Ironman Tattoos. Love ‘em or hate ‘em?

| January 29, 2011 | Comments (17)

What do you think of those Ironman tattoos?  Do you love them?  Hate ‘em?  Freedom of expression or a cry for attention? I think this is a very valid question for discussion. I personally have never understood why anyone would desecrate their body by putting something permanent on themselves like that, however, to each his or her own.  I understand that millions of people have tattoos and enjoy them so by all means get one.

But take this one as an example.  Why would you ever tattoo a company’s brand name on yourself unless of course you were the CEO or a life-long employee?  Or even the word Ironman with the little red guy placed in there.  The name has become a leading brand and so you’re ultimately stamping yourself with the logo of a mega-marketing machine that will in the end benefit others; those who directly work for the World Triathlon Corporation.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that I suppose, however, I just think it looks, well, funny.  Or the old go-to tattoo that everyone and his uncle seems to get when completing their first Ironman; the little red “Ironman” on their calf. At least this one I can understand as it’s a little ambiguous if you are outside of the triathlon world.  It then begs the person to ask the tattoo’d, “what is that?  what does that mean?”

Which brings me back to one of my first questions.  Are tattoos in general, and these in particular (go to any Ironman event and you’ll see dozens of the same thing), a cry for attention?  I’m not sure I have the answer to this.

I realize that for many the hours of sacrifice put in to just finish an Ironman let alone seriously compete can be daunting.  And thus the tattooing of oneself becomes akin to a tribal ritual the way ancient tribesman used to do it.  But I’m looking for feedback.  I want to know what the general consensus is out there?  When you see someone walking around with one of these tattoos at a race or in the pool, what is your first thought? Do you judge that person in any way?  If so, how does it compare to the way that person really is?

Give this some thought and then if you so choose, please respond in kind!

Thanks for your support!



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Category: Random Thoughts

Comments (17)

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  1. Matthew says:

    I have always participated in sporting events since my school days and have been obsessed with collecting medals after each event.
    I am participating in my first Full Ironman race this April down in Port Elizebeth South Africa. I have already booked a date to get an Ironman Tattoo inked onto my skin 2 days after the race. That Tattoo will be the ultimate medal that I can show off to the world saying that I have completed one of the hardest one day sporting events in the world.
    It is a unique Tattoo as there are a small percentage of people in this world, let alone in the sporting world that can complete an event like this.

    I trust I’ve answered your question?

  2. Joe says:

    I feel that the mdot tattoos is a minimalist way of saying I did something, like matthew said, only a small percentage of other people in the world can and would do. However, as a person who already has some ink I think that tattoos are more of an art than a badge and being a minimalist is not in line with getting a tattoo. They are meant to be expressive, and tell a story, not just display an accomplishment. Just so this isn’t confusing, I do not mean that the mdot is bad, but tattoos are meant to be individualistic, so being more expressive and putting something else with the mdot is better and also, just the mdot is a bit tacky. I am diabetic, and I plan on putting the mdot on, but I will tell a story with that tattoo. People will be able to look at it and know what I did, and what I have to put up with and deal with daily. Tattoos are not for everyone, but for those with them they are a great source of pride.

  3. Greg says:

    Way to go Matthew! I have been running, at the Boston qualification level, since 1986 and will qualify on the new harder standards again 4/29 in Eugene. I will do my first full Ironman in Tempe the year I turn 65 AND YES, I will get the tattoo also.

    No one that qualifies for Boston OR completes a full Ironman questions the tattoo whether they want one or not! They understand the hard work it takes.


  4. Elizabeth says:

    I agree with Matthew: the Ironman tattoo is a vaunt in the warrior tradition. Achilles would have one if he were here today. The indelible body presence of tattoo is consonant with the permanence and heft of the achievement.

    That said, I finished my first Ironman last fall. I have yet to get any ink. Beforehand I swore that if I made it, I would want everyone, forever and including my undertaker, to know.

    My hesitations have to do with the issues raised in the original post: stigma and design. I am not sure I want to live with other people’s negative responses to tattooing. It feels wrong to be motivated by fear of what people think, but I know from other circumstances that dealing with judgmental reactions gets old in a hurry. The design issue is easier; it can be resolved with a little thought.

  5. Sue Warriner says:

    I just completed my one and only Ironman and am thinking about getting a tattoo…what were the responses like to your post…I would be interested in knowning how people feel about it…



  6. Maureen says:

    I have, to date, run two marathons and done one Olympic distance tri. I didn’t feel the need to get a 26.2 tattoo, but I know that if I ever completed an ironman (and I hope some day that I do) I will be getting the m-dot inked on me. Now that I have a vague inkling of what it must take to get to an ironman finish line, I am in awe of everyone I see with one. It is slightly unfortunate that the symbol is a brand and I would be somewhat of a walking advertisement, but I think the pride I would feel at having earned it, and knowing others will be able to see this sign of my accomplishment would allow me to overlook that aspect. I should qualify my comment by adding that I already have a tattoo in a location that is only visible to the public when I am in a swimsuit. I work in corporate America and I am mindful that outward appearance is important when it comes to people’s perception of you. I woul keep this in mind while choosing the size and location of any future tattoos I may get.

