Take this guy. This guy's an idiot. Apparently a well learned physician. Still an idiot.
In case you're not in the mood to read the story - he gave his race number this year to some other dude to run the Twin Cities Marathon. For whatever reason, and that's not really a big deal. Kind of uncool from a safety perspective, but whatever, maybe something came up or something and it was an expression of generosity to give the number away. Or something. Whatever. Anyway, the dude who ran with his number qualified for Boston. So idiot then went ahead and registered for Boston. Because he's technically qualified. Like he's entitled.
Talk about missing the whole damn point.
How could one even run it? How do you feel good about yourself in Boston knowing you don't belong there? Essentially cheated to get in? How do you even enjoy that? Take pride in it? Look a Finisher in the eye?
Huh. I'm finding as I write this that this sincerely pisses me off. And so alas, I go to bed.
Oh, but first, closed circuit to TriSaraTops, or anybody else in the general Cleveland area: Please tell me you're going to this. And please take pictures.
Friday, December 01, 2006
Take this guy. This guy's an idiot. Apparently a well learned physician. Still an idiot.
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Well I spent Thanksgiving in varying degrees of a sick stupor. I started developing a cold last Tuesday, and it got worse and worse and worse throughout the weekend. By Monday of this week I was in really bad shape. Today's the first day I feel back among the living, but I still have little energy. It sucks. Plus I'm bad at being sick. I don't know who's good at it, but I'm bad at it.
So. I was planning a 5k this weekend, but alas, no. I was planning a December 4th (Monday) launch date for the 2007 season - alas, no. Or maybe not, I dunno, we'll see. I'll have to stop hacking by then.
Sigh. This sucks.
Everybody else is doing cool things. I'm reading your blogs. All the cool kids are running cool races and swimming and doing what triathletes do. I'm working late nights. And being sick. I feel like such a tool.
Okay well. So much work to do, but I'm not presently fortified for late nights, so I'm going to call it a day and hope tomorrow is a bit better. I hope everybody had a great holiday and that you're all doing cool things, that I may live vicariously.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Well, a few things to know and share. Haven't checked in for a bit, so here's something before I head out the door for Thanksgiving travels:
1. I am really, really busy at work. I seem to always be this time of year - companies try and cram what they couldn't get to earlier in the year into just before year's end, and they want to satisfy their '06 budgets. The last 3 years, my Nov 1 to Christmas has been hysterical. This year seems no exception.
2. Because of said workload, I've decided to forgo the January marathon in Arizona that I'd been planning on. Yeah, I'm a bit heartbroken about it. But I maneuvered a lot of projects and deadlines around late this summer so as to feel distraction-free leading into Ironman. I put off a lot of Sunday work for long rides. So now, I figure, it's time to return the favor. My business has to come first for awhile, and I'll get into serious training for a May marathon come January. So be it. In the meantime, I'm just working out when I can. Not as assertive or aggressive as I'd like my offseason to be, but hey.
3. I'm sick. I haven't been sick in 3 years, and I was once well known for my staggering bouts with illness. I attribute this sickness 100% to my decline in mileage, period. That pisses me off. So I'm punching through some kind of cold here, or something. Feverish, zero energy, that sort of thing.
4. I got a new car - a Dodge Nitro. It's friggin' dope as hell. Making it more dope are the chrome Ironman and M-DOT decals I have placed about the car. I'll post pictures when I can.
5. I'm headed back to the Scene of the Time for Thanksgiving - back to Team Headquarters in Madison. Can't wait to see my family again, and maybe if I have some time I'll drive out the Roller Coaster, or the Finish Line, and kick some leaves a bit. I'm looking forward to it. I'll bring my camera.
6. A la TriSaraTops:
I'm thankful for this year, this 2006, which has been without question my Greatest Year since.
I'm thankful for this body, which I finally do treat as a Temple, which 32 years into the limited warranty is performing better than ever.
I'm thankful for summertime, and the smell of race day morning, and the way the sun shines at around 6:45am as I'm setting up Transition.
I'm thankful for the way my lungs burn a bit when I'm getting back into shape, when the muscle fibers are awakened and resume a familiar routine.
I'm thankful for those days late in the summer when I'm in stupid, stupid shape. When I could go forever and ever and ever.
I'm thankful for Ironman, and for all its meant to my life. So much more than a race, so much more than one day. It was a catalyst that brought me closer to my friends and family. It was an Event. One Of Those Things. I can point to relationships with my mother, Grandpa, cousin, sister-in-law, friends, wife, uncle - honestly, the list does not reach completion - that Ironman has directly or indirectly influenced for the better.
I'm thankful for Jackie, who thinks running with me (or sitting near me, or sleeping alongside, or whatever) is The Greatest Thing. I'm thankful for such unabashed admiration, and hope he understands how acutely its shared.
I'm thankful for everything on the next page, in the next chapters.
I'm thankful for all of you I've gotten to know, who's journeys coincide in whatever way with my own, even once in awhile intersecting, and from whom I've learned about a great deal more than triathlon.
Happy Thanksgiving everybody - thanks for everything -
Friday, November 10, 2006
Ack and thpt. Last night Todd and I cruised downtown (well, actually, to Uptown) to the Lagoon Theatre where the documentary What It Takes is showing - one of a handful of theatres in the country, and for one night only. It's available now on DVD, but a movie screening would definitely be the place to be. I've looked forward to it for weeks, and kind of measured my whole day by it - only seven more hours!, that sort of thing. I was in the mood for nothing else last night than to kick back with some bad-for-you movie snacks and watch some of the elite Jedi of the sport make their way through life and training to Kona 2005.
And the damn thing's sold out.
What!?! Ah crap.
Yeah, so we get all the way there, chattering about the movie and Ironman and triathlon and getting all geeked up, and as we're walking to the theatre Todd was wondering if it would be packed, and I doubted it - I have no idea why I doubted it - and even though we arrived 20 minutes early, we were greeted with a sign that it was sold out. Dammit dammit dammit. I guess I totally underestimated its popularity, or the presence of the tri community around here and its interest, or something - none of which makes any sense at all, and was mostly me being stupid. Should've gone yesterday afternoon and picked up tickets, I guess. Or something.
So anyway, that's my story about The Movie That Wasn't. I'll have to pick it up on DVD and host a movie night or something.
Sunday, November 05, 2006
Thursday, November 02, 2006
So let's talk about something else, yes? Let's get back into what the hell's been happening outside the philosophical.
So I've gained 6 pounds since Ironman. During last year's offseason I gained about 18, so hey. I'll consider it a good thing. I feel like a glumpy sloth, but I think it's just in my head. It's weird not riding the bike for umpteen hours a day, and those are some 5000 calories or something I'm not burning. So anyway. I'm not too worried about it - if I can stay right around here for tri season, I'll be happy. Better, if I can start the season ready to gain fitness, instead of lose weight, that would be smashing.
I haven't been swimming since Ironman at all. I don't think it's a bad thing. The thing is - and I'm happy to be enlightened here if anybody as another viewpoint - is that you just don't spend enough time in the water during a race to spend forever training in it. If I work my ass off, I'll maybe improve by...2 minutes? 3? I think I'm better off increasing efficiency on the bike, or becoming a stronger, faster runner, than to spend the time required for those kinds of gains in the water. That's not laziness or anything, it's just how I think I can be most productive. So I tend to do "just enough" in the water - enough to use my muscles efficiently, not get out feeling thrashed, and ready for what's next. I'm consistently middle-of-the-pack in the water, and I'm okay with that. So I'll start swimming in January, like I usually do. 'zat stupid, you think? I dunno.
I have a new favorite thing, which is a total surprise to me, and that's the iPod. No no, I've had an iPod since 3G (which, you have to be a geek to know what that means, but it means for several years now), and that's long since been a favorite thing, but I've never trained with it (unless I'm on the treadmill or lifting weights), and training with it is a new favorite thing. I found, when I used a SwiMP3 player in the water last spring, that the workouts were infinitely more fun and, I think, productive. I'm committed to spending as little time as possible on the treadmill this winter, so I thought I'd throw some tunes in to see how that works for me - up to this point I've never trained with music, because I don't race with music, so there you go. Anyway, I downloaded one of the Nike+ songs from iTunes - the one by The Chemical Method. It's 45 minutes of continuous music. It's kind of electronica, which normally isn't my thing at all, but wow. I love it on the run. I found myself going much faster, working harder, and having more fun. I have lots of music to choose from to make my own mixes, which of course I do, but it was fun having a continuous mix to just keep going, uninterrupted, and also it's fun to have some new music in the headphones for a run, or at least something I haven't heard a billion times before. Anyway, I'm into it. Anybody else train with the iPod? Any suggestions or anything?
Best excerpt from a book I'm reading right now:
"You see I have very little left to lose," he said.
"Everyone always thinks that," commented Colonel Aspiche, "until that little bit is taken away - and feels like the whole of the world."
Chang said nothing, resenting bitterly the slightest glimmer of actual insight coming from the Colonel.
Three blogs you should check out if you haven't, but probably if you've spent any time here you have: Triteacher's and TriSaraTops's. Just the right mix of personal stuff to give one an appreciable glimpse of the being behind the blog , mixed with great triathlon anecdotes, thoughts, ideas and strategies. All this with no drama. Bookmark 'em. Also, if you're in the mood for something outside triathlon, et. al., Pharmie's husband Steve is an increasingly accomplished photographer. It's kind of fun to follow somebody else's passions as he speaks in a different language, albeit the same vernacular, as we do. And his photography really is excellent. Plus, he's in training for Ironman Wisconsin. Anyway, check him out.
Oh, and Bolder in Boulder has a great post lately, in his final days before IMFL. Man if that don't take you back to the first days of September. Awesome. My heartfelt best to everybody in Florida this weekend who is becoming Ironman.
Work has been insane. Just totally nuts. Which, as an entrepreneur, is a good thing and certainly beats the alternative. It's caused a few glitches in the workout schedule, but nothing I haven't been able to live with.
Okay well would you believe this post took me all day to write? A bit here, a bit there. Insane, this schedule I'm keeping.
So anyway, that's what I've been up to. What's new whichu?
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
Today some Finisher apparel that I'd purchased in the 10 days after Ironman arrived. First off - some tasty gear, let me tell you. I got a Soft Shell Jacket and a fleece vest. Before Ironman I'd owned exactly one fleece vest, about 5 years ago. Now I own two, and I find them pleasing. This one is black with the Ironman Wisconsin logo stuff on the front and FINISHER with the distances on the back. The jacket is really killer, a great winter running jacket. Same kind of embroidery, performance fleece inside, wind and water resistant on the outer shell and breathable throughout. Even without the Ironman stuff it's a really great workout jacket. With the Ironman stuff...well. It's a Finisher's jacket.
I headed out for 5k today, and wore the jacket to test it against the Elements. Today was a bonafide cold ass day. Nasty, biting wind and temps just around 30 degrees. Happy to report the jacket was awesome.
Anyway, this isn't really about the jacket at all, but now you have the necessary prologue. I was conscious as I headed out on the run that the word FINISHER was struck across my back. That the cars going by would no doubt see it, and though the distances embroidered underneath it are probably too small to be read from their distances, they'd know I was a FINISHER of something as they scanned the rest of the world they were driving by. I got to thinking what that meant. To me. To the world.
I was telling Amy's mom the other day that Ironman is not the most difficult thing I've done. It's not the most meaningful, it's not the most painful, it's not the most grueling. Nor is it the most rewarding, the most beautiful, the most remarkable. But Ironman, for me, represented all those things. It made tangible and practical my sleepless nights, my teeth-gnashing grief, my devastated heart. It made touchable my gratitude for my life and its inhabitants, my existence on this other side of despair, the refining of a belief system. The race, which was the capstone to a thousand miles before it that were no less part of Ironman, was a singular hallmark for this part of my life. It's a literal bookmark between what came before and the pages not yet turned.
There are major events in life. Things that wound us, or bind us, or build us. Things that make us. Things that, once experienced, leave us changed in its wake, or its wreckage. Places where, when we come out of them, we can honestly say, "I can never be who I used to be, ever again."
