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 a relief seeing the Tempe Town Lake full of water but no relief from the difficult windy and sometimes wet weather all day long. 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.

Written by Mike Reilly on Thursday, December 23, 2010 – LAVA Magazine