but to my competitive mindset and years spent as an athlete, this was radical thinking. And at times during training, very hard to maintain. Should I add training hours? Push my bike pace? Skip a birthday party to get a brick in?  Yet I stuck to my goal – the answer every time was a loud and clear, “nope!”

I ate every donut. Chatted with my training buddies during every ride, gossiping and stopping for coffee or to take a picture. I skipped the occasional Wednesday morning workout because Wednesdays are hard (but as a rule I never, ever skipped the Friday pastry ride). I swam a grand total of 8 times in 2016, mainly out of guilt for not being more nervous about the swim.

And I have never had more fun training for an event in my life. I spent all spring and most of summer riding bikes with friends on the weekends, trail running through Marin and swimming in the sunshine.  As race day approached sure I was nervous, but mainly I was excited to do one thing: cross that finish line with a smile on my face.

About a week ago I competed in Vineman. I walked a mile to the swim start because I felt like it. I waved and yelled back at my cheer squad on the bike, as they tracked me around wine country. I stopped to take selfies with my friend’s twin toddlers on the run. And for 26.2 miles (three mind numbing out and backs) I was absolutely grinning ear to ear. As I approached the finish line my smile only increased as I realized I was about to accomplish my goal. I was about to cross that Ironman finish line with a smile on my face.

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As I practically skipped across the finish line I heard not only the words “YOU. Are. An. Ironmannnnnn!” but also “… and smiling her way across the finish line is Mary Gossel.”

That’s right. My smile was to the degree of hugeness that the announcer commented on it. And it’s captured on film (thanks to the social media efforts of our client, Ironman Nutrition Sponsor Beachbody Performance). I look ridiculously happy. Which is more than fine by me.

I think it’s safe to say I not only achieved my Ironman goal, but put my Type 2 fun days behind me. There’s no going back. And as I walk around during my post Ironman sloth that I am calling a ‘recovery’ (mainly sleeping 9 hours a night and drinking cappuccinos instead of working out) I smile just thinking about what’s next.