One Hundred Ironmans: Mike Reilly Reflects

The “Voice of Ironman” completed his 100th race on March 5th
Written by Mike Reilly on Thursday, April 7, 2011

The finish-line tower at Ironman New Zealand

 

One hundred. It may only be a number, but 100 is a pretty interesting one. One hundred miles per hour, 100 home runs, $100, 100 years, 100 miles, and yes, 100 Ironmans. Over the last few months I’ve been asked many times what it will mean to be on the microphone at my 100th Ironman. Now that I’ve put it in the books at Ironman New Zealand, how do I put it into words?  It’s as simple as “I can’t believe it’s been 100,” to more complicated: “Does this mean I’m starting all over again at 101?”

About five years ago, Casey Cortese from Janus prompted me to count up all the times I’ve announced at the finish line of an Ironman. So we did—on a bar napkin at an after party. Thus, the counting began. It also prompted me to start a log of what each race meant to me and what impressions I came away with.

All those trips, all those days away from home and family, all those finish lines have been worth it.

The first thing I need to do is give a huge thanks to all my family and friends, and the triathletes who sent me well wishes. It’s pretty amazing and daunting what came my way. I was asked to write about this experience and of all the Ironmans I’ve been involved with. This one was very unique. To me it’s not about me but the athletes and the event, so when videos were played and speeches given about me it was a bit uncomfortable, but gratifying, none the less. Jane Patterson and Janette Blyth with Ironman New Zealand are two very special people in my life and they honored me in every way for my 100th, something I will never forget.

Ben_Mike_08.jpg
Mike (right) with Ironman CEO Ben Fertic at a race in 2008

Taupo New Zealand is billed as the sports event capital of the country, and from what I’ve seen, it is. You can do everything from bungie jumping to soaking in a hot springs waterfall on the Whikato River. But on March 5, race day, Taupo was the water capital of the world. It rained solid the entire 17 hours of the event. Talk about bringing you back to reality. One athlete told me the driest he was all day was during the swim! Now here is the amazing part: As we were pushing through the day I was thinking that the DNF rate was going to be pretty high.  A couple of other wet days I remembered were in Lake Placid and Wisconsin where it never let up. The finishing rate from what I recalled was in the 88 to 91 percent range—and maybe even lower. As the day went on in Taupo, I thought surely we’d be in the same range. When the timer gave me the start and finish numbers I thought to myself, “no way.” So I did the numbers and confirmed that the triathletes here from New Zealand and Australia (542), the U.S. (84) and other countries (37), were one tough bunch. Ninety-six percent came across the finish line wet on the outside but with strong warm hearts on the inside. Amazing!

This one, my 100th, confirmed to me to never take anything for granted, and to always live in the day and make sure you cherish it.  No matter how tough things may seem, especially at an Ironman, you will leave with lasting positive memories. I’m always asked which Ironmans are my favorites, which ones I remember most. This list is pretty extensive believe it or not, but now there will be one more answer. The 2011 Ironman New Zealand will go down as one of my most cherished. Not for the reason you may think but because my wife Rose and our best friends Alan and Dena Rea were there with me to celebrate. The number 100 wouldn’t have meant nearly as much if they hadn’t been in Taupo with me. Spending 12 days on holiday with them all—something I’d never done after an Ironman—ended up making it the trip of a lifetime.

All those trips, all those days away from home and family, all those finish lines have been worth it only because of the support I’ve received from Rose and my kids. So my thank you is to them and the congratulations you’ve all sent my way, as humbling as they are, should be directed to my family. Without their support my enthusiasm and passion for all of you at the finish line might not have been possible.

So yes, the 100th was very special, but not because of the milestone itself but because of the support and love that enabled me to do it. The best part for me is now looking forward to Ironman Australia on May 1. I can’t wait to get there and do it all over again like it’s the first time. After all, it’s number one of the next 100!

Cheers,

Mike

Wrapping Up a Race Season

Written by Mike Reilly on Thursday, December 23, 2010

The year is coming to an end, and with it the end of so many swims, bikes, and runs—the end of the Ironman season. Our last two races of 2010, Ironman Arizona and Ironman Western Australia, mark this closure for many of us.

