The Iron Man Challenge

It’s 5:30 am on a cold, wet Sunday morning and I am standing at the beach trying hard to protect my camera from the rain. I was standing watching just over 1700 people anxiously waiting for the starter’s gun to fire in order to help settle their nervousness and, for some, their fear. The moment had arrived. The moment they had been training for. Many had been training for nearly a year and some almost two and now here we were down to seconds before the start. For many this would be the greatest physical challenge of their lives.

As a result of the inclement weather, the race officials were very close to making it a biathlon. Concerns about the size of the swell and the strong wind were secondary; the swimmers safety was their primary concern. The officials made their call.  The race would go ahead in full as planned. After all this was no ordinary race.  This was the Iron Man. The weather alone ensured that just over 100 people did not even pitch on the day.

7am – Bang! The starters pistol fired and I watched as 1600 people ran, like lemmings, before diving into the cold Indian Ocean to begin their swim.

Day 1 (Picture 1)Each competitor knew the rules – no assistance allowed. They had 2 hours 20 minutes to finish the swim or their challenge would be over. Once the swim was completed they could look forward to the 180.1km (112mi) cycle, most of which was into a strong gale force head wind. The wind, so strong at times, it reduced the Pro athletes to average a mere 21 -24km/h (13 – 15mph) half their anticipated racing speed.

Each competitor who had completed the swim in the allocated time and still in the race knew their next target was 17h30 – the cut off time for the cycle. They had to brave the winds, rain, lower back pains and fatigue to complete the cycle challenge by then, if not, their day would be over and months of preparation and sacrifices would be in vain.

Weather conditions so bad that race officials considered reducing the cycle from three laps on the demarcated route to only two.

Then cold, with muscles aching and chafing skin the last leg of the day’s challenge a 42.2km (26.2mi) marathon – cut off time midnight.

So what’s the point? Why the elaborate introduction? As I stood for over 16 hours, taking photographs of the various competitors, during their gruelling ordeal I found myself asking this one question: “Why are they doing this to themselves?”

Their first challenge a 3.8km (2.4mi) swim was enough to put fear into the heart of most people. The second a 180.1km (112mi) cycle – just the thought of being on a bicycle for that length of time makes me wince. Then the day’s 3rd and final challenge followed – a marathon. This had to be endured when emotionally and mentally drained; physically exhausted and on dead tired legs they had 42.2km (26.2mi) separating them from their prize. The satisfaction of knowing they did it! They completed the race set out before them. They were Iron Men and had the medal to prove it.

At this point I found myself reflecting on the Apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 9:25-27 25Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27 No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (NIV).

Questions for reflection:

Are we living with the personal awareness of the prize set before us?

As leaders, are we leading others into this awareness?

Paul writing in 1 Timothy 4:8 says: For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” (NIV)

What is godliness?

What does godliness look like?

How do we train or discipline ourselves in godliness?

I will look at desire, preparation, discipline, obedience, endurance and the cheering crowd over the next four days.

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