Finishing Ironmana: The Tantra of Pain

Ironmana ringleader Stephan Lambert, submerged in the moment at Ironmana. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt
Ironmana ringleader Stephan Lambert, submerged in the moment at Ironmana. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt

Finishing Ironmana: The Tantra of Pain

I've never experienced pleasure and pain like I did this week at the KXT Bora Bora Ironmana Liquid Festival.

Day one saw a 31-mile prone race around the island in rain and wind. The second day, we swam seven miles with rays and sharks. The third day we ran, swam, standup and prone paddled upwards of 10 miles, sprinting all the way. The fourth and final day of Ironmana, we standup paddled roughly 30 miles through unpredictable winds.  When we weren’t on water, or running, we ate well and rested heavy in Bora Bora’s luxurious paradise at Sofitel Resort. Pleasure and pain, it’s a fine dichotomy.

Racers run (and swim) the gauntlet of Ironmana's course around the Tahitian islands, wherever it may lead. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt
Racers run, swim, and paddle the gauntlet of Ironmana’s course around the Tahitian islands, wherever it may lead. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt

The final day called for a circumnavigation of the island via SUP. The Tahitian contingent—top-tier talents like Steeve Teihotaata, Bruno Tauhiro and Keahi Agnieray—dominated the front of the pack alongside world-class paddle racers like Fernando Stalla and Matt Poole. After more than three hours and 15 miles of paddling in dramatically variable conditions, Teihotaata finished the roundabout at the head of the men while San Diego’s prone maven Carter Graves finished first among the women.  I arrived at the finish nearly an hour behind them and ran up the sand between the flags where Stephan Lambert—mastermind and chief of the Ironmana tribe—greeted me. I envisioned a hug, a lei around my neck, high-fives and cheers.

Instead: "Get ready, we go again in one minute," Stephan said with his blunt French accent.

Just prior, while grinding out the final miles of the circumnavigation with my body ready to collapse, my withering mental state finally nourished by the immanent prospect of actually finishing this event, I'd forgotten the most menacing variable of Ironmana: its spontaneous format. Expect nothing, be ready for anything. I should have known the end of my race was not the end of Ironmana.

You know the pain is real when even the Tahitian paddlers are looking like this between races... Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt
You know the pain is real when even the Tahitian paddlers are looking like this between races… Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt

One minute…thirty seconds…go. We were still reeling from the first 15 miles as we charged off land for the second SUP event: a five-mile sprint across the writhing blue into the prevailing side wind. Around halfway through the race, one of the mighty Tahitians fell beside me, unable to go any further. That’s when I realized the extent of the pain we were experiencing together, and started to unravel. My focus shifted to the cramps knotted in my hands and calves. The burning in every muscle and the weakness in my knees. I cursed aloud. I cursed Stephan. I cursed myself. After months of preparation for this very trial of mental fortitude, I was losing it. By the time I reached the sand, I’d gone momentarily mad.

"Get ready, we go again in a few minutes," Stephan challenged my arrival. The false taste of victory had vanished. For the first time, I doubted I could finish Ironmana.

Maybe if I ate better that morning. Maybe if I'd taken more salt tablets and drank more water. Maybe if I hadn't banked on being done I'd have had the mental capacity to accept Stephan’s third challenge. Instead, nursing my wounds back in my bungalow, I watched out the window as racers sprinted across the sea for the third race of the day. The triumph I spent months anticipating upon finishing the race was void. I trained so hard, came so far, paddled and swam distances I never thought I'd achieve, but it all felt undermined. I knew I could do better.

Tahitian powerhouse Steeve TKTK on his way to an undisputed victory in the SUP division of Ironmana. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt
Tahitian powerhouse Steeve Teihotaata on his way to an undisputed victory in the SUP division of Ironmana. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt

The racers rounded back and crossed the finish line after another five-mile grind, and low and behold, Stephan's challenge had run its course.  Teihotaata and Graves championed the SUP division, finishing first in each of the four SUP races. Agnieray and Poole tied with an equal points total to take the overall men’s title. Graves swept the competition among the women. And with that, Ironmana was over.

The beach was empty when I returned to the event site later that afternoon. The flags were down. The lapping water had melted the finish line from the sand. But I was never here for the physical representations of Ironmana. I was here to fulfill the premise: go deeper. And I still could. I grabbed my paddle and board and launched into the salty blue for one last race.

Six miles later, I charged across my proverbial finish line alone, giving everything I had to those last strokes. There were no cheers, hugs or high-fives. But no matter; I felt as if I'd come in first.