Ironman is such a thing for me. And you have to realize that it is with versed perspective that I can tell you that. There is nothing left about me that's naive. And I can tell you this now sobered from the drunken delirium that we all feel in the days immediately after the race. I can tell you that the man who shrugs his arms into the FINISHER emblazoned cloak was once one who couldn't even lift his shoulders for the effort. This is a truth. This is how it is.
As it turns out, it's not just a race. At least, it wasn't for me...and hell, it isn't for anybody. Even the professionals out there who've long since exhausted the metaphors are dueling something much baser than each other. It wasn't life and death - I've been there before. It wasn't the end of the world - I've stood on that edge too. But what you must understand is that it took going through there, to get to here. It took knowing the limits of that darkness to overcome them, and Ironman is where I made that stand. Maybe I could have made it elsewhere. Maybe I could have drawn that line on a beach somewhere, or on a road trip, or climbing a mountain, and said finally, "Ghosts, I'll be haunted no more." But I don't think so. This kind of catharsis, this kind of purging, this kind of awakening...it's rooted in cultures much older than this where at some point a person goes out into his wilderness, looks into his soul, and faces himself. And in that process, he is not meant to come back unchanged.
I don't think about my workouts when I think of Ironman. I don't think of it as the culmination of an insane dedication to fitness. The things that physically get you through the race, and which are such a focus for the year or more before the race, they are secondary in my heart and mind when I think of Ironman. When I think of Ironman, I think of the choice to go out last April in numbing 40 degree temperatures, relentless rain and 30mph winds. I don't think of the ride as much, but the choice I made to ride. I think of arguing with my body to get through 3 final, painful miles on the cusp of a snowstorm last March. I can recall very few swim workouts. But I can remember getting up at 5am to go swim. I can't tell you how many miles I ran when I was on vacation. But I can tell you that I ran while I was on vacation. These were the ingredients to Becoming Ironman. Finding within myself some level of discipline and dedication where before there was none, or at least not this kind. Choosing the difficult road. Choosing in fact to abandon the road and just run like hell through the wild. It turns out it wasn't so much the doing, as the choosing to do. And friends, that is indeed what separates some from most.
So with that in mind, as I wrapped up my 3 miles, I considered that FINISHER is really a celebrated term for the descriptor of all champions: BEGINNER. He who chooses to begin the race, whatever that race is in his life. To say finally, simply, "No more. Now I go," and do something extraordinary.
Tuesday, October 31, 2006
(Note: I've been trying to upload pictures to this thing all day, but stupid Blogger is being stupid again. Honestly Google, figure it out. I'll get pics up on this post whenever I can, I guess, so check back later!)
Wow, well that was a crazy weekend of a lot of exercise offset by a lot of eating. And there was a beer or two in the mix. Some pumpkin pie too. And apple pie. Good times.
Saturday broke bright and cool for the 10k trail run in Lake Elmo, a tiny community just East of the Twin Cities. I realized while driving there that these were the same roads I rode on some of my long rides this summer, so that was kind of fun. There were just over 200 people running the 10k, but it didn't feel like that many.
The trail run was a lot of fun. Some pretty steep climbs, a lot of grassy trails, a lot of dirt trails, and a few that were almost sandy, the dirt was so fine. I was bundled up in thermal running gear, going sans costume because I'm no fun, I guess, but I think the majority of us were sans costume. I spent most of the race chasing Bumblebee girl and Phantom lady, and see-sawing with Nike Chick.
I'm pretty inexperienced with trail running, so while I tried to look around and enjoy the late October morning in the stupid beautiful park reserve we were in, I was also watching the ground a lot for my next footfall, lest my delicate ankles (from years of high school football and basketball injuries) find themselves unprepared for the terrain. It was a great workout, and having to use so many stabilizing muscles can, I think, only be good for when one returns to road running. The course was in great shape - we haven't had any major rain lately so there was no mud or unwelcome obstacles. The atmosphere, with costume contests and shorter races for families and children, was appropriately friendly, and while some runners were there to race and others there just to enjoy the morning, I think everybody was able to find what they were looking for.
Sidenote: How much do I love - LOVE - seeing little Superman kid or Little Witch girl trapsing around with their parents with numbers pinned to their chests? In this era of childhood obesity and McDonald's birthday parties - nevermind parents who just don't give a damn - I think joining your kids on a short race like that is one of the best demonstrations of Things That Are Right With The World. Huzzah and kudos to you parents involving your kids early and often in a healthy lifestyle. Excellent work.
I had no ambition for the race - just have a solid workout and enjoy myself. I finished in 55:17, so just over a 9:00 minute pace for each mile. I went out too fast and faded in the last mile and a half or so, but that's okay. A 9:00 minute pace is just about as fast as I think I could run a trail run right now, so I feel good about that. It was also fun to actually race - that's something I hope to do more of this year. Ironman, and the races preparing for it, were much more about me and discerning my personal performance relative to what will be required to finish 140.6 miles in 17 hours. It's a different kind of fun to go out there and want to catch people, or chase a certain time. I enjoy that part of competition. So I followed Bumblebee Girl and Phantom Lady within the first mile, and we passed Nike Chick somewhere in mile 2. Bumblebee and Phantom were keeping a pretty brisk pace, so I thought if I could just stay with them into the last mile, I could make a push to pass them in the last half mile. Nike Chick stayed with me all day, finally passing me for good at mile 4 when I stopped to walk through a water station. I started fading after that and couldn't make up the lost time on the three of them, and I think they finished 15 seconds or so ahead of me. Anyway, I had a blast and worked hard, and that's all a person could want in life.
I drove right home, had time to get changed into some fresh thermal gear, and then our friends started coming over to head to the next race, a 5k that's part of a Halloween festival here. We had quite a crew - Mike (as a jailbird), Amy (as a fairy), Susan (as Blueberry Muffin), Patric (in Leisure suit), and Randy (as Uncle Fester) all did the 1 mile run as Todd (as a goofy 70's athlete), Ben (who went as me), Sara (who went as herself, only taller), and I (who went as Ben) ran the 5k. This race was insane. Almost everybody was in costume, and some were hilarious and elaborate. Things you don't see everyday - a fat dude in full-on Spiderman regalia go clomping by. There were pirates, pimps and whores, superheroes, Austin Powers, dogs in Dracula capes - on and on. And there were a TON of people doing the run. The run/walk leads the way for the Halloween parade, which who knew was so huge, but I guess, like, 30,000 people line the streets for this thing and the parade lasted almost 3 hours. That's nuts. Anyway, I hung out and ran with Sara while Ben and Todd stayed ahead of us a bit, and we took it easy and enjoyed ourselves. We had a great time.
We all headed back to our place after the race and feasted on chili, chips & dip, cornbread, veggies, beer - a little bit of everything. It was awesome.
Sunday my buddies came over and we played the 9th Annual Weener Bowl - a Halloween weekend football game that gotten more fun as we've gotten older, even as we've all slowed a step or three. We had a great time, my team won (thanks in part to my FIVE interceptions, two run back for touchdowns, canagettahellyeah), and nobody was injured, which is always good. Afterwards we loaded up on pizza and more beer while we watched some (horribly lopsided and boring) football on TV and amused ourselves with the sudden onslaught of babies my friends have all had lately, crawling about my floors.
All tolled I'm pretty sure I took in more calories than I burned, but it was good times with good friends, and that's the stuff of life. So says I.
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
The first post-Ironman Race Week! It's nothing epic, mind you, but hey - a race is a race. Still exciting. Still with that aura of anticipation surrounding it. And for somebody out there it'll be their first race ever. Becoming 5k. That's pretty cool.
A double-header on tap for this Saturday, and that'll be an adventure in itself. The first is The Great Pumpkin Chase, a 10k trail run. That one I'll actually "race", though that's defined as "run strong". I'm lifting weights, I'm still in post-Ironman recovery form, and I've not topped 6 miles yet for my marathon training in January (I think I'm a bit behind with that...), so I'm not in a how-fast-can-I-go kind of way. So the 10k will give me some indication of where my fitness is. It's a trail run, which I'm looking forward to because A - I've never intentionally done a trail run, so the two times I've suddenly encountered them (once in a Duathlon and this summer in a freakin' Half Ironman - seriously, what kind of sadism is at work there?) I've had less-than-optimum attitudes. And 2 - I think I'd like to do more trail running; good all around exercise, great for tri-training, and I'd love to embark on X-Terra sometime in the next few years. Anyway, I intend to explore it and enjoy it this weekend and see how it goes. No time plans, no pace plans, just run strong and have a good time.
Immediately following is the Gray Ghost 5k run/1mile walk that I'm doing with a whole gaggle of friends. That will be pretty cool. No strategies for that one at all - just enjoy the time with friends and gawk at crazies running in costumes. I'll hang with whatever pace people want to go at, including just walking the thing if that turns out to be the plan. It'll just be fun to enjoy the day, I think.
Sunday, then, is the annual football game with my buddies, and I should be well warmed up for that one with the miles put in on Saturday. Looks to be a good and fun weekend, and I'm looking forward to it.
Normann won Ironman again! Crazy!
The on-course temperature when I checked the online broadcast was in the low 120 degrees. Whaaaaat???
How great was Paul Lieto's coverage of Ironman over at Trifuel.com. And how cool that his brother Chris was a top 10 finisher!?!?
Seriously. Is the new Trek Equinox TTX not the sexist thing you have ever, ever seen? Good night that's hot.
Did IMLOU (or whatever we're calling it) sell out? Anybody heard?
Some buddies and I are going to see the new triathlon documentary What It Takes coming to the Cities on November 9th. I'm really looking forward to it - I'll of course keep you posted -
Speaking of movies and keeping you posted, I'm presently uploading all the rest of the Becoming Ironman movie - 12 movies in all (!) over at Transition3.com. Just click on the "videos" link and you'll see them all nicely arranged in order - a bit more sensible than trying to present them in any kind of fashion strictly through the blog. Transition3 is a new thing I've been working on that we'll talk more about later, but for now I hope you'll enjoy the videos, and maybe say hello or throw your two cents in elsewhere on the site.
More to come, as always. Until then, stay cool like the tenth of September everybody -
Thursday, October 19, 2006
Well, since it's been two weeks I thought I'd throw in Part 3 as well. A Chapter for the Team.
If you haven't watched Parts 1 and 2 yet, do that first. Part 2 is the post just previous to this one, and has a link to Part 1 in it, or just scroll down a bit.
I realize you won't know who these people are, and I get that watching other peoples' home videos is kind of a lame way to spend some time. I know you can't know these people from a video, or an introduction, or through some of their frequent comments on the blog or my mentioning them. I know you don't know them.
But probably your life would be richer if you did.
By way of introduction, this is The Team. This is the army that descended on Madison in the days before Ironman and put together a race day strategy with military precision. These are the people who have been with me through more than Ironman could ever dish out. When I think M-Dot, you better believe I think of this crew. When I see this thing emblazoned now on my left shoulder, you better believe what it represents.
You'll be spending a lot of time with them for the rest of the video, so though they be strangers to you, I hope you enjoy the glimpse you get here of the people that got me across. I hope you enjoy getting to know a bit about them each and all.
Becoming Ironman Part 3: The Team
They were there. A long, long time ago, they were there. Hell, before I was here, they were there. When it was raising a son that would be my father, they were there.
When it was childish laughter, amusing adolescence, teenage angst and confusion. Abundant happiness and stupid, glorious joy. Summer days and football games and the Williston Coyotes and the Rapid City Thrillers. They were there.
When it was falling in love with their daughter, they were there. Starting my first job. Getting married. Falling down, getting up, and falling down again. They were there.
They were there when the tears tore and the world broke and God made a mistake. They were there when all hope. was lost.
You have to understand that its not their screams and cheers at even the least significant weekend triathlon during the Becoming that made us a Team. We've just been through so much is the thing.
And now, they were here. An arsenal. An army. They drove across the road, or twenty hours. They came, some of them not entirely aware yet just what for, but wanting to find out.
