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.


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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

Biography of Mike Reilly

Mike has done on site announcing and television for Running and Triathlon events worldwide since the late 70’s, this has placed a microphone in his hands at over 1000 endurance events.  He is best known as the Voice of Ironman and in March of 2011 at Ironman New Zealand, he announced his 100th Ironman . This past October was his 23rd consecutive calling of Ironman Hawaii and over 200,000 triathletes worldwide have heard his famous phrase “You are an Ironman”. At the Awards ceremony of the 2011 World Championships in Kona he was inducted into the Ironman Hall of Fame.

He called the first ever professional triathlon in Solana Beach, CA along with the first Rock & Roll Marathon in San Diego.  He along with Bob Babbitt has hosted the Competitor Endurance Sports awards since its inception for 19 straight years.

In 1984 Mike & his wife Rose started RACEPLACE Magazine in San Diego, California.  RACEPLACE was operated by Rose Reilly for 30 years and in 2014 was bought by Mike’s son Andy Reilly. It remains the #1 regional source for event listings and entry form information in Southern California.  Mike was also an independent sports rep in running, triathlon and cycling for over 18 years and has had the distinction of being one of the first Power Bar reps in the Country.  He was instrumental in forming the first shoe company triathlon team in the 80’s for Saucony, featuring Scott Tinley.

In 1999 Mike was one of the original 10 team members of Racegate.com (now Active.com) founded by Mitch Thrower and Scott Kyle of Triathlete Magazine.  The company has grown to 2500 team members and he was the Vice President of Endurance Event Sales for The Active Network.

In 2014, Mike started working as the EVP of global sales at Events.com–  a provider of cloud-based applications encouraging social interaction and enhancing the experience of putting on, promoting and attending events.

Mike has been involved with the Running USA National Running Conference for the past 10 years as a lead committee member and conference MC.  He is also a co-founding member of Triathlon Business International – an industry business organization that is dedicated to promoting the sport and the business of triathlon.

Mike ran his first marathon in 1978 and has a 2:49 PR and competed in his first triathlon in 1979.   He and his wife Rose (3:55 Marathon PR) reside in Poway, CA.  Daughter Erin (30) is a financial planner in San Diego and has run the Boston Marathon.  Son Andy (29) is the owner and publisher of RACEPLACE Inc.

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.