The former can be summed up in a comment I made at the finish line: “I think we may be witnessing history in the making,” I said as Chrissie Wellington, after her October withdrawl in Kona, burned through the November desert in world record time. An 8:36:13 is a world best time in an women’s Ironman-branded event. But the best part is that she chicked all but seven pro men and I won’t even mention how many age group men. She is on the arena floor under the lights, all by herself with the stands full of admiration; she is truly one of a kind.

Hopefully we all have learned many things this year that have made us better people.

It was an almost perfect weather day in Tempe, where the biggest sign of relief was seeing Tempe Town Lake full of water. The day unfolded like the script. The morning check-in was one of the calmest I have ever witnessed. All the athletes seemed so relaxed; they were going about their business like it was a sprint triathlon. The water was a cold 61 degrees, but only four didn’t make the two hou and 20 minute swim time cut-off. If you’ve ever been at the end of the swim it‘s very emotional when the race directors have to tell them their Ironman day is over.

The bike and run were no different; the athletes flew through the course with a calm reserve as strong as the desert sun. Maybe it’s the multi-loop bike and run course where they can see their loved ones a number of times that causes it. No matter the reason it created an almost perfect Ironman day. Add to that all the North American Ironman event staff, giddy from having put another successful year down in the books—I call them the Ironman carnies and they deserve a personal thank you from every Ironman finisher in 2010.

Ironman Western Australia is a couple of hours south of Perth at a beach resort town called Busselton. It was my first trip to this event in its seven-year history. Race week had a different feeling from other Ironmans. There was no real focal or social point for this event during the week. Shane Smith and his crew had the unenviable job of recreating and restructuring the entire race site and ceremonies. As we rehearsed for the welcome dinner I knew something special was going to happen. Talk about glitz and a show of Hollywood standards—they nailed it. Picture a huge marquee tent with four giant video screens throughout and countless plasmas all over the stage. It was a night that entertained, motivated, and relaxed the nervous athletes.

The swim was one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. The jetty—I mistakenly called it a pier race morning and was aptly corrected—stretched out a mile into the Indian Ocean like a wooden snake sliding into the calm salt water. Swim instructions that morning were simple: swim out around the jetty and come back. Not a lot of buoys were required here. But the swim lap was only the first of many that day.

This event was like a giant round a bout on the bike and the run; a three-loop ride followed by a four-loop run had a dizzying effect on everyone. If you have ever participated or watched a multi-loop Ironman it can be either rewarding or heartbreaking—rewarding if you‘re trying to catch a rival along the way, like Australian Army Major Cameron James was. A seven time Ironman veteran who’d trained for this event while deployed in the war zone. As bold as he’s required to be in his military life, he replicated that attitude as I had him on stage at the welcome dinner. Asked what his goal would be on race day he immediately said to not get beat by any 50 year old women. Predictions like this seem to always come back and bite the bold ones in the ass. As soon as he said it I actually laughed out loud with the crowd and said “Dude, do you know what you just said?” He tried to back up a little, realizing what he put out there, but he stuck to his guns. (The 50 years and older women let out a never gonna happen roar when I asked them if he was going to do it.)

The heartbreaking part comes in after three bike loops, where the run awaits the already drained athletes with four loops. Why so heartbreaking you ask? How about because they have to run by and within 10 feet of the finish line four times before they’re rewarded with a medal. Watching so many run by the finish, hear us call so many others an Ironman was heart wrenching. All we could do was tell them we’d all be here when they finished so keep up the fight. Seeing so many smiles or raised hands in acknowledgement help lessen the feeling of pity.

Busselton experienced the largest crowds ever in its eight-year history. It was a passionate finish that took the athletes to the 17 hour mark, buoyed by the fact that so many earlier finishers came back to cheer on their Ironman brothers and sisters.

Major Cameron James did finish in fine fashion but he was sweating more than most. The best part of the awards ceremony was bringing up Marilyn Morrison of New Zealand who won the women’s 50-54 age group. As she approached the stage she came directly up to me at the lectern. She looked me in the eye and said, “He is one lucky bloke because he only beat me by 1 minute and 38 seconds, but I will get him next time!” I told the crowed what she said and they roared on cue. Cameron had a look on his face that expressed “thank goodness she ran out of real estate!”

