By Tom Demerly.
In the same way John Krakauer’s Into Thin Air brought grumbling and threats of litigation to the mountaineering world- and put Mt. Everest on the tip of everyone’s tongue, Matt Fitzgerald’s Iron War peels back the layers of the most dramatic race in history at the Ironman World Triathlon Championship.
Iron War is our Into Thin Air. Captivating, animated, uniquely readable and downright thrilling. This is a truly great read- and an ode to our sport with all its quirky characters and epic venues.
Matt Fitzgerald is one of the most credible and prolific authors in our sport. Until Iron Wars his numerous books were more technical with successful titles like Racing Weight: How to Get Lean for Peak Performance and the Runner’s World Guide to Cross-Training. Fitzgerald has also shared authorship with bestselling ultra-runner Dean Karnazes of Born to Run fame. Fitzgerald’s Iron Wars is his first real foray into describing a story. It is absolutely comparable to Krakauer, Bowden (Blackhawk Down) or Sebastian Junger (The Perfect Storm).
For triathletes Iron War is particularly relevant for a number of reasons. Firstly, we play in a new sport that is short on history except for stories handed down on internet forums and in back issues of Competitor and Triathlete. We have a culture of last-decade triathletes that don’t know Mark Allen from Marky-Mark. Fitzgerald helps to fill in those blanks with Iron War. He also gives us one of very few history books on our sport.
In fairness, both Dave Scott and Mark Allen- the main characters of Iron Wars, wrote books about the sport and about their duels in Kona. They are, for the most part, incomplete records of the events surrounding the 1989 Ironman. Their race narrative was a footnote to their training doctrine.
Fitzgerald takes the magazine article, forum banter, transition area kibbutz- the places where triathlon legends are made- and puts these stories into a credible media with an ISBN number. As such, we have a historical record. For the athletes who may feel the record slanted, it also gives them a publishing opportunity in the same way Krakauer’s Into Thin Air spun off a bookstore shelf of contrarian titles.
Iron War is also a great visual record of the event and the characters, with fantastic photos and maps and an impressive bibliography and note section documenting Fitzgerald’s research and interviews used for Iron War.
Understanding the controversy surrounding the book I read with a critical eye trying to understand if Allen and Scott’s rancor is justified and if Fitzgerald used excessive “license” in their characterizations. Fitzgerald does describe two characters and develops them well. If Fitzgerald has written a less than balanced account it’s because triathletes, especially good ones, are a little less than balanced too.
Controversy aside Iron War is what we buy books for: Excitement, entertainment, information and inspiration. Iron War provides those things in volumes. It is great writing, great storytelling and a good historical record. If you are new to the sport and wonder how Ironman Hawaii has become the Holy Grail this book helps you understand. Iron War delivers excitement and refreshment like a cold drink at mile 21 of the Ironman run. It belongs on every triathlete’s reading list.