As I mentioned earlier this week I witnessed and IronMan Race last weekend. Here is what I learned about storytelling at the Finish Line.
Pressure applied in appropriate places makes the story richer. Take a thirty-something mother of 4, who has trained and overcome injury and struggled with inner demons of doubt, and have her decide to swim, bike and run in an Ironman Triathlon.
The 2 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride and 26.2 mile run are individually difficult. Combine them all on one day. Then lets make the swim an open water event with wind and reeds and other natural challenges. Let's set the bike route up one of the steepest hills in Ironman history, and lest we forget the run lets make it a 13 mile circuit that has to be repeated with inclines and ravines to test her.
That's not even the pressure.
Add 2,000 other competitors to get in the way, especially during the swim. And the piece de resistance...elimination time limits, 5 of them.
Now we have the recipe for a really great hero's journey. Will she fight her way through the sea of bodies clamoring to get through the water at the same time she is? YES she makes it, after throwing a few underwater elbows in order to breath. Will she make the first bike check point in time? YES she makes it. But then a recent back injury begins to cause pain with 40 miles still left in the bike and a looming 2nd deadline. Will she make it before the deadline?
Barely. (Shwoo, we were getting really worried.) Now if she can make it through the bike then the Marathon is cake, right? Yep lap one she makes in plenty of time. Looks strong, we are relaxing she will finish...but then on lap 2 at the final turn around she is later and later and later. The man with the broken shoulder who is walking the course wrapped in gauze with blood showing under the bandages has already gone by and our friend is still out there.
The sun goes down and the temperature drops. And then we can't wait any more. We begin to walk backward along the course, hoping that she is the next runner we see, nope. What about the next?
YES. She makes it over the crest of the hill and she's limping, her knee is swelling, but she is walking faster than any normal person would. She smiles...she is going to make it. Back at the finish line with thousands of cheering people all waiting for their runners to appear out of the dark. What is the earliest we can expect to see her? 5 more minutes 10? Wait is that her? YES she is walking but she is fast! And then the announcer proclaims her an IRONMAN and after 140.6 miles and over 15 hours of exertion, she crosses the finish and is caught in the arms of her twin sister.
Without the weighty responsibilities of motherhood to slow her training, the other competitors to get in the way, the time limits to keep her going this is just a story of a woman who is a little crazy. BUT with the pressure we have an inspirational hero. So the story is all about the pressure and the glory is far sweeter. Way to go, Lizz.