I’m not fast. I know fast people. I work around fast people. But I, myself, am not fast. I have managed to plod through four Ironman races and came across the finish line before the cutoff. The first was Ironman Arizona in 2008 when they still had it in April. The wind, the sand and the heat kicked my behind but I did finish and I gladly took my finisher’s t-shirt. In fact, I managed to grab an extra and still have both shirts to this day.

The day after the race, I proudly put on my shirt and made my way to In and Out Burger. I have to admit, there was an enormous feeling of accomplishment and dare I say it…pride. After all, it seemed as if I had joined a new family. While others finished the race much faster, I still felt a sense of connection since we all did the same course and endured the same conditions. I eagerly looked for other “shirts” so I could identify my family members and hopefully trade stories.

Ironman Arizona Logo

My second Ironman was Coeur d’Alene and I made a point to wear my Arizona shirt around the week before the race. Someone came up to me in the expo area and said they had done IMAZ too. We joked about the change in scenery and I felt like a full-fledged (albeit slow) member of pack.

In fact, I swear, after Coeur d’Alene, if I could have found a way to wear both shirts at the same time, I would have!

Ironman Coeur D'alene

Then, I met an individual who took pleasure in belittling. The type of person who builds themselves up by putting others down. The subject of Ironman t-shirts came up and this individual said that wearing an Ironman Finisher Shirt was just a form of bragging. Plus, anyone who put their mind to it should be able to finish an Ironman, so it’s not that big a deal anyway. My face flushed and I looked sheepishly at the floor.

I mean, maybe it was true. When I wore that shirt I did feel proud and maybe that was a form of bragging. Plus, I wasn’t fast and if I could do it, maybe anyone could.

After that, the shirt was washed, folded and relegated to the back of the drawer.

A foot injury that led to knee pain and a lot of hours in the office took me out of my routine of doing an Ironman each year and now it has been over three years since my last one. The other day, I was putting away laundry and I saw my first finisher’s shirt.

I pulled it out, unfolded it and actually looked at it for a few minutes. 2.4 Mile Swim, 112 Mile Bike, 26.2 Mile Run. Holy crap that sounds like a long way now! My current workouts rotate between, the three mile run loop in the neighborhood, the one to two hour bike on weekends or the 45 minute weight lifting session at the gym during lunch.

Then I looked at the word “Finisher” on the back and thought about everything that went into getting to the finish line. Not just on race day but the entire year before. The excitement when I pressed “enter” and saw that I got an entry. The almost daily scans for blogs from other people doing the same race. The bond that developed with my training partners and the fun times we had sharing stories afterwards.

I took the shirt and sat on my bed and started to reflect. Yes…maybe, at first, there was something akin to pride that I felt when I put it on. But there were lots of other feelings too. Rather than boastfulness, I like to think that the warm feelings I get when I look at the shirt come from some place pure.

To me, the Finisher Shirt is a physical connection to an incredibly meaningful time period. It is tangible evidence that I and everyone else that owns one endured a glorious period of shared suffering. We’re brothers and sisters and that cloth is proof of our joint heritage.

It’s a piece of fabric that says (at least to me) that ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things. It’s the proof that we have the ability to set and accomplish goals. It’s the reward for missed parties, chlorine stiffened hair and wind burned cheeks.

It’s a connection to causes ranging from fighting ALS to kicking cancer’s butt and is a reminder of where some amazing friendships began.

So guess what? The shirt is out of retirement. It has taken its place at the front of the drawer and it’s back in circulation.

Have you got your own shirt stashed away somewhere? If so, what do you say to breaking it out?

Here’s to shirt. Long may it live!

Ironman Arizona T-shirt



Reginald Holden