They spent their vacation time, they drove overnight, they carpooled. Whatever it took to get here.
They came to do heavy lifting. Not just to witness, but get into the filth of, the depth of, the thick of this thing. They were accustomed to the burden (it's been a long haul back to life), but this time was different. They came, shoulder to shoulder, for one last push out of the ruins. They came for the celebration afterwards. For the dawn. They came for the final forging of the Iron that they believed, long before I did, might exist within this Man.
Do you know, completely lacking dramatic effect, I owe them my life. They and those they represented who couldn't make the trip to Madison, but who stood by computers, sat on telephones, sent cards and wrote emails and sent seven minute hugs.
That was my Ironman. This was my Team. These are my Friends. This is what it came down to. Because 140.6 miles, the last of so so many traveled, is too far to go alone.
And we're back. The Team (Minneapolis version) and I enjoyed the video and reunion last weekend, and the rest of the Team has received their DVDs and, far as I know, been able to enjoy the Becoming. It's been a blast watching it with everybody and reliving it, and humbling to receive the encouragement you all provided from Part 1. The Story has only just begun.
If you haven't watched Part 1 yet, please do that now. You can also just scroll down a bit to find it. You'll enjoy this most, I think, if you watch the episodes in order.
A few notes on this one - the rain and cold the day of Ironman actually infiltrated the video camera and some of its tapes - no worries, but you'll note a few jerky spots on this video. Shouldn't affect your viewing experience at all, and sometimes it even looks like a kind of crazy effect. Anyway. Also pay special attention for me & Jackie's ode to our favorite TV show ever, Miami Vice. Heh heh.
Becoming Ironman Part 2: The Road to Ironman
By the time Ironman week actually rolls around, when you actually get to pack up your things and finally leave the house, its pretty momentous. The work, the time, the long hours - they're behind you now, and things start getting very real, very fast. It feels really good to be finally doing something instead of constantly talking or thinking about it, and that first moment walking into Ironman Village...there are joys and emotions there that go untapped anywhere else in existence. I have goosebumps and wet eyes recalling it right now.
But there's work to do. Registration. A final swim. A final systems check, to make sure the Machine is ready for flight. Transition bags to pack, a flight deck to fill up. You seek quiet time, but you can't rest. You've waited for this moment all your life...and how many people can say that about anything? Finally, ultimately, you pack things up with irrational tenderness, you bring them to the Village, and you have nothing more to do but wait. For Ironman.
Monday, October 16, 2006
The high school baseball field is directly behind my house, separated by a fence. In the summertime, when they play games or have practice, we can sit on the deck in our backyard and listen to them play. Occasionally a foul ball will tip back and up, over the the high fence that surrounds the field and into our yard, Jackson the Irondog thinking it a gift from the dog-toy gods to reward his stellar behavior.
Yesterday I was upstairs and looked out one of the back windows, and noticed one of the coaches unlocking the fence. He's a man in his 60's at least, and a volunteer. But he's always first to the field before practice, and the last to leave. The kids seem to respect him immensely. During games he's often the third base coach. Before we built the fence he'd always have an ear scratch for Jack and JoJo. He seems like a decent guy.
I thought it was an odd thing, him unlocking the field, in the middle of October (the high school boys' season ending in late spring). He moved slowly, taking his time. He looked around at the field, at the bullpen outside the field, at the curves of the fence as it traveled down to left field. He moved like a man trying to memorize everything around him.
When he finally went inside, he stopped and just looked around. Taking it all in, like one would when he's finally crested a mountaintop. For a solid minute, I don't think he moved more than his head as he surveyed the field. Then he knelt down and smoothed his hand over the plush green grass. He picked a few blades up and inspected them, putting one in his mouth. I watched him as he slowly got up and went to the pitcher's mound, having a look around him at the infield and the far fences of the outfield, then turning to face home plate, which is covered with tarps now in preparation for the winter. He stood for several moments, staring down home plate, and I imagined maybe he was staring down hitters from years ago, when his limbs were more nimble and his body less aching. It was clear that his respect for the field, and for the game it's played on, runs thick through his blood.
Eventually he walked into each dugout, cleaning up a bit of trash as he went (done with tenderness, as one might pick a speck out of his wife's hair), and eventually he made his way back outside the fence, locking the gate again behind him before slowly getting into his car and driving off. He was maybe there for 15 minutes.
I know what he was doing. He was saying goodbye. Or at least, "sleep well". We all do it up here in Minnesota. All of us have something, a proverbial baseball field, that in itself represents just about everything we find right in the world. And except for the die-hard snowmobilers who wait all year for snow, I think probably for most of us that thing lives mostly in the summertime.
This time of year, if you look closely, you can see it all around you. The man and his kids pulling in the dock at the cabin, then standing together on the shore and looking out at the lake, their minds tracing back to when they put it in last May, and the late nights on the beach, or waking up early to go fishing, or the 4th of July on the dock, and the many barbecues...now all gone for another winter.
The high school football season is winding down, and gone will be the insanely hot August two-a-days, the smell of freshly cut grass, the delirious echos of the crowds, the crisp air of twilight as the game gets underway, the familiar shadows cast by so many bright lights.
The shadows are long on the golf courses, the golfers in long sleeves now as they hope this round doesn't prove to be the last of the season. The mosquitos no longer buzz around them, they can't stay out anymore until the very edge of dusk, there is no certainty of next week's 9 holes with friends.
Just last weekend Amy and I put the deck away, packing up all her ornaments and candles, rolling up the rug, storing it and the little tables up in the garage for another winter. This weekend she strolled around her gardens as she always does, but this time spent the time pulling out and tossing all the dead things; the lush, vibrant explosions of life that she so carefully nurtured now dormant again. And like all of us do in whatever way, when done she brushed off her hands, put them on her hips, and gazed around the yard with an exhale, recalling her springtime excitement in planting, the buzz of bees visiting in July, the hopelessly green days of August.
For me, of course, it's the game. Ol' Blue came indoors last night from the garage. Gone are the endless rides through the meadows of Minnesota, listening to the buzz and chirps as the road winds ahead. The corn that I watched grow is now brown and dead again, the quintessential image of fall. The leaves I watched bud and become during my runs are now almost gone from their limbs. When I run now there's that cold-weather burn in the back of my throat, and if I leave the house too late it's dark when I return, and it takes me three times as long to leave the house as I get dressed for cold weather.
Of course, there's work to do, and the winter months will be filled with training. Weights, water, spinning, treadmills when the cold is unbearable (and it will get unbearable). Strategies will continue, preparations and designs for that elusive, far away, hypothetical "next season". These things begin and these other things end.
But still, it feels to me mostly like waiting. In my heart, in my soul. And it makes me quite sad, actually. Waiting for those first brisk spring mornings when I have to shed my sleeves three miles into the run. For those evenings when I'm still on my bike at 8:00. For that first real race of the year, when the sun is not quite up yet for bodymarking, and I have to pick the wet blades of grass off my bike tires as I wheel it into transition. For those workouts when I have to towel off before getting back into my car, when a cold Gatorade is an absurd blessing, when one can't but breathe the words, "Man it's hot out here." Those are the Days of the Game for me. And I await them now again, another season over. Another Season over.
Last night Jackson walked lazily over to the couch where I was sitting, circled around two or three times, and with a deep sigh lay down, sprawled out and long. Soon enough I saw his legs begin twitching, and then his feet were moving too as he whimpered and yelped the sleepy, growly noises of a contented dog having The Best Dream Ever. I know where he was. I know how the air smells, and how the leaves glimmer as the breeze shakes them. I know how the world reflects off of puddles as the sunshine returns after a brief warm shower. I know the sounds of children, free at last from their school schedules, as they screech and play while I run by. I know how the fields around us grow and grow and grow, so that I have to stand on my pedals to see what's coming at country intersections. I know how the lake turns orange, then crimson as it finally swallows the sun after an evening swim to cool down after such a hot run.
I know the stuff of his dreams this time of year, as they are the stuff of mine. I hope his was a good one, and that he ran free and fast and forever. And I hope I was there with him.
Friday, October 13, 2006
I wear a blue rubberband on my wrist. I've told you about this before. For Ironman, we (the Team and I) translated it into a blue Livestrong-ish Becoming Ironman wristband. But normally it's just a plain old blue rubberband. It lasts about a month on my wrist before it breaks or falls off. I have a bag of, like, a thousand of them or something.
I started wearing it in 2004, after my first open-water swim when I, totally green and utterly unsuspecting and unprepared, found myself in the middle of my first washing machine on the swim. It was horrifying, and I nearly had a panic attack in the water. I came very close to just pulling up and quitting. I managed to survive it, but afterwards found myself experiencing the most odd fear response when I got back in the pool - my body immediatley siezed up, afraid of the water. So, I started wearing a blue rubberband. Something I could see underneath the water and focus on. Something I could kind of meditate on to relax my mind.
That's the backstory, but in time the rubberband just kind of came to represent to me: I Am A Triathlete. Wearing it year-round gave me a kind of peace of mind that in the cold snowy winter, summer was inevitable. I could look at it on the stationary trainer and be reminded that I'd ride again when the snow cleared. And, I could see it on my wrist when passing a Krispy Kreme and have a tangible reminder for why I will not stop. I made up a goofy acronym for it - "Be Loose Under Extremes", and would give it a glance on tough century rides, or hot 15k runs, or the many Half Irons that were going to hell in a hand grenade. Kind of silly, I know. Kind of a crutch, I know. But I am in some ways a very literal thinker, and I find that it helps me to have a switch to turn on. Something like - when the rubberband is around my wrist, I'm in the game. I'm in training. I'm at work. Also something tangible that I carry with me, so that the next time I'm faced with an extreme, I can recall the last time. And if I got through that, I'll get through this.
I went without the rubberband for about a month after Ironman, and my lifestyle relaxed accordingly.
It went back on about a week ago.
2007: The Year of the PR
In Which Our Hero Becomes Bigger, Faster, Stronger
It begins with the P.F. Chang's Rock N' Roll Arizona Marathon on January 14th. I'll spend the next 3 months in training for that, which will constitute a lot of my base training for the coming year. I won't be out for a PR at that race - Amy and I are headed to New Mexico that weekend, so I'm working the race into that. It'll be a goal race around which I can have a strong and focused winter, but I'll approach my training and racing of it with low heartrates and quality endurance-building. I'm happy to have a January marathon to look forward to, and glad to have found this one that works with plans we were already making and the M.L. King holiday that Monday. (I was considering the Disneyworld Marathon the week before instead, but this one works better with the rest of our lives. Maybe '08 for that one). In training for this race I intend to do a number of small fun-runs with friends and other short, local races. Hopefully something on the calendar each month, which will hopefully help those months go more quickly. I'll also be hitting the weights hard this winter. The goal is to be in-shape and ready to kick ass on the tri training season come February 1.
After the marathon, I'm back in the pool and on the indoor trainer. I'll spend limited time - once or twice on week - on the bike and in the pool until then. I'll continue doing fun-runs whenever I can. The weights stop on March 1.
The first triathlon of the year will, as usual, be the Chain of Lakes triathlon the first weekend in May, a shorter-than-average sprint. This will be my first attempt at a P.R., which may be a challenge considering that I had a pretty fast time last year. This is a "C" race, though - just the first tri of the season to work out the kinks and cobwebs.
Next comes another Marathon. Hell yes. I'll be heading back to the homeland to run the Fargo Marathon on May 19th, in North Dakota. Here, we're shooting for a P.R. This will be a "B" race, but I should be able to execute a better-than-before time on this race, as I've certainly never lit it up when it comes to the marathon. Hopefully some friends and family can come out for this one, we'll see.
Things get serious on June 10th when I return to the Liberty Triathlon Half Iron, seeking revenge on a poor performance last year (and the 3 mile detour, courtesy of some volunteer confusion). I intend to obliterate last year's time. I intend to set a Personal Record of epic proportions. By this time I should be a stupid strong runner, and for the love of Earl I am, after all, an Ironman. Time to rip this course up. This one has a big, blinking "A" next to it on the calendar.
