New York Times reporter Steinberg (The Gatekeepers: Inside the Admissions Process of a Premier College, 2002) tells the stories of six ordinary people’s attempts to complete an Ironman triathlon.
For most people, the idea of the triathlon—a 2.4-mile open-water swim followed by a 112-mile bike ride and a 26-mile run—probably seems insane. For others, doing all three of those things within a 17-hour span is a challenge to be met. In his second book, which takes its title from the finish-line greeting given to those who succeed, Steinberg attempts to show the day-to-day struggles of several individuals trying to achieve this goal by completing the Ironman Arizona 2009 race. In addition to the strenuous requirements of the race, several of the subjects faced additional challenges, including high blood pressure, recovery from cancer and, most incredibly, a double lung transplant due to cystic fibrosis. The altruism of the participants is of particular note. Many are conflicted about the selfish nature of their pursuit and the time their rigorous training takes them away from their families, but nearly all are raising money or awareness for a worthy cause. The narrative, written in a breezy journalistic style, jumps from character to character as they navigate the ups and downs of their training, competing in shorter races and juggling their other responsibilities. Steinberg lightens his authorial load by liberally quoting from the athletes’ blog postings. Though the goal for which they are striving, described by one race official as a “poor man’s Everest,” may be remarkable, the majority of their experiences on the way to the finish line are more mundane, and none of their personalities come through strongly enough to provide readers more than a casual rooting interest.
The author does not provide deeper insight into the nature of human endurance, but anyone dreaming of completing a triathlon or just seeking to get off the couch and into better shape will find inspiration here.