Searching for Cow-Man
There is a man with the name Ken Shirk who calls himself Cow-Man.
Cow-Man is a legend to all of us who has been around the sport for a long time.
He is the complete opposite to people who really dont like to train and only does one Ironman race to be able to say they did one.
Cow-Man raced his first marathon in 1967 and then decided to become a mountainman. He moved to Lake Tahoe, lived in a cabin with a wood stove, chopped firewood and fished and ran. In 1976 he wanted to do something big for Americas bicentennial so he ran around Lake Tahoe 72miles (115km). To further celebrate he painted himself red white and blue, his friends gave him a pair of buffalo horns that he mounted on his helmet and then ran through the city only wearing the helmet and paint on his naked body.
In 1976 Cow-Man ran the Western States 100, becoming the second man to complete the challenging 160km course. Cow-Man raced in the second Ironman race 1979 and every year following that until 2006. In all the races he would wear his helmet with the Bowie horns – even in the swim (as long as they allowed it which was probably only in 1979 – where he placed 7th overall with a time of 16hrs 41min)
Cow-Man in red Speedos and horns at the Ironman starting line 1979.
Some years he would qualify and race officially, some years he raced anyway – without a number. The locals would support him and give him water and food at the aid stations either way, as they loved him. The organizers (WTC) wanted to take him of the course and often did.
I met Cow-Man after the Ironman race in 1997 and we had a few drinks together. That year they took him of the course 200 meters before the finish line. They didnt want to let him cross the finishline as he had not qualified and paid the entry fee.
Meeting Cow-Man is one of the coolest memories in my triathlon career. He is the most humble and down to earth guy that just loves training and racing and does it in his own way.
When I asked for his business card, to be able to stay in contact, he took a card from the bar and wrote his address on the back of it. Cow-Man didnt have business cards, e-mail or a phone.
I have written to Cow-Man but I im not sure he is still alive and if he is, perhaps he’s not the kind of guy who stays in touch – much. I have also tried to find out about what happened to him from Fern Gavelek – a Hawaiian journalist who wrote an article about Cow-Man in 2012. She answered that she has not heard from him or about him since 2012.
Hopefully Cow-Man is still out there, running and racing in his own way and inspiring people to look for more than showing off a finisher t-shirt, inspiring people to be a little more relaxed and a little crazier.
I’m sure everyone understands what I am trying to say with this story. I don’t think that Ironman distance is or was every intended to stimulate consumption of expensive toys and make milions on Mdot logos. Neither do I think it was about results or achivments – it was intended for people to enjoy movement and as a test of your own limits together with likeminded people. It was for everyone, for fun and not for profit.
But things change, and I am not saying everything was better in the past – a lot of things are better now, back then we did’nt even race on closed roads…
Still, with Ironman now becoming a ”folksport” it is important to remember that it takes years of training and racing before you can truly apprechiate life in the very differnet state that you are exposed to during Ironman racing and training.
Most people never get there as there are always reasons NOT to give it your all and much easier to change course, pick other ”bucket list” item, new achivements to chase rather than become the best you can be on Ironman distance.
I advice to stay with it longer – it’s worth it.
And let me know if you seen Cow-Man recently!
Note: Out of the 5,719 Swedes that have completed an Ironman distance race 60% have only done one – so far….