The next weekend I'd like to head back to Wisconsin to race the Triterium Olympic distance race. I did this race in '05, and my Wisconsin family was all out there to cheer me on. It was a blast. But it's Amy's birthday weekend, so we'll see how that pans out. Possibly I'd just do the sprint there, instead, or it might be more than my lifestyle would allow. So this one has an asterisk next to it for now.
July 14th I'm back at the Lifetime Fitness triathlon in Minneapolis, doing the Olympic distance (provided the race directors don't wuss out again if it's a shade warm outside). This will be another "A" race, with all intentions of crushing my Olympic distance P.R. This will be my fourth time at this race, so I intend to rip it up.
The first phase of the season ends with the grand-daddy A race of the season, the Chicago Triathlon Triple Challenge. A super-sprint on Saturday the 25th, followed on Sunday by a Sprint course at 6am, and THEN coming into the finish line only to get back out on the Olympic course. Oh hell yes. 1.63 total miles in the water, 44.67 on the bike and 10.85 on the run. That sounds like a kickass good time.
After August - well, then we'll see. I'd like to volunteer at Ironman Wisconsin. I'd like another triathlon or two. I'd like to finish the year with another marathon. We'll see what the future holds for all of the above. Oh, and all of the above is subject to change, but you get the gist.
So...wow, that's a lot of racing! Yes, yes it is. But I'm really excited about that. I've never had an intelligently trained, full season before. In 2004, I was totally clueless and knew nothing of base training, nevermind technique in the water, on the bike, and during the run. And the past 2 seasons have been spent training for and around Ironman, so naturally I limited my long-course running. This past summer I only did a handful of races, and none between the middle of July until Ironman because I was in the meat of my long training sessions and actually couldn't afford to skip a century ride in order to go race. In short - Ironman dictated what I would and wouldn't do, so I raced according to the goal, more than just for the experience or joy of it. So this season is all about having fun. Doing lots of races, short and a few long. Seeing what I'm capable of with those distances and that kind of training. Setting goals that won't require 5 hours on the bike every weekend, or 2 miles in the pool.
And I have to say, on paper - it looks pretty damn exciting to me. I'm really looking forward to the '07 season. So yeah, the rubberband is on. It's time to go back to work.
Monday, October 09, 2006
Tim DeBoom is out at the Ironman World Championships at Kona. So no DeBoom, and no Peter Reid. That's insane. That's like. The Lakers and Celtics minus Magic and Bird.
There's a new Ironman race out there - Ironman Louisville Kentucky. There's some talk here and there about Ironman oversaturation. That perhaps there will be "too many" Ironman races out there, and that their increasing availability will somehow make becoming Ironman less meaningful. Whatever, I'll let other people dissect the politics of things, but I didn't become Ironman in relationship to anybody else on this planet. I did it for me. I say the more the merrier. Adding more races sure as hell doesn't make it any easier of a race. And besides that, the Ironman business model is freakshow brilliant. Can't fault 'em for doing business, so says I.
Jackson the Irondog had a horrible week last week - an abscessed tooth that caused the right side of his head to swell and put him in so much pain that he was utterly transformed into some other dog. He had surgery on Friday, and is by now feeling so much better. The swelling is almost entirely gone, and he's back to his old crazy self. I am incapable of toughing it out when my dog is in pain. It absolutely breaks my heart. And I swear to God, he and have some Elliot & ET psychic connection. No lie. So when he's in that much pain, I don't just empathize. It affects me, man.
I have, in some sort of delusional neurosis, allowed myself the "reward" of fast-food this last month. But yesterday I sat in a Wendy's with my friend Mike, and I looked at my spicy chicken sandwich and finally told him - this is stupid. I'm insulted by fast food. I'm insulted by the industry, and offended that it exists. I'm a hypocrite for being here, and that ends now. Mike agreed, and condemned its convenience. We agreed that we would rather be inconvenienced, and Mike pointed out that you appreciate that much more what you'd taken 2 minutes to prepare yourself. I pointed out that I spent a year of my life neutralized from this poison and never found myself so inconvenienced that I couldn't survive. I acknowledged that I was eating it because it tastes good. And then we agreed that really...it doesn't taste that good. So - to hell with McDonald's and it brethren. It was a poignant moment of brilliant disgust with myself.
I've been surprised and humbled by everyone's responses to the video. Once again, I'm just honored to be part of a community with you people. Inspired that we can inspire one another. You kickass.
And I think you're going to really, really enjoy the rest of the video.
The Twins lost in the first round of the playoffs. Huge bummer, albeit a familiar one. It just felt like they'd do something in the postseason this year. Sigh. Consolation: The Yankees also lost.
More coming soon then, back on the triathlon track. Meanwhile, go share this with someone you love.
Tuesday, October 03, 2006
So I've mentioned that I'd have video to share of Becoming Ironman, and that I'd been working on something for the last few weeks. Well it's finally finished, and I'm excited to share it with you.
Quick recap: I'd thought I'd take some of the photos and video that the Team shot at Ironman and throw it together in some kind of DVD scrapbook. When I got to perusing the many things they came up with, though, it was pretty exciting to literally see the story unfold. And that was the other thing - like most athletes out there (at least first timers?), my day felt like a pretty epic story. It had a plot. Cast of characters. Climaxes. That sort of thing. As I watched some of the television footage from Ironman Wisconsin, it sort of completed the picture for me. Without any real plan or intention, the video kind of took on a life of its own, and now consists of 9 "chapters" (some shorter than others) and a total running time of just over an hour. It's a fun recap and scrapbook for the race and all its elements for me. It's something I - and hopefully the Team - can put it in ten years and still really enjoy, but it was also important that I create it in such a way so that my friends and family who weren't in Wisconsin could get some kind of grasp on just what this thing is, and how big, and how amazing. I of course can't possibly capture that, but I tried to at least allude to it. So anway, it's pretty self-centric, naturally. Somehow I feel like saying that, a bit apologetically. But hopefully it's also just about Ironman, and how much bigger the day was than me, and how much the Team was a part of things. Hopefully any one of you could watch it and really enjoy it while also getting a sense for what my race was like, one in a cast of 2500. Hopefully the Team will watch it and relive everything again, like I have and do when I watch it.
By the way, Team - you're getting your DVD at an upcoming party, and/or I'll be mailing it to you.
A few final general notes: I've borrowed some footage throughout the movie from the FSN/OLN broadcast of Ironman Wisconsin, as well as last years NBC broadcast of the World Championships in Kona. You'll see some of that here in the Prologue, and I know some of you will be familiar with it.
I'll wait to post any more chapters until after the Team has all received their DVDs - in about 2 weeks or so. For now I thought it would be fun to share the first chapter with you. I'll share subsequent chapters probably once a week or so in the weeks to come, so stay tuned.
Becoming Ironman Part 1: The Prologue
Becoming Ironman started, essentially, sometime in the fall of 2003 when I stumbled through my first mile, teetered along on my first bike ride (wherein I promptly got my first flat...after falling down twice because I didn't know how to unclip from my pedals...) and sloshed my way through 25 yards of wet, breathless hell in the pool. This in training for my first "A" race (I didn't know what the term meant then) - the 2004 Lifetime Fitness Triathlon, Olympic distance. In my heart, I began training for Ironman that day, in the moments before that race. The following seasons saw my first 10 mile race, 3 Half Ironman races (none of them spectacular), several Sprint and Olympic distance races, and a marathon - all in preparation for IMWI '06. The Prologue begins the adventure of Becoming Ironman by glimpsing what is to come, and what it took to get there.
Monday, October 02, 2006
Well it's not actually a "report" - I'm not going to give you the details on what I had for breakfast (a bagel) or how many calories I consumed during the race (none, actually, save for some triscuits...) or how I handled the heat (not well! I checked the damn weather that morning and it said a high of 63, so I was in jeans and long sleeves...it got up to 84! Seriously, WHAT IS THE DEAL with the idiots not forecasting weather for THE SAME DAY?)
So weird to be on that side of racing - I'd never just gone to a race before. In 2004 I ran the Twin Cities 10 mile and then positioned myself to watch some friends do the marathon which started an hour or so after my race started, but that's not the same as spending your day in full-on spectator mode. Cripes, I think it's less stressful running the race! So much "Okay! Now we go here!" and checking maps and watching clocks and figuring out your runners' paces and if you'll get there on time and where to park and sheesh. Crazy. And then you get to whatever mile is next and you...wait. You clap and encourage, but really you crane your head looking for something familiar in this sea of bouncing bodies so that your runner isn't directly in front of you before you even realize it (happened twice). Just crazy. It made me appreciate that much more all the time and energy my friends and family spend coming to watch me race some rinky dink local thing, nevermind a tour de force like Ironman. I had no idea watching was that hard. Seriously. Spectators are definitely the unsung heroes in what we do.
And for the record, watching sure made me want to be racing.
Anyway, congratulations to everybody who ran and raced - especially to Pete, Amy's friend Marcia, and Pharmie. Kickass all around.
I've had a great last few days of ponderance - with a lot of help from all of you who had some great ideas and philosophies - and have bounced a few ideas off of Amy and some friends. We'll see what develops, but a plan is in the making, and for now that's enough. Crisis averted, I think. I'll share things with you when they become more definitive.
And now, I'm off for an overdue reunion (since Ironman!) with my good friend Ol' Blue. More to come -
Friday, September 29, 2006
So it's not an all-out illness yet, but there is something brewing. It's tantamount to that first sneeze, maybe, that two days later has one huddled under blankets in bed. When I feel that kind of sneeze, I try to head off the impending illness. Rush to the store for some OJ and health food, get more rest, get in the mindset I will not get sick...I will not get sick...I will not get sick... So in the same way, I'm trying to head off this feeling, before it gets worse. This illness I speak of, of course, is PIFD. Post Ironman Funk Disorder.
I've alluded to it, trying to talk it out, get it into the ether, so what that does. I know a lot of my fellow Ironman athletes from Wisconsin are feeling it. They're either open about it, or I read their blogs and they're all kind of scratching their heads like I am. Excited about life after Ironman, excited of course to be an Ironman. But wondering, with increasing urgency, now what?
It's important to understand this thing for what it is, and for what it is not. It is not about Ironman. I feel completely satisfied with my Ironman experience. Utterly fulfilled. It's the most fun I've ever had. The greatest day of my life. Truly. So I don't need any processing of Ironman itself relative to this, and I don't have any regrets or lingering unfinished business that is slowly infecting my day-to-day and is now manifesting itself in some kind of unrest.
What it is is about the unique state of affairs, physically and mentally, that I'm experiencing now that Ironman is not the pinnnacle obstacle on my horizon. Of course there are many joys in life, and there are far more important things in life than Ironman, and I'm interested in exploring and pursuing all of them. This isn't about putting Ironman in contest with anything - it's just the unique position it held in my atmosphere for so many years, and now that it's gone...I feel random. There are professional endeavors, family goals, personal objectives that I can and will and do focus on and work towards, but those things require their own strategies. I miss the strategy required of Ironman. Specifically, uniquely.
I actually googled the topic, to see what other athletes might have experienced out there. I found an interesting piece by a woman named Laurie Quinn, and she writes, "And I did have a problem. After Lake Placid, I had a problem resting. I missed the company, the community of effort, the endorphins, the fight to get strong, the single mindedness of the thing. I hated recovery. I crashed. And all those little things I did not do because I was training were not interesting enough to fill my time, to make me feel like I was accomplishing something. I still rode a bit, and tried to get my running legs back, they would not come back. I still swam, but not with the same heart. I had a few decent race performances, but as my legs were still shredded, I did not always do well, and really, I learned to deal with that. But emotionally I was so off my game. I felt foolish. How can I be so simple minded that I cannot be happy without this huge goal? It felt wrong to give in, but it was there, that feeling. I had been told about this, after my first marathon. But I did not suffer after the marathon, not at all. But I had it bad after Ironman.