From the beginning of my year at Ironman New Zealand to its finish in Western Australia it just keeps on being rewarding. Hopefully we all have learned many things this year that have made us better people. I would like to share with you my list:

-Family is everything, always maintain a strong balance in your life and don’t let one aspect of your life override you

-Respect the work of others when it enhances and benefits your goals

-As simple as it seems, always be on time

-Practice the 5 P’s: Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance

-When you meet someone, shake their hand and look them in the eye

-Say “thank you” and mean it

Much success to all of you in 2011, and remember, the finish line is just a small part of your journey. Happy New Year.

 

From the Finish Line: In a Kona Ironman’s Eyes

At end of Ali’i Drive, 1770 life-changing milestones

Written by Mike Reilly on Tuesday, October 19, 2010

There are not many moments in sports like the ones that take place at the finish of the Ford Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. We’ve all witnessed milestones like a walk off home run in the bottom of the 9th, the winning field goal with no time on the clock at a Super Bowl, or watching our child score the winning goal at a league championship game. Those moments become a part of the memory banks we draw on in tough times.

Now picture this. You are standing on a piece of real estate that’s one of the most spiritual spots on earth. It’s where dreams come true and adulation is much deserved. You own this spot for nine straight hours, witnessing one dream after another become reality.

Together with the crowd, I see a winner, and we all become a part of the finisher’s world for a brief second.

People often ask me what my favorite moments are at Ironman Hawaii. If you put yourself in that spot at the finish you know there are more than a few favorites. Everyone who comes in with their arms raised to the heavens or with tears streaming down their face or with legs limping in pain … each one of them brings a favorite moment. The caption on the cover of all sports magazines worldwide that day should read, “1770 sports milestones took place on October 9, 2010 in Kona, Hawaii.”

Back in 2003 I was asked what I see in an Ironman athlete’s eyes when they finish. It was a pretty deep question, and I did my best to answer but knew I fell short. After some reflection I put it in writing for myself, and now eight years later I will share it:

8/1/2003 – What I see in their eyes is passion, a passion that comes back to me tenfold as I announce their names. No words on their part need be spoken, their eyes tell the story of joy and pain at the same time. Like the ancient gods of the Big Island, the power that each finisher possesses is immense. It’s a power they have unleashed on this Ironman day  though they may not totally understand it. That power transcends all that are present, permeating every cell. The fortunate ones take a small bit of this power home to become a better person and creating a stronger life.

The look in an Ironman finisher’s eyes, whether they’re a first-timer or a veteran, reveals a distinct individuality—one that is only discovered through passion, through finding something in themselves they didn’t know existed. Looking in their eyes makes me one of the luckiest people on earth. Together with the crowd, I see a winner, and we all become a part of the finisher’s world for a brief second.

Each Ironman athlete has their own stories of the struggle involved in pursuing balance in life, and sometimes having to put that balance on hold to achieve a dream. I see the sacrifices in their eyes and then the pure joy of completing this three-piece puzzle called Ironman. And if I look closer, I see an even better person in each of their futures.

What each finisher doesn’t realize is that they are looking into another person’s heart. It is like a piercing stare into a heart that is not yet full. A heart that wants to grab and hug and wish for Ironman finishes throughout a lifetime.

Congratulations to all of you this year and a big Mahalo to the countless volunteers who made another day in Kona possible. Your love for the competitors is nothing compared to the love all of us in this business have for each of you.

We’ll see you in Arizona.


From the Finish Line: The Midnight Hour

How the last hours of Lake Placid 2010 epitomized the Ironman spirit

Written by Mike Reilly on Friday, July 30, 2010

This year’s Ironman Lake Placid event seemed to capture the Ironman experience like no other. The energy of the athletes and the crowd’s enthusiasm permeated the North Country region of New York and much of the Eastern seaboard—up to, and well after race day. There are so many things seen and felt at an Ironman event, things that capture the imagination. None of it, however is imagined, but all very real.

