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Book Review: You Are An Ironman by Jacques Steinberg (4/5)

11 Mar

I found this book at a library used book sale and immediately knew I needed to read it. This was before I signed up for my 70.3 race but that race was always in the back of my head. I was ecstatic to find it on audio and it was an amazing motivator for the long bike rides I’ve been putting myself through. I think that if there’s a perfect time to read a book, I nailed it with this one.

Cover image via Goodreads

You Are An Ironman: How Six Weekend Warriors Chased Their Dreams of Finishing the World’s Toughest Triathlon by Jacques Steinberg

Summary from Goodreads:

As he did so masterfully in his New York Times bestseller, The Gatekeepers, Jacques Steinberg creates a compelling portrait of people obsessed with reaching a life-defining goal. In this instance, the target is an Ironman triathlon-a 2.4-mile open-water swim followed by a 112-mile bike ride, then finally a 26-mile marathon run, all of which must be completed in no more than seventeen hours.

Steinberg focuses not on the professionals who live off the prize money and sponsorships but on a handful of triathletes who regard the sport as a hobby. Vividly capturing the grueling preparation, the suspense of completing each event of the triathlon, and the spectacular feats of human endurance, Steinberg plumbs the physical and emotional toll as well as the psychological payoff on the participants of the Ford Ironman Arizona 2009. His You Are an Ironman is both a riveting sports narrative and a fascinating, behind-the scenes study of what makes these athletes keep going.

I think I’m the ideal audience for this book. I am a weekend warrior, though for half the distance these athletes trained for. Triathlon has been part of my life since 2014 and I love it. Some things in this book were over-explained for someone with my background, but a lot of it was relatable and welcome. I could commiserate with being tired from work and training. I could understand not seeing friends and family who were not part of your triathlon community. I shared fears of illness, crashes, and injuries. I rejoiced with the athletes when they had breakthroughs and cried with them over setbacks and cheered with them as they succeeded. Steinberg picked a great group of athletes to follow for this race and I loved cheering for all of them.

I’m glad Steinberg chose athletes from such different backgrounds for this book. It kept everything interesting and made it so I had someone to relate to in all aspects. I struggle with the run so Laura wasn’t relatable in that sense but Bryan was. These people reminded me of those in my tri club and sometimes of myself. I got a great sense of them from Steinberg’s writing. Using their own training logs and blogs was a great tool to give them their own voices as well.

Tracey was my favorite athlete and I’m totally going to spoil how the race went for her so skip this paragraph if you don’t want that. I’m actually glad Steinberg profiled someone who didn’t make it to race day. Injury is a very real part of training for any athletic event and Tracey injuring herself was very real to me. It was how she dealt with that injury that made her my favorite. She didn’t let it stop her! Not one bit. I was glad that the book ended with her and knowing that she finished the race in 2010. I would have been shocked if she hadn’t. Her attitude along the way, that all of this was fun and a good reason to see her friends, made me happy. That’s how I’ve tried to view my training, too. It makes it fun instead of a chore and I was glad to see someone had successfully done that.

Jacques Steinberg Image via The New York Times

I was looking forward to race day from the start. I like how Steinberg told the story of that day and how he paced it, giving each athlete their due time. No matter how much you prepare, there’s nothing like a race day to make you doubt everything you’ve done to get there. The jitters were spot on, the doubts and performance and perseverance to just KEEP GOING when everything was rough. It was well done.

There wasn’t a part I particularly disliked. I sometimes worried that these people weren’t ready enough for their race but I’m assuming there were some workouts and dietary details taken out. I’m training 10 hours a week for a 70.3 and it seemed like these people were at about the same load for double the distance. I’m glad no more of them were injured!

The audiobook was narrated by Kirby Heyborne. I listened to him previously narrate the Miss Peregrine series and it took a few hours for me to stop associating this book with those because of his voice. I liked Heyborne better for this book. He didn’t have characters to voice or accents to do, just more of his normal voice. He sounds a little menacing but in this case, with such a daunting day hanging over the participant’s heads, it was very appropriate.

Setting a big goal can be scary. I can’t think of a goal bigger than Ironman. For many, it’s a lifetime achievement that they will remember for the rest of their lives. I think this book helps explain why being deemed an Ironman is such an accomplishment. It’s not about winning the race, it’s about finish it. No matter how long you’re on the course, finishing it is what’s important.

Writer’s Takeaway: Using the training blogs of the athletes was a great way to bring their voices to the book while having the author’s voice bind the book together. I’m thinking of how that could be used in fiction as well and it’s mostly applicable to dialogue. Not all characters should talk in the style the book is narrated. Making a character’s manner of speaking different helps the character stand out and feel original.

This book was highly enjoyable and I’m so glad I read it when I did. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

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