To M-Dot or Not to M-Dot

Feb 06

Recently some professional triathlete was all proud of himself for coming up with an arbitrary “do’s and don’ts of triathlon.” He started his post by exclaiming that some athletes will “probably be offended at some point” while reading his list, as if he were making a racist rant about Obama or opining that men should decide whether women should have abortions instead of making the controversial claim that triathletes should use chamois cream before their rides. I didn’t take offense to his list so much as rolled my eyes to it, as if you’re not a “serious” or “hardcore” athlete if you commit any of these cardinal sins.

According to him, nobody in the history of ever should do their swim workout while wearing a watch, even if they need to record splits that would be much easier to track via the lap button than trying to memorize them all from the wall clock. Got it. You should also listen to this guy when it comes to fueling, because it’s better to forgo extra fuel on the bike and a fuel belt during your runs so you don’t look like a fool, amirite? Because everyone laughs at you if they see you carrying some bottles and a few gels. They all point and cackle, “Look at this dumb-ass, carrying a couple unnecessary extra pounds! Revoke his USAT card right now!” Also, despite the fact that I have never seen anyone ever eat a gel outside of training or races, thanks for pointing out that one should never consume them as a snack or meal. I’m sure that happens all the time.

I suppose the only truly “controversial” point this guy brought up was the M-dot tattoo. You all know it well–it’s the Ironman logo that some athletes get tattooed on their bodies after completing their first Ironman. His argument was “do fat people get the McDonald’s Arches tattooed on their bellies because they love a quarter pounder with cheese?”, which is a straw man argument. It’s not like some guy ran out and got the M-dot tattoo because he liked the Timex Ironman brand watches; typically the mindset is that the tattoo is “earned” after months of training and upon completion of the race, whereas any schmuck who loves Mickey D’s or is an Apple fanboy can get the arches or apple icon inked on his skin.

What I think this man was trying to say is that the M-dot is a corporate logo, and tattooing a corporate logo onto your body is stupid–it’s like getting the LG logo or BMW permanently etched onto your body. I can understand that argument, but are you really going to nitpick an M-dot tattoo over tattoos in general (especially when the author himself admitted to having a “Cleveland” tattoo, which is infinitely more embarrassing than an M-dot considering Cleveland is an utter shithole)? People get stupid, ridiculous tattoos all the time for no reason–at least the M-dot tattoo has some semblance of reason and meaning behind it.

Would you make fun of a group of military guys for getting army/navy/squadron/etc tattoos? Of course not, because you’d probably get your ass kicked, but also because you understand that even though the army is a “corporate” logo, it represented a time in that guy’s life when he did something personally meaningful and bonded with a group of like-minded individuals. I don’t see the M-dot as being any different. Not everyone is naturally athletic or gifted. Some people look at an Ironman and see Mt. Everest. They train for months, maybe even years, to aspire to complete one, and when they do they see a dream fulfilled, a giant conquered, a goal attained. Maybe they want to get a tattoo to remind them of the emotional and physical journey they embarked on in order to earn that medal and that finisher’s photo. Maybe they’re already a tattoo freak so what’s one more added to the bunch? Hell, maybe they just like the M-dot logo, after all.

The biggest question you ask yourself shouldn’t be “Why?”, it should be “Why do I care?” And the answer is you shouldn’t. It’s not your body, so you don’t have to live with it for the rest of your life. The M-dot logo may mean nothing to you, but it probably means something to the person who had it inked onto his or her skin. Are you going to go into that person’s house and start trashing the art on his walls, the furniture in his living room, the car that he drives, just because you personally don’t like it? Aren’t manners and being polite basic skills everyone learned in kindergarten?

I’ve completed an Ironman and am training for my second one. I don’t have an M-dot tattoo, nor do I plan to ever get one. Tattoos aren’t my thing, but I understand that some people find them appealing. I have teammates with M-dot tattoos and I have teammates without them. When I see someone sporting one, I don’t roll my eyes and think, “What a fool.” I just see a triathlete. Maybe he’s slow, maybe he’s fast, I don’t know. He might have raced Kona countless times over or he might have barely made the 17 hour cut-off. Whoever he is, I don’t judge him because he has an M-dot tattoo. This same guy could look at my race splits, see my atrocious swim times, and sneer “Why is she even doing this sport?” without knowing anything else about me.

So, in the age-old question “To M-dot or not to M-dot,” the answer is “do whatever you feel like.” If you want to get an M-dot tattoo, get one. If you don’t, don’t. If you roll your eyes at the tattoo, guess what: it’s not mandatory–the athlete catchers don’t grab you as soon as you cross the finish line, guide you to get your medal and your photo taken, then shove you into a tattoo tent and hold you down while Mike Reilly etches the logo onto your calf. If that were the case, Sister Madonna would look like she were in a prison gang. The tattoo isn’t a big deal. Get one or don’t, but don’t sneer at athletes who don’t have one if you do, and don’t scoff at athletes who do have one if you don’t. We can all enjoy the sport together, tattoo or not.

9 comments

  1. I think you pretty much summed up my thoughts when I read his blog post! It wasn’t controversial, just kinda dumb or snobby in spots!

  2. Sarah /

    Is it just me or is this Ironman logo remarkably similar to the logo for the Millionair Club?

  3. Thank you for this post. I just finished my first Ironman and have always wanted to ‘earn’ the right to get a m-dot tattoo. Now that I finally have, I happened on the article you mentioned and it kind of made me feel a bit silly about wanting a tattoo. But, I agree with your points. I did the Ironman for myself in the first place, not to win, to to show anyone up, but just for me. And I would like the tattoo for the same reason.

  4. Got my M-dot today and am super happy about it. Sure, it’s a bit cheesy to some I guess, but I’m pretty proud of my accomplishment and, therefore, I wanted to mark the special occasion after nearly four years of training and sacrifice. Anyone who thinks I’m being silly or “stupid” is welcome to feel that way…after they take the proper position in line to bite me.

  5. David /

    Thoughtful blog. Except the part about Cleveland. I’ve been there. It’s not so bad. Anyway, nice blog.

    • Rebecca /

      I grew up in Michigan so I’m hard-wired to dislike anything in Ohio that’s not Cedar Point.

  6. Patrick /

    If I ever finish an ironman that will be my very first tattoo ever heck I might be a 40 year old getting his first tattoo by the time I get it but so worth it. My two half ironman were utter disasters hopefully Boise is better in 3 weeks.

  7. Some days I roll my eyes when I see that tat. Can’t help it. IM is a weird, non-standard ultra distance event, despite what the triathlon culture in the US would have you believe. Still find it odd that folks who are willing to set aside that crazy amount of time to train wouldn’t just use it to get faster at standard distance events. I honestly congratulate people for completing it – it is quite an accomplishment.

    Hitting yourself in the head with a hammer for up to 17 hours is quite an accomplishment, too (hammer tattoo, anyone?).

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