I will start at the finish. It was 11:30 pm. Only 30 minutes left until that coveted midnight hour. Seventeen hours of constant movement to come to a close in front of the largest Lake Placid spectator crowd I’ve ever witnessed. I was down to working the finishing chute. Tom Ziebart (one of Ironman’s race directors) stayed in the tower to let me know who was coming in. The crowd had worked themselves into a frenzy cheering all day, but I knew they had more to give, as they always do.

The overall goal of my work at the finish line is to make sure each finisher is bathed in the glory of it all

The story up my sleeve this year was coach and spectator Matt Long. On duty as a New York City firefighter in 2005, Matt was run over by a bus. He came out of the near-death experience to finish Lake Placid in 2009, and was back this year to cheer on the finishers. There was no way I wasn’t going to recognize him, so out he came to medal the last athletes to cross the finish line.

During those tense final minutes it’s like being in the middle of a Rolling Stones concert on New Year’s Eve, and the crowd energized Matt like I knew it would. He become part of the scene playing out on the arena floor—the finale that never gets stale, and despite its craziness, seems always to move in slow motion. The overall goal of my work at the finish line is to make sure each finisher is bathed in the glory of it all, and when I looked at Matt’s face, I knew it was as it should be. With his experiences bolstering him, he was now giving back, and making sure all those finishers were taken care of.

When it couldn’t get any more emotional, I was stopped by a spectator running along the fencing. He yelled to me, “Do you remember my finish? (I get that a lot!). He reminded me that he was the final finisher last year and I immediately remembered. As I was interviewing Matt last year at the finish (having been told he was the last finisher), the crowd started to roar again and there was Paul Goldstone from Pennsylvania, struggling along. I looked at the clock—it showed 25 seconds to the 17-hour mark. I ran out to him, and as I reached him, the look in his eyes wasn’t that of exhaustion or pain, but terror. It scared the hell out of me that he might miss the cut off by just a few seconds. Exactly what I said to the crowd then, I don’t know, but I made sure Paul heard me tell him he would make it if he just ran! As I ran next to him, I looked ahead toward the finish, and there was Matt. With only 8 seconds left on the clock, each step seemed like a mile. I put my hand on Paul’s back and he stepped on the finish mat at exactly 17 hours. Matt grabbed Paul to congratulate him while the crowd roared and I hit my knees.

How does it happen that one year later the three of us are at the same finish at the same stroke of midnight making sure each finisher gets their just reward? That’s why I wanted to begin at the end. The end is where droves of earlier finishers come to pay homage to those that have been on the road hours after most have eaten a recovery meal and taken a shower. This final hour—not to take anything away from the winners and early finishers—is a place in my mind that defines Ironman and its mantra, “Anything is Possible”.

The Ironman day is beyond words; do yourself a favor, and at the next Ironman you attend or compete in, be there at the end. I guarantee it will feel like you’re sharing life’s happiest moments with every dear friend you’ve ever known.

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Mike Reilly was the first announcer at a professional triathlon in 1982 and has been the main announcer at the Ford Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, since 1989. He has worked over 1,000 endurance events worldwide, and spent more than 2,200 hours behind the microphone at Ironman events. His famous phrase “You are an Ironman” is a coveted prize to professional and age group athletes alike. He is also famous for his ability to create a party atmosphere at race finishes, bringing out thousands of spectators to cheer each athlete across the line.

Read more: From the Finish Line: The Midnight Hour – LAVA Magazine http://lavamagazine.com/features/from-the-finish-line-the-midnight-hour#ixzz176WAlDrm

From the Finish Line: The Face of an Ironman

After just finishing up two Ironmans—a three week stretch that took me to Louisville and Wisconsin—it’s become clear to me that each event takes on a face of its own. While flying home from Madison I was reflecting a little on these events, and realized that the personality of an Ironman is shaped by many influences.

When we meet a person for the first time we assess what type of person they are. We do this selfishly, to evaluate whether or not we’ll like them, and whether or not we’ll want to associate with them. But how does an Ironman event create its own personality?