I was relieved to see somebody feeling so precisely how I am. I run, and I swim (haven't been on the bike...), but I don't have a finish line in mind. Each season, starting in 2004 when I started triathlon, I had a season goal - my first Olympic and 10 mile race, then 2005's first Half IM and marathon - and each of those season goals were designed around the 2006 overall goal of the Ironman. So I was always driven. Everything was always purposeful. It was useful to me to head into the winter offseason having to think of strategies for the next season's goal and the larger, looming goal. I felt intentional. The things I did, the decisions I made, they had purpose. I'm lacking that fire now without that purpose. I'm swimming or running...but technique isn't as important without some tangible reason why it should be. The workouts themselves just lack meaning. I don't have a reason to fight for those last 50 yards. And I miss that fight.
It's not just the emotional or mental focus that I'm missing - my body is in all out withdrawal. I've spent most of the last year in a state of elevated everything. Endorphins, adrenaline, bloodflow, energy, a result of consistent and continuous workouts and hard effort and intentional rest. Now...what. Recovery sucks. Being out of the game sucks. This is why Jordan unretired 3 times. Seriously. If this is how you spend your whole life - much less my 3 years - what on earth do you do afterwards? I'm not sure how Peter Reid will do it.
And like Laurie says - I feel like an idiot. That's partly why I'm writing this, to get it out there, make some admissions. Was I just an addict the whole time? Am I so absurd as to be that single minded? Am I incapable of just relaxing, enjoying the nothingness of things? Worst - am I just an obsessive, sort of doomed and shackled to require some larger-than-life goal to pursue for the rest of my days? Do I so utterly lack perspective? I don't want to be one of those people. Like the guy who drives too fast and jumps off cliffs and climbs rocks without ropes, never able to satisfy his need for adrenaline, always having to up the ante. I don't want to be that guy, who has to be on his bike for 8 hours each weekend, else he just doesn't feel like he's doing anything. That's not fair to anybody. But is that what I've become? Will I be unhappy with nothing less? I think that's conduct unbecoming of an Ironman, after all.
When I was younger, I've told you I worked at a place called Shores. It was an amazing experience, as I'd spend my summers with incredible friends at an incredible place doing incredible things. And when the summer ended, you felt a little like your heart just got ripped out. You felt this punch in your gut, this lump in your throat. I understood later in life, with much greater severity, that it was a kind of grief. And we'd all of us just spend our winters waiting for summertime again. So each winter we'd have this thing, this Thing, on our horizon to get us through, to keep us going, to drive us ahead. And when it finally came again, when late May finally arrived, it was like finally exhaling.
This feels a little like that. I think there are some actual elements of grief in here somewhere. Or at least loneliness. But I'm not a kid anymore, and don't wish to just let the winter come with me waiting around. I don't want to just "get through" the places between paramounts. I want to explore the other side of the mountain, you know? I just don't know how. I don't know what to explore over here, or what I'm exploring for.
It's not like I didn't know this would happen, or that this was coming. I did. I knew all along. Doesn't matter. This wasn't the kind of thing to give my energy or attention to when becoming Ironman. This was a bridge to cross when I got to it. Hello bridge, I've arrived. So now what?
Probably this will pass, and probably I know that. And probably I just need patience with it, which is an art I should have learned in becoming Ironman. I'm not in a panic, I'm not in a frenzy...but I do feel confused. A little unsure of what to do next. Of how to begin doing it. I've thought - next year I'll do lots of short races. Olympic or shorter. I think that sounds fun. But the "fun" of triathlon for me has always been wrapped up in some larger goal. Part of the fun is the insurmountability of it. The impossibility at hand. Will it be enough for me to just go out there and race for the sake of it? I've thought - work on improving your times. Maybe chase a podium finish. But...meh. The speeds, the finishing times, the placements - I've never been gifted enough at this game for that to be part of why I play, and besides, they seem irrelevant after Ironman. It's just not why I do this thing. Certainly I'll chase my best times, try to improve, work on personal records, always in competition with myself. That's part of the adventure. But I don't think that chasing for chasing's sake is enough to inspire me, to invigorate my imagination. I like the battle of it. I like being chased by thunderstorms and taunting them. I like the Elements showing up with brass knuckles. I like feeling opposed by whatever, on a grand scale, on an epic adventure. I just don't know how to fulfill that right now.
I've thought - I'll try and do more charity events, or race with friends more. And I think I will do those things, and I think they'll be a blast. But it's more than fun I'm looking for. I don't do this for fun. I really don't. I have so much fun doing it, but I play video games for fun. I eat nachos for fun. I own the new Justin Timberlake record for fun. These things I am not passionate about. Triathlon, and particularly Ironman - that is passion. I pay to play that game, and it's worth every ounce of blood, sweat and tears. I don't think I'm capable - or interested - in relegating triathlon to strictly "having fun".
I feel like I'm not explaining how I feel very well, but I think the athletes out there get it. I think you know just precisely what I'm talking about. Maybe anybody who's worked so hard for anything so singular knows what I'm talking about.
So the obvious answer might seem: Do another Ironman. But that's not the answer. For starters, it's just not on the list right now. Intentionally. I don't want to do another Ironman until the time is right - and I'll know when the time is right, and it's not right now or probably in the next 2 years at least. (Incidentally, man how sweet will it be the first time I go out there again in training for Ironman?!?!) More to the point - that doesn't solve anything. I think I need to learn to live outside of Ironman, to train and become...something additional. I have to have a solution to this problem, rather than a plan to flee from it.
So hey - I'm listening. Any ideas? On any level? Opinions about what I'm experiencing, ideas for my future, ways some of you have handled or are handling this kind of thing, whatever. I'd love a little guidance in this. A little home remedy for beating this thing before it becomes a full blown soul-cold.
Thursday, September 28, 2006
So. Well, life after Ironman is so utterly normal. I'm in a sort of limbo over here. Not yet mentally or physically recovered enough to really do a lot, but really wanting to get out and do a lot. And we've had such a brilliantly craptacular fall around here - for every day of crisp sunshine there's 3 days of IMesque cold and wind and rain. It's unmotivating.
Anyway. I've been working on a video of my Ironman experience that has (as is often the case with me) taken on a life of its own. Tons of fun, way longer and more involved than I would've guessed when I started to just put videos and photos from the Team into some kind of organization. I imagine once it's finished I'll see about posting some pieces of it here so you can check it out. But its been a fun way to kind of relive the adventure over and over as I work on it.
I'm still unsure about what my focus for next season should be, and am kind of awaiting inspiration there. I'm the kind of person that appreciates (and often requires) a long-term objective for which my short-term goals can be toward. So the point of the marathon last fall, for example, was to prepare me for this year's IM marathon. Lacking for now a long-term goal such as Ironman, I'm trying to figure out what would be fun for me next year. All short course? All Olympic? Should I really focus on becoming faster (so...Sprint distance focused)...etc. etc. Still not sure where I'll go from here, but I'm okay with the process.
Speaking of the marathon - shout out to Pharmie and my friend Pete, both of whom are running the Twin Cities marathon on Sunday. I hope you have great races, and I'll be there to cheer you on. That's something I'm looking forward to - watching a race from the other side. I've never done that - just been to a race to watch, that I wasn't somehow involved in. I'm excited. It's hard to believe it's been a year since I ran the TCM. It seems much longer. I feel like a totally different person now.
Anyway. Thus concludes this stream of consciousness. Hope you're well out there, one and all.
Thursday, September 21, 2006
My dog Jack knows nothing of pacing. He always, always starts out way too strong. He gallops along in the first mile, tugging at his leash, chasing leaves and pouncing at each approaching tree like it's the first tree he's ever seen. He winds and wends his way along the running trail, nose to ground, tossing his head back every few seconds to assure himself that I'm there and seek confirmation that I, too, am having The Greatest Adventure Ever. Jack is six years old, but mostly acts like he's two.
I'll work in some sprints, just to tread out some of that fatigue still set in from Ironman, and he'll look up at me, amused at the new speed, then quicken his trot to keep up. Children will pass by on bicycles and he'll divert to greet them. I won't stop, so he'll give them only a passing grin and then return to me, looking over his shoulder at them. I'll slow again from the sprint and he'll want to find some bush or tree to mark, to which I'll tell him, "No Jack! This is my time! Not your time!" He somehow understands that (he's heard it a million times) and returns to his form like the scolding never happened.
But by mile three, inevitably, he starts wearing out, paying for all his early excitement. He'll spend half a mile right at my side now, instead of three steps ahead of me. I'll say, "Dude, you always do this. Everytime." He'll say nothing, his pose now earnest; no longer sniffing aimlessly and chasing random events. Now he's a runner, caught in the runner's zone. Now he can't be bothered. Now he's working.
And we'll near the end of our short 3.5 mile course, and I'll pick some object way up the trail and begin a Finish Line sprint. "C'mon Jackson, let's go!" I'll shout, and he'll give a tired grin at my excitement as I take off, the first few yards with him now behind me. Soon enough he'll catch up, his trot now a full run, keeping his pace by seeing my legs in his periphery - no longer looking back, or up, or around. I'll feel us both start to slow and so speed up, cheering, "C'mon Jack, c'mon Jack! It's the Finish Line! It's right up there! You can do it, let's go let's go let's go!" And he'll push on with whatever he has left, and I'll go to my new place in my mind, the one where the wet, cold, shiny street reflects all these lights and colors and the voice rumbles down the chute and the crowd screams and shouts all around us, and I'll roar in those last fifty yards, "C'mon Jack it's the Ironman! It's the Ironman! Let's finish strong!" And Jack will strain against his weariness and I'll push against that surprising fatigue and suddenly we'll pass the crack in the trail, or the sign, or the tree...no Ironman tape awaiting us, no music or booming voices, no gentle old lady to corral us to our family, no delirious crowds cheering our achievements. Just a man and his dog on a cool fall day on an unremarkable running trail. And I'll slow to a walk and Jack will look back at me to make sure that I'm okay, that the stop is intended, that the race is over.
I'll cool down, catching my breath, and tell Jack, "Okay, now it's your time." And he gets it (he's heard it a million times), and meanders into the grass to discover scents, or walks to the other side of the trail to the inviting sapling, and pees all over everything while I stop and wait for him. I'll let him go when the car is in sight, and he'll amble over, too tired now for a full sprint, and sit by the rear door and await the water that's bottled inside. And when I get there I'll rub his head and thump his sides and say, "Jack you are a good dog. What a good dog. Such a great runner. You're an Irondog Jackie. You are an Irondog." And he'll grin between sloppy drinks and interject a slobbery lick at my salty legs or hands before going back to his drink, not knowing that he's an Irondog, but knowing that I think he's a good dog, and mostly just happy to be there on this day, with me.
Sunday, September 17, 2006
One week ago from this moment, I was making my way across slick roads through icy rain towards an elusive, mysterious destination called "The Finish Line". I was on the other side of Iron. The pages were being written, so to speak. We, all of us, still had a day of potential and possibility ahead of us. Our stories were still incomplete.
The lore was, once you crossed that Finish Line, "nothing would ever be the same". I'd heard it and read it enough times from others. Not always describable, but something was different. It just wasn't possible to go through what a person goes through during the course of an Ironman, particularly his first, I suppose, and not come out unchanged. I wondered if that would be true of me, or to what extent. Would I really feel different? Would I feel differently?
Pre-Iron, I had this conversation with Pharmie, where she wondered if she hadn't had the kind of transcendental changes in herself that it seemed others had during the road to becoming Ironman. I told her that, in my case, I felt changed...but that I was one who was requiring some changing.
So. Is it true, then? Am I different now than I was a week ago?
The process doesn't feel complete yet...it seems The Finish Line is where much concludes, but also where much begins...which is how I suppose any great adventure should feel. But I do feel changed. More patient, somehow. More...available. I've seemed to have some reckoning with my mortality, which was somehow always on the cusp of conversation with my Becoming. If, as it was, Ironman was a life decision for me, then I feel that some things in life were decided. I feel at peace with the person I am, the man I am, but more importantly the person I intend to be. And for me...that's been a long time coming.