  7. Bill says:

    I have never been a fan of tattoos. The thought of permanently putting a name or symbol on your body did not appeal to me. Since I have started competing in triathlons a few years ago and plan on entering my first full distance Ironman next year, I have considered getting the ever popular mdot tattoo. It will definitely have my own personal flair to it. I have seen several Ironman tattoos and have always been in awe of that person’s accomplishment. Like earlier posts have said, not everyone is capable of completing one of these events. It would be a badge of accomplishment. Once you have swim, biked and ran 140.6, you will forever be an Ironman.

  8. Dana Spencer says:

    I was in the military so I have a american flag inspired tattoo. I am a firefighter and I have a 9-11 inspired tattoo. I am a Ironman and I have a M-dot tattoo. If you feel you earned something and are proud of it then it is your body and don’t concern yourself what others think.

  9. J1234 says:

    I completed my first Ironman, after starting triathlons 2 years ago, and did get the tat after the event, as a right of passage, not show off or brag.

    24 weeks of busting your hump, 6 days a week, 2 sessions on each day, with 7-hour bricks on Sundays, rain or shine, missing family events, etc.

    I personally did not go with the standard red M-dot. I added a lot of aspects from the race, ie. local features, head-winds on the bike, etc. to highlight the journey and to thank my family for all the support along the way.

  10. Nige says:

    I started triathlon 18 months ago & now plan to compete in my 1st Ironman at Switzerland 2013.

    I have always wanted a tattoo, and have even designed my own tribal design. However the idea of needles & pain has always put me off.

    Should cross that finish line next July within the 16hr time limit, the pain and suffering gone into acheiving that goal will far out weight what a tattoist chair can deliver.

  11. Tim says:

    This is such a interesting and enlightening topic. My skin is currently clean. Never had a tattoo or wanted one other than having to do with run or tri. I’ve been doing Tri for about 7 years, and have done 4 70.3s before doing my 1st full last month. For years I dreamed about getting the mdot finally and adding in some other symbolism about the race. Now that it’s over i would love to express all of that, but over the past year or two the growth of the sport and people just doing it to do it one and done has turned me off of my original idea. This sounds biased i know, and its even quite silly, but other than the branding single mdot on the calf, I wish it was even more rare than it is to do a full IM. I’m still debating this, and maybe will make the decision soon…. comments?

  12. Lou Mancuso says:

    I’ll be doing my first Ironman in June (Nice) and currently have NO tatoos, but getting one for this accomplishment is something I’m certainly considering. I’m all for it.

  13. Scott says:

    As a marketing professional, I see this differently from many of you. When I see an M-dot tattoo, all I see is a corporate logo, and it makes me feel like many of you have turned your incredible bodies into a walking advertisement for wtc.

    I completely understand your reasons, all of them, for wanting the tattoo. I’m just telling you what I see. The bottom line for me is that a corporation exists to make money, and its symbols work toward that end. It seems contrary to the life changing experience and purity of being a triathlete.

    What happens if you brand yourself permantly with their logo, and you suddenly have a rift with them, like being wrongfully disqualified from a competition or a ban of some sort? Would you still proudly sport their corporate logo?

    Why not choose some other design to commemorate the 140.6? Is it important to you that others immediately recognize the IM accomplishment? Because you could just tattoo the word “Fred” on your arm if it reminded YOU of it.

    • J Hepper says:

      I think you are missing the point Scott and yes, it is probably because you are a marketing professional.

      ‘What happens if you brand yourself permantly with their logo, and you suddenly have a rift with them, like being wrongfully disqualified from a competition or a ban of some sort? Would you still proudly sport their corporate logo?’ Nobody is putting getting this tattoo to remember that the company let them do it or that they completed an ironman itself. It’s nothing to do with the corporation. It is simply a testament of will power and overcoming all odds to get to the finish.

      If you complete an ironman, even once, nobody can ever take that away from you as long as you live. That is the point of the tattoo.

  14. Kaleb says:

    If your only argument is the fact that you’re permanently putting a corporation logo on you then that doesn’t make sense. Everyone with the mdot tattoo does not think about the corporation point of view but the accomplishment of finishing an im competition. If you think about it every piece of clothing we wear has a logo on it. So if you wear a Nike shirt do you work for Nike? Atleast with the mdot tattoo it means something and not just wearing a brand name because you like it. The ironman competition is the most recognizable triathlon series and the tattoo is for showing off what’s wrong with that, how many other people have actually completed an ironman race? Everyone shows off something, car, hair, clothes, etc. what makes it different.

  15. nige says:

    My original post Nov 16 2012… I have now acheourney, and currently designing my own ubique M-DOT . Having slogged it out for 15hr 21min, I truely have an appreciation of what the symbol represents… Will I put myself through that again? Dam right I will, I’ve now set myself a time to beat. Lol

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