Once you’ve successfully completed a full distance official Ironman event, you’ve earned the right to call yourself an Ironman and get yourself an ‘M dot’ Ironman tattoo.
The ‘M dot’ is the name given to the logo that the official Ironman corporation uses. It’s typically a thick red ‘M’ with an equally thick red dot placed just above it in the middle to symbolise the Ironman.
Of course, it’s not compulsory to get the tattoo. It is a choice. It happened to be #6 of my 10 goals. My wife had even said she’d pay for it. I wanted the tattoo.
Some folks will tell you that permanently branding yourself with a corporate logo is fundamentally wrong. I understand marketing. I would usually agree.
But this is different.
You don’t have to build the bike to get a Harley Davidson tattoo (you may have to do other things but I’m not going there), you can put a Nike tick wherever you like for having done nothing in particular – and I respect those decisions. However, you have to have swam 2.4 miles, you have to have then cycled 112 miles and then run a further 26.2 miles to earn the right to get the M dot tattoo.
That’s the difference. No-one can take that achievement away from you.
In my opinion, the M dot tattoo transcends the corporate brand. Ever since I first saw one in the flesh and I understood what it was and what it meant I wanted one. I wanted to earn the right to get one. A simple red ‘M dot’ just above my left ankle.
You will see many different kinds of M dot tattoo’s and you’ll see more once you decide to go on your Ironman journey. You’ll probably have a strong view on the subject already. It’s one of those marmite subjects. Folks really do go to town.
I got my ‘Plain Jane’ M Dot tattoo two days after I’d completed Ironman Austria 2013. And this is how I went about it:
I made sure I got an official piece of artwork. Proportionally it had to be correct. A wobbly tattoo I did not want. I took my official race day IM magazine to the local Tattooist. I went to see them, had a look around the studio’s and met Georgia and her father, Lee, who together ran the family business. I showed them what I wanted and then booked myself in that afternoon.
The area where your tattoo is going is shaved and cleaned. Then, and this bit is vital, to be completely happy with where you want your tattoo, a standard pen outline is drawn and an iphone used to take shots, to make sure it’s in exactly the right place. We did this a few times until we (me, my wife and the artist) were all 100% happy.
The outline is used as a template for the artist to fill in. You are asked to hold very still – you may not be able to see what is going on. The anticipation of the machine kicking in (a noise similar to the clippers that a barbour uses) and the needle going to work on your skin is much the same as waiting for the canon to go off on race day. You know it’ll hurt at some point, you’re just not completely sure when…
And that’s it!
The process lasted about 45 mins, I was in the shop for about an hour. Georgia was professional and consultative in her approach and I felt completely safe and confident in her hands. We talked about the colour and whether to have an outline or not. We went without given the size of the tattoo and the vibrancy of the colour.
Once the tattoo was complete we went through the care and healing process. Georgia advised washing it with warm soapy water for the first few days, to pat dry with a clean towel and to rub the area with bepanthen everyday until it was completely healed.
For me, it was part of the whole Ironman journey. The sacrifices you made, the months of training, the early mornings, the pain, the injuries, the overcoming, the sense of achievement, the subsequent crash and the ironman blues.
My M dot tattoo helps me remember. It maybe a simple or naive view, maybe too sentimental, but it’s mine. Shoot me down, I’m happy.
So there you have it. No pain, no tattoo. My only advice to other first time Ironman finishers on this subject is to be sure that it’s what you want and to be completely happy and confident in the artist you choose.
You are an Ironman, you have earned the tattoo.