Is it possible that it was just Ironman that could provide such a catalyst? Yes. Though Ironman is better described for me as a crucible. The transformations occur slowly, and not always with one's awareness, in the course of chasing down thunderstorms, or riding through ice and rain on a lonely Saturday, or even simply getting to the pool when it's the last thing one really wants to do. The ingredients and elements reveal themselves through countless hours, all alone, out there doing what no sane person should want to do in the cold of March, or rains of May, or heat of July. And it takes a particular person to become Ironman. Nobody is there, making sure you run that last mile, or even 50 yards. Nobody will hold you accountable to your Saturday morning workout. Nobody sets the alarm clock for you. And none of us will make a living this way - we're not preparing for a paycheck, and very few of us are even trying for a coveted Kona slot. Whatever the reason, it is deeply personal and acutely singular, and it drives one to want to become something more than he is, more than he thought me might ever be. And therein lies, I think, an essential truth to the alchemy of becoming Ironman. It happens to be, simply, a race. But the race is just the metaphor, the reason, the vessel. The crucible.
But the crucible is, I know now, essential. I had thought and felt, pre-Iron, that whatever happened, I had transformed. I had changed. And that was true, to a limited extent. For me, it took nearly 15 hours of constant exercise to fortify. For those ingredients, senseless and haphazard, to mix and mesh and create that person who crossed The Finish Line. It took the race and all its terrain to fire the forge. And, for me, it took its Finishing to finish it.
So a week later: I feel humble. Suddenly awakened to a new appreciation for my life, for the people in it, for the strangers who pass through its halls. The experience shared that day with my friends and family has strengthened a bond there, but created new ones that were not before apparent or possible. The daydreams I share with my wife seem more colorful, more tangible. I have, as an Ironman, a tacit awareness, if not yet an understanding, of things I felt oblivious to before. And it's only been a week! Heh.
I feel a sense of camaraderie and intense respect for anyone who has become Ironman. Even if it's unspoken and never acknowledged, I feel like when I see that tattoo on the guy's leg in front of me in transition, I share some kind of bloodline with him. I'm struck by how utterly irrelevant the Finishing Time is and feels. That it's the race that was important, not the speed in which it was done. I know this is specific to my goals for that day, and that others incorporate a time into their personal becoming, but I enjoy the feeling. I feel impacted by the volunteers that day, and that they were a testament to how decent human beings can be to one another. Strangers all, but so kind, so useful, to helpful, and so aligned with each and every one of us to keep us moving forward. To go! go! go! To provide and assist and encourage, for a moment or a minute or more. And I want for life to be one big transaction between volunteers. So that the lady at the bank says to me, "Go! Great job! You're looking awesome with your checking account!" And for me to say to the man at the gas station, "Dude, thanks for the fuel. You guys are the best!" and for my next client meeting to conclude with an exchange like, "You're doing it! You're looking awesome!"
And I feel a deep, almost sacred appreciation for triathlon. This sport and its athletes! Where else!? This game has changed my life. It may have, without any exaggeration, saved it. I came to it a confused, clueless, overweight and under-lived emotional and spiritual vagabond. I came to it part of the problem, and not part of the solution. Today, 3 years and a lifetime later, it has created an Ironman. Or as my mother called it, "IronMAN!" And maybe that distinction is important somehow. And the game's players...where to begin? How ever would I end? The support, the friendliness, the inherent want that we have to want the guy over there to do better, to reach his goals, to go! go! go! ...it's unlike anything I've experienced, and I applaud it and am proud to be among it. But also: the game feels fun. And that's an important lesson from Ironman for me. In the past, the races weren't always "fun" for me, even when I've truly enjoyed them. I'd take myself too seriously, or my "goals" too seriously. So, so silly now, it seems. I had the most fun I've ever had in my life at Ironman, and I can't wait for another race, at whatever distance, just so I can go have that kind of fun again. The game, and the race, has taught me so much, and I hope to be its student for as long as I live.
I have, in the last week, done zero exercise. I'll start again on Monday. I've eaten for the enjoyment of it, whenever and whatever I like. Yesterday I spent the entire day with my wife, and we both said several times how nice it was. She'd say, "Usually I only see you on Sundays, so I keep thinking I have to go to work tomorrow!" and I'd say, "I know, it feels so weird not to be on my bike, or planning my day around my bike!" and then we'd go get some ice cream. It's been great. It's felt well deserved. It's been sweet.
But next week I start exercise again. Unstructured and fun for the next few weeks, and obviously nowhere near the intensity required for Ironman. I'm running a small road race with friends at the end of October. I'm starting to put together the beginnings of a plan for next season.
And this: I will do another Ironman. I know that now. Not next year. Not even the year after that. But sometime I'll be back there, among the heroes, a chance to do something extraordinary once more. To stare life down, then give it a wink. It's in my blood now.
Thursday, September 14, 2006
So...usually when a person is urinating a lot on the bike or run, it's a good thing - it means you're hydrating really well. In fact you can find yourself wanting to hydrate less, if you're flushing too many electrolytes away. And remember how I was feeling good that I was urinating so much on the bike and run? Even though each time seriously took like 3 minutes or more?
"The body's response to cold is to constrict peripheral circulation, causing cold-induced diuresis. This allows more body fluids to be lost through the kidneys and urination, accounting for the frequent feeling of having to go to the bathroom when out in the cold."
Yeah, it's a sign of hypothermia. Which, not like I didn't know I was cold, or that shivering controllably is another sign, but damn. I'm glad I didn't know it while it was going on.
Thanks TriSaraTops for bringing that bit of joy to my attention...
Paul Lieto, the Jedi behind the very popular triathlete destination Trifuel.com got in touch with me, thinking the IMWI race report would make for good reading at the Trifuel site for its regular readers. My thanks to Paul - it's pretty cool to be asked to participate on one of my "daily stop" websites. Looks like I'll be contributing to the site with some regularity now as well. It's a very cool thing for me to be able to participate with the tri community at large like this. Stay tuned!
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
It's a long one guys, so hunker in with a cup of coffee or a Pepsi and chill out. Tap your keyboard once in awhile so the boss things you're working. I was able to write most of this while Mike was driving us back from Wisconsin, so normally people write this in chunks so it's easier for you to absorb. I was going to create links so you could just navigate to different sections, but no: this was my Ironman, so this is the story to tell. Skip the parts that bore you if you like, I won't be offended. I'll have lots more images and maybe some video to share in the coming weeks, so stay tuned. Thanks for reliving it with me...
We'd watched the weather reports all week long, which is an exercise in futility, I know, but one does what he can to have some information on how to prepare. Before leaving Minneapolis - still more than 5 days out - they'd predicted cool and overcast - perfect conditions. I packed up my gear and, on a whim, threw in my winter arm warmers and running gloves just in case they'd prove useful.
The days preceding Ironman were perfect. Sunshine and almost no wind, low-mid 70's. It allowed for some great days walking around Ironman village with my friend Mike and my aunt Pat on Friday after my short swim workout on the Ironman course. Walking into Monona Terrace - the epicenter of Ironman - the line for registration that day stretched up 2 sets of escalators and outside, winding around the terrace. I was happy to have been able to register on Thursday, and hoped the athletes in line wouldn't have to be on their feet for too long today. As we walked around Ironman Village we took it all in, and Ford had a kiosk set up where people could type in messages to athletes that would display at the "Ford Motivational Mile" - around miles 7 and 20. Pat and Mike were excited, and spent some 10 minutes working on a message (apparently Pat had some trouble negotiating the 25 character limit...).
Friday night I was invited to dinner at Simply Stu's house, and he and his family were gracious hosts. We ate a great dinner in their beautiful home, and I was able to finally meet so many friends from the blogosphere - TriSaraTops, Iron Wil, Stu, Siren, Chris, and especially nice was Pharmie (The Blogger Formerly Known As SLS) and her husband Steve, whom I met at the Lifetime Fitness Triathlon in July. We all talked like old friends, and got great advice from Rob and Stu on some of the finer details of Ironman, even watching last year's race and seeing what transitions were like, how the Terrace helix fit in, and other "this is a stupid question but..." stuff. Thanks Stu for such a great time.
Pharmie and I headed to the Athlete's Meeting after dinner, and heard from the directors of the swim course, bike course, and run course. Just some last minute details and information, all of it good to know. Then the head doctor got up to speak, and started talking about every kind of catastrophe that could go wrong. Useful information, I guess, but nothing I particularly wanted to be thinking about, so I wished Pharmie a great race and took off.
I spent the rest of Friday night packing up my transition bags. The weather forecast now was calling for high 50's and overcast, with winds of 5-10mph and no rain, with only a 30% chance of showers in the evening. Perfect! I set aside all my cold weather Under Armour that I had packed up, but decided to still throw in my arm warmers and gloves for the run, and I'd picked up an additional set of Ironman arm warmers at the Ironman store on Friday for the bike. The clerk at the store and I agreed that I'd probably want to shed them on the bike after around noon, but I might like to have them for the morning hours.
Saturday morning I checked the weather once more, and it still looked very favorable. I checked my gear once more, loaded up Ol' Blue, and we headed to the Terrace to unload.
The logistics of Ironman are simply mind boggling, as I'd come to appreciate throughout the race. One of 2400 athletes racing, they found a way to organize all of our transition gear so that we'd have it quickly and readily available to us. I got to everwhere and put everything where it was supposed to be, then took 'Blue out to Transition. I found my slot on the rack, double checked everything, covered the computers with a plastic bag on the off chance that the weather report was wrong and it would rain overnight, and left Transition. Nothing more to do now but race. Exhale.
Saturday night, within 10 minutes of each other, the rest of my entire Team arrived. Amy arrived wtih her parents and Susan and Kaili, with JoJo in tow. Sara and Ben arrived with Todd and Patric. Erin made it in earlier that morning, and my mother and her husband Jay made it in the night before, and my uncle Mike (different from my friend Mike) came in from his commute from Chicago a bit earlier that evening. Now, we were all here. The house suddenly went from 0 to 60. The whole place was suddenly alive and buzzing with reunion and inquiries and laughter and happiness. It felt amazing to be there, to think these people all came here for me. For Ironman.
After eating, the Team set up a Situation Room where they pored over maps of the course, negotiated prospective times to be at different places, assigned responsibilities to one another, handed out copies of the courses, prepared snack bags. It was a serious, coordinated, well oiled machine and I was in awe just watching it. But it was 7:00 now, and my mind had begun its shift. It was time for me to head home to Grandma and Grandpa's to rest and prepare. I waved the team farewell and accepted with thanks their well wishes and hugs of good luck.
Back at Grandma and Grandpa's house, just before going down to head to bed, Grandpa said, "Well, they've changed the forecast - might be rain now in the morning." I scowled, then waved it off. "Well, nothing I can do about it now," I answered.
I slept soundly from 10:15 to about 12:45. I'd race with about 2.5 hours of sleep.
I got out of bed at 3:30, turning off my iPod and heading up to shower. When I got out of the shower at about 3:45 or so, I was surprised to see my Grandpa, dressed and ready to go, in the kitchen making coffee. My Dad's Dad is 82 years old, and my mom describes him as a bull. I describe him as an ox. He's a thick, strong man. He's old school. He shoots straight and true. He played some semi-pro baseball when he was younger, and boxed in the military. He served two tours of duty in a World War. He is a hell of man, and it's a serious thing to me to share his name.
"G'morning Grandpa," I said as I headed to the fridge to get my first of two shakes I'd drink that morning. "Daylight in the swamp." It was a phrase he'd been using since I was a kid to signal: good morning, time to get up.
"Yep," He replied. Then, "Time to pick it up and set it down." My Grandpa got up at 3:30 in the morning just to see me out the door. And that is something his son would have done.
I packed up and headed out to my car, where something clung to my windshield - a card with a fox on the front of it, from Amy. One of several nice cards I got that weekend, including an incredibly meaningful thing from Todd. Inside this card from Amy she said some really important things, including, Today you honor your family name. I was deeply touched, inspired, encouraged. It was a great way to start this day.
