Reviewed by Tom Demerly.
There are three books that provide a time-capsule insight into triathlon and serve as single volume texts for our sport. Dave Scott’s Triathlon Training published in 1986 is one. Mark Allen’s Total Triathlete from 1988 is another. The most recent is Chris McCormack and Tim Vandehey’s I’m Here to Win.
I’m Here to Win chronicles triathlon in the modern era, and it does so with a voice that typifies the modern triathlon experience in every way. In the age of Olympic triathlons and the M-Dot tattoo, this is the perfect literary record of our culture, our experience, our mindset. Fifty years from now if you want to feel what the sport was like from 2000 to 2010, this book will provide a literary insight- not only of races, places and faces, but a feel for the attitude as well.
The sport has changed since the Allen/Scott books: The introduction of Olympic triathlon, the emergence of the “everyman Ironman”. McCormack is a part of those movements. He tells those stories with an attitude shared by the aero helmet and compression sock crowd of the current era. It’s like learning about ancient Egypt from King Tut.
McCormack’s book is a text for every triathlete. While you may not share the ideology of the brash Aussie, McCormack’s mindset pervades our culture in modern triathlon. It will provide inspiration and validation of why you pay an entry fee. It will teach you the recent history of the sport, including the Olympic and Ironman movements- two key elements of the growth of triathlons. There is zany entertainment and chutzpah- filled motivation. There are also real-world technical insights into how the pros get so fast. In fact, McCormack’s book peels back the veil concealing elite level training to a greater degree than any previous insight.
One of the great “light bulbs” in I’m Here to Win is the de-mystification of how a person gets so fast. Especially to U.S. athletes, this is an important insight. McCormack started early and worked his butt off. At the breaks between chapters there is a one page summary of McCormack’s training volume, race frequency and results. When I read those pages I went back over them and did the math- miles per week, the volume of training. It’s superhuman. The message is clear: It’s not about coaches and gadgets; it’s about hard work, long miles and sacrifice.
A key chapter in McCormack’s book describes a pivotal moment in life, and made me want to give a box of these books to a local Junior High School. McCormack talks about finishing his college degree and taking a white collar job in an office. He followed his father’s direction and got a “real job”, giving up his globetrotting triathlon life. Then he understood how futile it was to live a life different than his dream. He quit. McCormack was so worried about his father’s reaction he faked going to his office job for weeks, putting on a tie and leaving for a job that didn’t exist. Eventually he confessed to his dreams, moved to Europe and became a kind of endurance-monk. As McCormack’s mileage and fitness accumulated so did the prominence of the sport. His timing couldn’t have been better. McCormack bucked the Australian Olympic system and still put together an impressive Olympic resume. He won Ironmans. He emerged as the most successful triathlete in the history of the sport.
In many ways McCormack’s book is more functional and inspirational than Armstrong’s Its Not About the Bike. While McCormack offers no miraculous medical recovery, he threads the straight and narrow of athletic accomplishment while retaining the attitude of a maverick. There’s no controversy beyond his competitive confidence and mind-gaming attitude. It’s all meat.
McCormack’s book also emerges at a time when media is changing how we experience our sport and its personalities. I’m Here to Win reads like an internet forum race report from slowtwitch.com or beginnertriathlete.com in many ways. That gives it an engaging quality that sucks you in.
Finally, Macca’s narrative of the 2010 Ironman in chapter 10 is riveting. It felt like a Tom Clancy narrative of battle. It is technical and descriptive, the action ebbs and flows. When you finish I’m Here to Win you feel like you need a cold Gatorade and help to the massage table.
At the same time I read I’m Here to Win I had just finished Howard E. Wasdin and Stephen Templin’s SEAL Team Six. The parallels in action and technical insight are striking, and it reminded me of the cliché that there are only two kinds of human contests, racing and warfare. Macca does a masterful job of pulling us into the contest of racing.
The single best reason to read I’m Here to Win is not to learn something about our sport- although you’ll learn plenty- it’s to learn something about yourself as an athlete compared to the alpha predator, set against the backdrop of triathlon in the modern era. What are modern triathlon and the modern triathlete all about? Read Macca’s book: It’s the definition.