SUP mag editor Mike Misselwitz stands alone in a race against himself. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt
SUP mag editor Mike Misselwitz stands alone in a race against himself. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt

Ironmana isn’t about the competition. It's not about the glory or recognition. It's not even about finishing the race. It's about staying in the moment, pushing yourself further than you can possibly go, and then going a little deeper. It's about finding pleasure in pain, and redefining yourself with the fruits of your labor. Looking back on my priceless experience on Bora Bora, I am empowered by many things. Chief among them is the realization that pain is temporary; pride is forever. –MM

Check back for our exclusive gallery from the 2016 Bora Bora KXT Ironmana.

Full Results

Men’s Overall

  1. Keahi Agnieray (Tahiti)
  1. Matt Poole (Australia)
  2. Bruno Tauhiro (Tahiti)
  3. Steeve Teihotaata (Tahiti)
  4. Teavatea Wong (Tahiti)
  5. Fernando Stalla (Mexico)
  6. David Foster (Tahiti)
  7. Damien Girault (Tahiti)
  8. Alex Pelou (Raiatea)
  9. Teiva Veronique (Tahiti)
  10. Remy Lavie (France)
    10. Alexis Berthet (Tahiti)
  11. Teiki Conti (Tahiti)
  12. Stephan Lambert (Tahiti)
  13. Thierry Tching (Tahiti)
  14. Jérome Chapelier (Moorea)
  15. Heremoana Chapelier (Moorea)
  16. Jeremy Lewis (USA)
  17. Jean-Marie Le Caignec (Tahiti)

Women’s Overall

  1. Carter Graves (USA)
  2. Jessica Rocheleau (USA)
  3. Maeva Hargrave (Tahiti)

SUP Division

  1. Steeve Teihotaata
  2. Bruno Tauhiro
  3. Keahi Agnieray
  4. Fernando Stalla
    4. Teavatea Wong
  5. Teiva Veronique
  6. David Foster
  7. Alex Pelou
  8. Damien Girault
  9. Remy Lavie
  10. Matt Poole

Prone Division

  1. Matt Poole (Australia)
  2. Steeve Teihotaata (Tahiti)
  3. Alexis Berthet (Tahiti)
  4. Bruno Tauhiro (Tahiti)
  5. Fernando Stalla (Mexico)
  6. Keahi Agnieray (Tahiti)
  7. Remy Lavie (France)
  8. Teavatea Wong (Tahiti)
  9. David Foster (Tahiti)
  10. Carter Graves (USA)
  11. Damien Girault (Tahiti)
  12. Alex Pelou (Raiatea)
  13. Teiki Conti (Tahiti)
  14. Thierry Tching (Tahiti)
  15. Jérome Chapelier (Moorea)
  16. Heremoana Chapelier (Moorea)
  17. Jessica Rocheleau (USA)
  18. Jeremy Lewis (USA)
  19. Stephan Lambert (Tahiti)
  20. Maeva Hargrave (Tahiti)
  21. Jean-Marie Le Caignec (Tahiti)
  22. Teiva Veronique (Tahiti)

Swim Division

  1. Matt Poole (Australia)
  2. Keahi Agnieray (Tahiti)
  3. Taevatea Wong (Tahiti)
  4. Jessica Rocheleau (USA)
  5. Bruno Tauhiro (Tahiti)
  6. Carter Graves (USA)
  7. David Foster (Tahiti)
  8. Damien Girault (Tahiti)
  9. Fernando Stalla (Mexico)
  10. Steeve Teihotaata (Tahiti)
  11. Manu Zona
  12. Steven Geva
  13. Teiva Veronique (Tahiti)
  14. Teiki Conti (Tahiti)
  15. Alex Pelou (Raiatea)
  16. Stephan Lambert (Tahiti)
  17. Heremoana Chapelier (Moorea)
  18. Alexis Berthet (Tahiti)
  19. Jeremy Lewis (USA)
  20. Jérome Chapelier
  21. Remy Lavie (France)
  22. Jean-Marie Le Caignec (Tahiti)
  23. Thierry Tching (Tahiti)
  24. Maeva Hargrave (Tahiti)

Combo Division

Men:

  1. Matt Poole
  2. Keahi Agnieray
  3. Teavatea Wong
  4. Bruno Tauhiro
  5. Steeve Teihotaata
  6. Fernando Stalla
  7. David Foster
  8. Teiva Veronique
  9. Alex Pelou
  10. Damien Girault
  11. Remy Lavie
  12. Stephan Lambert
  13. Teiki Conti
  14. Alexis Berthet
  15. Jérome Chapelier
  16. Thierry Tching
  17. Jeremy Lewis
  18. Heremoana Chapelier
  19. Jean-Marie Le Caignec

Women:

  1. Carter Graves
  2. Jessica Rocheleau
  3. Maeva Hargrave

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