I was one of the first 3 cars at the Alliant Energy Center, and was on the shuttle to the Terrace by 4:30. I was doing a quick mental recap as the shuttle bumped along. That's when I remembered my fuel flasks, which were sitting happily in my Grandparents' freezer, awaiting their transport to my run transition and special needs bags. Shit! I couldn't believe I forgot something - anything - on this day. I considered my options. I could call somebody and have them pick them up and bring them to the Terrace, but that would just stress me out, wondering when they'd get there, if I had time to do this and that, if I'd see their car, where we'd meet, etc. I could go without the flasks - I'd planned to have them on my Fuel Belt during the run, so that I wouldn't have to stop at all through the first few miles of the marathon. I could stop - not a big deal from a nutritional point of view, but it took me away from my plan. I was ready to improvise, but was a little irritated at myself for having to improvise before the damn race even started. I decided I'd see if, by chance, the Ironman Store in the Terrace would have anybody tending it, and maybe I could buy some new flasks. Otherwise, I'd go sans belt and just deal.
I dropped off my special needs bags, then headed into the Terrace to tend to my bike and run bags with what I had. Then I headed over to the store - just after 5am - where a woman was just taking off her coat. "Do you work here?" I asked. "Yes," She said. She was sleepy, I could tell. "Can I buy something?" "Sure," she said, and opened the gate for me. A new set of flasks were $12.99. I had $13.00 with me. "I'm going to need your help," I said, "I only have thirteen dollars." "Fine, fine - go!" She said, taking my money with a smile and without a second thought to the tax. I thanked her profusely while she wished me a great race, and headed to my run transition bag to put in my final necessities. Then I headed out to bodymarking before tending to Ol' Blue with the first load of nutrition and liquids for the day and to turn on my on-board computers. It hadn't rained overnight, so the bike transition area was dry. There was very little wind, and the temperature was cool but comfortable as the sky started shifting from black to milky navy. Over the Ironman announcement system we were being told that there had been some rain on parts of the bike course overnight, so plan accordingly.
Finally, with all the details taken care of and all the pieces in place, I put on my wetsuit and headed down to the water at around 6:20am.
I was in the water early, by 6:30. I headed out to the first turn buoy, as I'd planned, so that I'd be far left of the washing machine. The water felt warm and comfortable, and I chatted amiably with some of the other athletes. I floated around and warmed up a bit as I took in the scene around me and the sky brightened. After awhile I clung to one of the lifeguard's kayak as I thanked him for being out there, and we joked about how he might pull me along for the race. Once in awhile we athletes would bump into each other, then joke about how it wouldn't be the first time today, or how if that's the worst of it, we'll take it. It was fun and relaxing. I didn't have my typical nervous stomach. I wasn't sick that morning like I am always sick on race mornings, even for the tiniest little local events. I just felt...great. I was so happy to be there. I felt honored to be in the water with these people, at Ironman. I imagined the Team as the clock ticked nearer to 7:00am, wondering if they were organized on the Terrace, how their morning was going, if they were out there watching for me, waiting for me. Soon the pros took off. The morning was bright now, and the Terrace was packed with people. I could see countless athletes nearer to shore or getting into water, a sea of bobbing white swim caps. Kayaks everwhere. Support boats surrounded us, their communications systems chattering away. Helicopters buzzed overhead. It felt important and tremendous. Then they sang the national anthem. And then, a bit suddenly, the cannon went off.
And I was, after all, racing the Ironman.
I started my stroke, strong and easy, just as I'd planned. I didn't feel crazy with adrenaline. I didn't fear the limbs that flailed all around me, bashing into the back of my head, my ankles, my waist. I felt relaxed and smooth. We were swimming with the wind and waves on the way out, so we were pushed along with the water. It felt fast and fluid. I could see the Terrace gliding by in the distance, inch by inch, as I breathed on my right side, and I had some gauge of the distance I was swimming by how much Terrace had gone by. The battle in the water wasn't too bad, thanks to my position on the far left of the mass. A few minutes in, I glimpsed the side of another swimmer's cap and the emblazoned IRONMAN. That's the moment when it smacked me square - THIS IS IT! THIS IS IT! THIS IS IT! God it felt good. I was going easy breezy, and loving every second. I was surprised at how pushed along I felt in the water, and held out some absurd hope that that was the draft of this mass of 2400 bodies at work, and not an increasingly strong wind pushing waves across the water. As we approached the first turn buoy, I took an elbow hard to my right eye. My googles took the impact and slid just a bit from their position. At the first buoy, I recognized the traffic jam and tried to go inside it, gripping the buoy and going right around it, rather than trying to swim it, before quickly finding my place in the mass again before I was run over by swimmers behind me. Now, swimming across the current, I could get a sense for its strength - anytime I tried to breath on my left side I'd get a face full of water, leaving me to breath on my right side. A few hundred yards later came the second turn buoy, sending us straight back the opposite way, parallel to our original course. Now we were swimming head on into the waves, and the treachery of it became quickly apparent. Breathing was nearly impossible. I was swallowing water with nearly every breath and the waves were affecting my stroke significantly - I couldn't recover with a long glide. Instead, my arms had to be like propellors, constantly moving to catch the water. Sometimes I'd stroke just into a trough on a wave and grab an armful of air. Sometimes I'd stroke into a crest and be pulling water. It was insane. And now, like a cracked hull, my displaced goggles were leaking. I tried closing my eyes and swimming blind, not wanting to pull off and deal with these goggles, but that's just stupid - I had at least an hour left in the water. I stopped to adjust my goggles and it was nearly impossible, being smacked around by the waves. When the hell did the water get so rough? I did what I could - knowing it wasn't enough - and got back into the mix. This time I sighted the Terrace on my left side, and eventually could hear the blurry music and announcer through the mash of noisy swimming. Another loop around the original turn buoy, where I'd started, and I was on my second loop of the swim.
I used the water's push this time to really conserve energy, deciding to make a hard push coming back, against the waves. I checked my watch and was running a slow pace - about 40 minutes for my first loop, which would take me into about 1:35 considering the swim from the loop back to shore for the finish. With the water conditions, though, pace was out the window and it was just about doing my best - whatever that was. We were more spread out from one another now, and it wasn't quite the battle ground it was during the first loop. Again I watched the Terrace slide by on my right. Around the far turn buoys, and I was headed back on the final long stretch, again into the waves. I stopped for what was the third time to deal with my goggles, and this time felt like I'd finally gotten the seal I needed against my face. I worked hard against the water this time, putting everything into it on my arms and giving a little more kick than typical. I had no recovery at all - just a constant turnover of my arms. I could feel my triceps and pectorals screaming at me, and my legs told them to shut the hell up, you have a whole 90 minutes of work to do today. I didn't want to slip too far from the 40 minute pace I had on my first loop, and knew I'd have to work hard to negative split the loops (less time the second half than the first half). Finally I heard the music and announcer again, this time with the buzz of the Terrace crowd as swimmers were exiting the water. The announcer, too, was shouting now, excited as he encouraged the exiting swimmers on. I finally turned left, around that last buoy, and had a straight shot, several hundred yards long, into the swim finish. I sighted the huge inflatable Gatorade bottle on shore as my marker, and swam like hell.
I was helped out of the water by Ironman volunteers and crossed the timing mat in 1:35:37 - my strategy for the second loop seemed to work pretty well, and I stayed pretty consistent. The excitement around me was absurd. Palpable. Invasive. Friggin' awesome. Thousands of people screamed as I stripped my goggles and swim cap from my head, and finally my ear plugs. Footloose was blaring on the loudspeakers as I turned a corner into the waiting arena of the wetsuit strippers, who waved me down to the end of the row before three of them attacked me like raptors, tearing my suit from my upper body as I quickly laid down and they ripped it off my legs. I was out of my suit in 5 seconds. They handed it to me and and I started my jog to the bike transition, finding myself singing along to the music. I said in my race agenda that I wanted to have a smile on my face, and I'd thought that there may be times when I'd have forced that smile. Not so. I had a shit ass grin on my face all day long - I was just so tremendously happy to be there. I jogged out of the swim exit area and straight towards the Terrace, towering in front of me. It's a sight I'll never, ever forgot - as I approached the helix, covered with people everywhere and screaming voices, I looked slowly up the levels - not for any reason than to take it all in - when at one of the upper levels I caught a sea of blue - my Team! I didn't expect to see them there! I didn't know when or where I'd see them, but I didn't expect them there, and I gave them a huge stupid grin as they screamed and jumped and cheered. I entered below them, onto the helix, and swept my way up it, carried by the adrenaline of knowing they were there. I wound my way up and finally reached them, high-fiving as I passed by them and hearing their shouts behind me as I continued up the helix on my way to transition. I was still smiling as I ran into the Terrace, heard them shout "531!" as I entered, grabbed my bag as the efficient Ironman Crew heeded the call and handed it to me, then headed into the change room. I put on my bike gear quickly, and more Crew helped me get my shirt and arm warmers on over my wet body. I packed my wetsuit in and, about 10 minutes after I'd started the transition, headed out the door, onto the Flight Deck where I'd pick up Ol' Blue.
"531!" They'd shout, and hearing it, the person 30 yards down would shout "531!", all the way down towards my bike, until the last Crew member shouted "531!" and a final Crew member raced into my rack just as I was arriving, snagged 'Blue from its stable, and met me with it at the end of the rack. Ol' Blue was chomping and stomping, pulling against the restraint of the Crew member. I grabbed the Machine as the Crew guy said "Have a great ride!"
"Holy shit! This is awesome!" I screamed at 'Blue.
Are you kidding me with this crowd!?! This kicks ass! 'Blue was feeling saucy and ready to rock.
"You ready to fly? This is it - it all comes down to here and now!" I said as we approached the transition exit and I finally mounted the bike.
Rider and Machine zipped down the opposite helix now, riding the brakes and passing through the blur of countless thousands screaming, their sounds echoing off the concrete around us and deafening. I exited the Terrace and popped onto John Nolen Drive. It was raining - a steady, cold drizzle. Well...maybe the showers came early, I thought. Or this could just be a passing thing. But it was consistent, and within mile one I knew my race day strategy would have to change - if the course was wet and my wheels were wet, then I'd be riding conservative. No 40 mph descents today, and no screaming through the curves and turns that dominate this course. I'd be riding to stay out of trouble and not do something stupid and preventable. As I wound my way past mile 2 I saw the first road drama - somebody pinched a tire crossing the myriad of blocks and bumps on the Madison roads - I'd ridden them before, and knew that slowing over the many bumps, railroad tracks, and bridge separators was how I'd ride this race.
I headed out with countless other cyclists, leaving Madison behind on Whalen Road as we rode towards Verona. I noticed something in my lunchbox, and reached down to find a note from QCMier, wishing me good luck - he'd found my bike in transition before the race. How cool is that guy? I hoped his race was going well, and tucked the note away as a keepsake.
The wind was up, I noticed now - 5 to 10 mph, as forecast, had turned to at least 10-15. I wasn't horribly uncomfortable, but I knew that I'd get cold if it continued to rain and blow like this. I took some stock of the apparel of the riders around me - some were dressed in something like what I was wearing - a cycling jersey and arm warmers - while others were wearing very light riding gear - sleeveless or even just bra-tops on some of the women. We'd all been fooled by the forecast, and while the responsibility is with the athlete to plan appropriately, I think we did what we could with the information we had. I certainly would have dressed differently had I known what the day had in store. Others around me had obviously concocted a last minute plan before leaving the house, and were wearing off-the-shelf rain jackets or windbreakers which, on the bike, acted really as big sails.
I rode on, and stuck to the plan as I'd practiced countless times before on this course and my roads back home. Nutrition. Cadence. Heart Rate. Power. Wait. Power? What the? My Power Meter crapped out in Verona - the screen going blank. Stupid piece of...motherfu...damn piece of... Well, so be it. I'd ridden enough to know my power limits, and as long as I didn't let adrenaline or outside influences get to me, I should be okay. If I'd be spending the day riding conservatively anyway, power would just take care of itself.
