Ironman Lake Tahoe Facebook page members enjoy the crystal blue water at a pre-race meet-up.
photo by Go Shiggy Go photography
You’ve signed up for your Ironman. You’ve made your travel plans. You’ve even bought all your race gear (so you think).
But have you joined your race’s Facebook event page?
Don’t un-friend me just yet.
As many of you know, I recently completed Ironman Lake Tahoe. Nearly a month later, the participant-driven Facebook event page community remains vibrant. According to some of the Lake Tahoe triathletes who have completed other Ironman-distance events and joined similar online communities, the Ironman Lake Tahoe Facebook page is something of an anomaly. Many online race communities — including pages for Ironman Coeur d’Alene, Ironman Texas and Ironman Arizona — seem to experience a mass exodus within a week after the race. These same members told me they’ve never been a part of a group quite like this one – inside or outside triathlon. When I recently posted in the Lake Tahoe Facebook group I was going to write about this tight-knit clan, I received more than 60 comments and several more private messages with explanations of how much the Ironman Lake Tahoe Facebook page has meant to them.
While the buzz from the 900-member page (representing one-third of those who signed up for the race) has dwindled, there are often new threads posted almost daily. Race reports still trickle in, members console each other after sharing stories of post-race depression, congratulate each other on signing up for more Ironman events and some even swap tattoo designs. Some members have posted heartfelt farewell messages, only to return to the group days later as another interesting thread pops up. Why?
“It has the same feeling as my early Coast Guard days,” explained Brian Conn, who finished Ironman Lake Tahoe along with his fiancée (her first IM) — both crediting the Facebook page for helping them do so thanks to the pre-race bike course intelligence being shared. “Once you go through something like (Ironman Lake Tahoe), you always feel bonded with those who stood at your side from the beginning. I feel there will always be a sense of pride and togetherness, and I will always be a part of the group.”
After experiencing the inaugural race and the conditions leading up to it, it’s easier to understand why the Facebook page has become a virtual home for those still processing and coping with the day’s events. This is especially true for those who missed the cutoff times and were unable to finish. For Angela Gaudino, Ironman Lake Tahoe represented her third Ironman event. She knew it would be a challenge due to the bike course, and signed up for the Facebook page months prior relieved to find others who had the same anxieties. After suffering through her first DNF, Gaudino has since found comfort within the Facebook community. “It is a group of people who understand,” she said. “The therapy and support has continued…a virtual shoulder to cry on. I did not join social media groups for my other IMs, but I will in the future.”
Should you join an online community to help better prepare you for your race? It depends on what you’re looking for. If you are training for your first Ironman-distance event, you’ll be able to share the excitement and drama with your fellow competitors. That’s valuable considering most of our friends and family get pretty sick of hearing all triathlon talk, all the time. And yet there’s so much to think about going in that only fellow competitors can understand. However, that same communal frenzy can be mentally taxing and prey into your anxieties, as it did for several on the Ironman Lake Tahoe page. “I get it – you sign up for an Ironman and it’s all you can think about from the minute you get the confirmation,” said three-time Ironman finisher Sharon McNary, whose bid for Ironman Lake Tahoe was cut short in mid-July with a hamstring injury. “Facebook is an outstanding place to find empathy. But the discussions I most appreciated were the ones with humor, or solid information about the race venue. I’d generally gloss over the bids for attention and hand-holding.”
Personally, I’m glad I didn’t participate in an online community for my first Ironman three years ago. I was a nervous wreck throughout my training and had plenty of self-motivation mixed with self-doubt already. Logging in daily for fluctuating weather reports, debates about using compact cassettes or aero helmets, hydration strategies, travel questions, and seeing how others are dealing with pre-race anxiety may have pushed me to the brink of a breakdown – along with my coach! Like McNary, I scrolled through the Ironman Lake Tahoe Facebook page every few days to find the nuggets of helpful intelligence that could help me better prepare for the rigors of race day.
To decide if joining a race’s online community is a wise move, ask yourself what you hope to learn or gain first. Do you have a coach who can allay your concerns and educate you on what to expect? Are you training with other triathletes who have completed Ironman-distance events? Do you live near the course you’re racing at? Are the conditions and terrain where you train similar to what you’ll experience during the race? If you can answer affirmatively to all those questions then really the only reason to join an online community is for…well, community! And that’s OK – I’ve been moved watching total strangers embrace each other’s cause and call themselves friends even though they’ve never met. It’s also meaningful to share your journey with others on the same path. The training hours add up and get lonely. Knowing there are others out there experiencing the same grind can be comforting. It’s why I started my blog when I began training for that first Ironman.
While many folks like me have looked for what we can gain from joining a race’s online community, some on the Ironman Lake Tahoe Facebook page focused instead on giving back. Six-time Ironman finisher Redfield “Toby” Baum, Jr., joined the Ironman Lake Tahoe Facebook page partially because he wanted to share his knowledge and experience with those who may be new to Ironman-distance events. “When given the chance, I try to give back to those who need assistance,” he said. “Tahoe seemed like a recipe for disaster and I figured anything I could do to improve someone’s day, increase the chances of them finishing, was something I had an obligation to do.”
Regardless of why they joined or how long they stayed active, members of the Ironman Lake Tahoe Facebook community added a new dimension of preparation and wider spectrum of memories to their race experience. Is that not reason alone to login at least once?
What’s not to Like?