An Ironman’s personality is always in your face—the only constant you can count on.

With Ironman you don’t have that luxury, even if you’ve done the event before. You show up race week and go through all the required rituals of unpacking, picking up your bike, checking in for the event, attending the expo, and enjoying the welcome dinner (hopefully). But yet you know you will be meeting the real Ironman on Sunday morning. Many people have told you about this mammoth personality, the one that has crowded your already overloaded brain with preconceived notions and expectations. Then, as the cannon thunders, you get your first wet dose of its true self.

With IM Louisville the morning displays a soft character. You stand in line waiting your turn while “Old Kentucky Home” is brilliantly played on the bugle. The canon fires, the line starts to move, and you jump off a boat dock into the expansive Ohio River, one by one. At this point Louisville is going pretty easy on you. This should be a clue, but you ignore it.

IM Wisconsin is a different story. You are rushed down a three-level helix parking ramp from transition to the water, then prodded to get into Lake Monona as fast as possible. The overworked Ironman cannon performs its job again, and you are thrust into a washing machine of arms and legs. This race is like a bad first impression—like meeting someone for the first time, and they are up in your grill right away, almost nose to nose. With Ironman you resign yourself to the fact that it’ll be with you all day and night, so you’d better make the best of it.

I’m an Ironman announcer, not a psychiatrist or therapist, but I do know that a person can take on different personalities to fit the situation they’re in. Ironman is no different. How many times during the event did you loath it and then love it, both in the same hour?

After the relatively easy Louisville swim (if 2.4 miles is easy!) you hit the lovely Kentucky hillside roads. If their undulating personality wasn’t enough for you, how about what Mother Nature threw in? She decided to take a sauna early in the day, and pull riders in with her. I was out in LaGrange calling out to the cyclists at the 48-mile mark, and the heat-drenched, blank stares weren’t what we were expecting at that point in the race.

At almost the same point in the race, IM Wisconsin was now the softer personality. You exit the swim and head for the bike—a little bruised, but realizing that it’s a nice, windless 75 degrees. Yes, the never-ending quick inclines will sap you of quad strength, but a good weather day in Madison is just the personality you want to meet. At the Verona bike loop just short of 50 miles, Wisconsin turned the athletes into giddy school children. Waving arms, cheers of joy, and smiling faces make it feel like the final summer school bell just rang. The crowd loved it and gave the athletes much-deserved support. At this point they were in love.

As the Louisville athletes reached the Ford Motivational Zone on the run, full of messages written by their loved ones, they were having a difficult time figuring out where the calmness of the morning had gone. One mile from the finish line party, the sounds of music and frenzied spectators floated to their ears. It was a side of the event they hadn’t yet experienced. Near the end of an excruciating day, Louisville held out its arms and awaited the heroes of the day.

In comparison, the IM Wisconsin run felt like Mom fixing you breakfast. The athletes’ faces told the story: they were in love with this “IM Moo” race, as it’s affectionately called. The rambunctious crowd on State Street dictates a big part of this event’s personality. The athletes couldn’t wait for Wisconsin’s embrace in front of the state capitol at the finish, and it wasn’t just because they wanted to end the pain.

During an Ironman, athletes will divert their thoughts to take their mind off the pain. But what they can never do is lose the sense of who they are and how they got there. IM Louisville and Wisconsin simply are what they are. Their personalities are always in your face—the only constants you can count on.

Remember when someone would write in your high school yearbook “Don’t ever change”? They obviously loved your personality, and most of you have probably maintained it until today. If there was a yearbook for Ironman events, the notes would probably read something more along the lines of “I like you and I don’t like you, but in the end you made me stronger. Don’t call me—I’ll call you”.

On to Kona!

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Mike Reilly was the first announcer at a professional triathlon in 1982 and has been the main announcer at the Ford Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, since 1989. He has worked over 1,000 endurance events worldwide, and spent more than 2,200 hours behind the microphone at Ironman events. His famous phrase “You are an Ironman” is a coveted prize to professional and age group athletes alike. He is also famous for his ability to create a party atmosphere at race finishes, bringing out thousands of spectators to cheer each athlete across the line.