I left Verona with just under a 15mph average before making the turn to head the next leg towards Mt. Horeb. I passed the sign that reads "Donald Park - Pop's Knoll" and pounded my heart and held my fist to it, like I do everytime I pass this sign, an homage to my Dad. The wind was at my back, and I picked up speed these entire 13-15 miles into Mt. Horeb. Spectators dotted the roads between towns, and as we all had our names on our numbers, attached to our backs, we cyclists encouraged one another with "Looking good Gerri" and "Riding strong Joe", and they'd reciprocate with a quick "You too" and "Go get 'em". Around 30 miles in, I arrived in Mt. Horeb to a larger smattering of spectators, braving the wet and cold to cheer us on. They'd scream and cheer for us, and they loved it if we riders screamed and cheered back. A woman held a sign that said IRON DOES NOT RUST IN RAIN, and I pointed at it and said, "That's what I'm talking about!", sending her group into a frenzy. Others would make absurd jungle noises or pound on bongos, and I'd shout "Sweet!" or "Hell yes!", and they'd dance and cheer. Finally, in the center of Mt. Horeb, I spotted a sea of blue awaiting me - I didn't recognize faces from that distance, but I knew it was the Team. As I approached I raised my fist so they'd see it was me, and they went berzerk. My mom was jumping up and down. I saw Grandpa smiling and waving his fist. Amy's Dad was clapping wildly as Amy was hopping around. The others in the team, all in the same blue shirts, clapped and cheered and screamed. I blazed past them and roared "THIS IS THE IRONMAN!" and they lost their minds. They'd been sitting there for most of an hour, twenty of them, my favorite people in the universe, to spend less than 5 seconds with me, but I carried them with me all day long. Those 5 seconds got me through the next 15 miles. It was unbelievable. I've never felt so alive. So amazing. So honored.
We cruised away from Mt. Horeb now and headed into the next sections of the race, much more technical and difficult. There would be casualties here, I knew, if riders weren't careful with the conditions. The rain came down, unchanged, a constant hazy drizzle. The air temperature was cold mid-50's, but with the wind chill from on the bike it felt much colder. Already there had been countless flats being fixed, chains repaired, issues behind tended - I couldn't believe how much bike drama, and we weren't even to the second loop. As we turned into the wind, just before the Roller Coaster, we got a sense for just how strong it was - I was instantly relegated to speeds of 12, 13, 14 mph with the headwind. As it turned out, winds approached 20mph for much of the day, with gusts to 25mph. Turning north again to begin the rollers, the crosswind combined with the rain and wet road to create a perfect recipe for bike treachery. Better and braver cyclists than I might take these hills all out, but I'd be riding the brakes all day. I thought of Iron Wil on Garfoot's descent, and our joking at dinner about a long ago posting where I wrote, "Lest Garfoot make you humble." I hoped she was having a great race, staying safe and having fun.
A few miles before Cross Plains, while still on Garfoot and 15 miles or so from the 3 major hills on the course, a woman in a Los Angeles Triathlon Club jersey said to me on a slight incline, "Is this the big hill coming up?" I wasn't sure what hill she was seeing...maybe that little bump in the road? "No," I answered, "not yet." "Shit," she said under her breath, then, "How far away is that?" "A little ways yet," I told her. I felt bad for her if she was feeling it already. "Hang in there!" I shouted at her. "You're doing great!"
The section from Mt. Horeb, then, to Cross Plains was slow going, where normally it's some of the fastest and most fun. But, I made it to Cross Plains feeling pretty good - nutrition was on point, my legs felt good, and though I was cold as hell it wasn't painful. Now came the hills - the Bitch Hills as I call them, and I thought of my friend from Los Angeles. All in all, the hills went really well - the crowds were awesome, and carried me right up those hills. On one was a group of dudes dressed in Afro wigs. Another had a woman playing bongos, and a guy dressed like a cheap whore, complete with fishnet stockings. People would run alongside as we climbed and yell Allez! Allez! Allez!, just like they do on the Tour de France. All these people, coming out like this on such a cold and miserable day - it was just amazing. The communities around Ironman were incredible, and their energy did wonders.
After the final Bitch Hill, it's a short but windy stretch of downhill before a slight climb into the outskirts of Verona. I looked up the road and again saw the familiar wall of blue - the Team was waiting for me at the top of the hill! I raised my fist, and could hear their cheers long before I could see their faces. As I passed by they cheered and shouted, and as I turned left Todd followed, running behind and still yelling, "Kick ass and take names!" I was grinning from ear to ear when a rider next to me said, "Geez you've got a hell of a team there. My ears are ringing!"
Finally through the hills now and coming back into Verona, just about to the halfway marker, I turned right onto Main Street where a huge banner stretched across the road - WELCOME IRONMAN ATHLETES TO VERONA FESTIVAL" - on a warmer day the whole city would have been alive with games, barbecues, food stands, and activities. Today, I imagined, it was a little more subdued. Still, Main Street was lined with thousands of spectators, and they cheered us on from behind the barricades. "Thank you Verona!" I cheered back, astonished they were out here at all - the weather was flat out horrible. I rode my way around Verona and around to start the second loop, then approached the Special Needs bag. I was all about a PB&J right about then. "531!" I shouted as I approached, and again the efficient and well oiled Ironman machine immediately started to churn. "531!" they repeated down the line, until I arrived at my general area with a volunteer waiting with my bag in his outstretched arm. I stopped 'Blue and the guy asked what I needed. "Dry socks, dude," and he held my bike as I reached to take off my shoes. To my surprise, my index finger and thumb wouldn't connect...my hands were colder than I thought, and dexterity was for shit. I asked the guy if he could undo the ziplock around my sandwhich while I changed socks - the best decision I made all day was putting dry socks in my bike special needs bag. Wow, did that feel good. When you're out there for that many hours, putting your body through all kinds of hell, the smallest comforts in the "real world" become tremendous gifts of glory. And today, dry socks was one of them.
He handed me my PB&J and I was off - less than a minute was spent at Special Needs, and the volunteers were just amazing. It was like a NASCAR pit stop, quick and efficient, and I was back on the road in better shape than I was moments ago. The PB&J was nectar of the gods after nothing but Clif bar bites, Gatorade, and gels. I was about 3:30 into the race - a solid 15 minutes off a "typical" halfway time for me, thanks to the wind and wet. I charted for an arrival back to Madison between 7 hours and 7:15 - but that was only if I avoided drama.
Can't talk. Working.
"Right. Just so you know, I can't feel my fingers. I'm screwed if we get a flat tire out here, or drama with the chain."
Copy that. Now eat.
The dry socks held for a glorious 3 miles of comfort before they were drenched. The PB&J got me 5 more miles down the road. The tailwind back to Mt. Horeb made for a faster time. But...I was starting to derail. I could feel it coming. It didn't feel like anything major - I was still eating, still digesting, no GI issues. Body felt good in that way. But mentally and emotionally, the cold and the wet were taking its toll. As I passed the team again in Mt. Horeb, again so happy to see them, again to their cheers and thrills, I was only a few miles from major darkness. On the other side of Mt. Horeb, it got tough. The rain had picked up, with the wind, so the crowds were a bit thinner. We riders had spread out as well, so there was less of a community riding around me. I felt lonely and desolate. I started heavily criticizing myself for not being better prepared for the weather, thinking of all the hi-tech rain gear I have sitting home that would be great for today, or even the thermal gear I packed along but didn't bring to the race. I started thinking - very unwisely - about how daunting a marathon seemed. At mile 70 I still had 40+ miles to go on the bike, and it seemed utterly insurmountable. I calculated how far that was on my regular training rides. Mentally, I just went to pointless places. Places that did me no good, here and now, at Ironman. I spend about the next 8 miles in a deep funk.
By now the adrenaline was worn off, and the reality of what the hell were were doing had set in on the athletes. And, Ironman is hard enough without the added assault of the weather - this was madness. We'd begun concentrating, thinking, strategizing, enduring - and so the chatter was a lot less frequent. Feeling like total shit, I decided to try a trick I'd learned from an article I'd happened to read just before I'd left for Ironman, in an old edition of Triathlete magazine, where a pro was having a horrible day, and so, deciding that her race was over but that she'd still hang in there, just started encouraging everybody around her. And as it was, she got onto the marathon and worked back into a top ten finish. So, I tried the same tactic, encouraging every rider I saw around me. "Hang in there Martin." "Stay strong buddy." "Great cadence, Bill". Whatever. Just something to interrupt the damning thought processes that had invaded my sphere, and likely were wreaking with the minds of my fellows. It started working. Having even a small objective - encouraging those around me - gave my brain something else to do and focus on. By mile 80, I was starting to feel better. Stronger. 80 didn't seem so bad - that's only 32 miles away. Mile 90 came and went. 22 miles now - hell, that's a regular day's "short" workout ride. Finally coming back through Verona, on the other side of downtown, I saw the Team once more and raised my fist. I swung it around and around as I passed them and shouted "LET'S BRING THIS MOTHER HOME!" They exploded, and my adrenaline went through the roof. I screamed towards Whalen to hit the final stretch back to Madison. Another rider said, "Quite a team there!" And I said, "Not just a team now - that's my army!"
Somehow the Team/Army made its way to 2 more stops on Whalen, and each time I was surprised and happy to see them, as the headwind was direct and nasty. Now I wasn't requiring their energy for survival, but sharing in the moment with them. At last I headed back into Madison, watching my odometer - 105...106...107. I figured, at mile 108, if the Elements finally took their toll on my Machine, I could carry it home if needed. I saw the Team again as I turned back into the Alliance Center, the Terrace almost in sight. Finally, back onto John Nolen Drive, it was all about getting home. Slow down over the rough spots, keep two hands on the wheel, and stay focused into home. I pulled into the Terrace, climbed the helix, and headed into the waiting arms of another amazing volunteer as I at last unclipped from my pedals 7 hours and 7 minutes after I started on the bike. I stopped as he held my bike. "I have to get my computer," I said as I reached to detach my wrist-computer for the marathon. "Take your time, do whatever you need to." I secured the computer and was getting ready to head into transition, the volunteer starting to take 'Blue, when I shouted "Wait!" He stopped and I bent down and kissed my bike.
Hell of a ride, man. Hell of a ride.
I ran into transition, and again my bike to run bag was thrust before me before I could shout twice. I went into the changing room, and the extent of my situation presented itself.
I couldn't grab the drawstrings to loosen the bag and open it. I couldn't feel my fingers. And I was shaking uncontrollably.
"You're shaking uncontrollably." The guy next to me pointed out.
All around me riders were talking about the weather, the horrible ride, the wind. People were splayed out, half naked, trying to rest. Others had body-heat-reflective blankets wrapped around them, trying to conserve heat. I tried to get my hands to grab my shirt and pull it off, and they woudn't grab. A volunteer right away helped me strip my shirt and my arm warmers. I was able to take my shorts off. I put on my running shorts and a volunteer came by and put a reflective blanket on me. "You okay?" He asked. I didn't like the intensity with which he asked, and chattered as cheerfully as I could, "F-F-F-Fine. Just n-n-need a m-m-m-minute." If I was forced to the medical tent right now, I wasn't sure what I'd be told and didn't want to find out. I somehow managed my socks and shoes on, got help with my shirt and other arm warmers, and put on my running gloves. I wrapped myself back up in the blanket and headed back out the door - dry for the moment for the first time in nearly 10 hours. My first stop was at the port-a-john...I really, really, really had to pee. I'd gone several times on the bike - which was good - but each time I went for several minutes. It was crazy. I stood there in the port-a-john and peed for 5 minutes, no exaggeration. As I went, I shook and shuddered. I wrapped the blanket around me tighter. Then I thought - if I keep this blanket around me as I run, all I'm going to think about is how much I need this blanket because of how cold I am. And how if I lose this blanket I'll be even more cold. And pretty soon the only thing on my mind will be this forsaken cold. So I threw the blanket down, went back out, and a very long 17 minutes after I started it, I left transition and began the marathon on the streets of Madison.
"Chris!" I turned to see Pharmie's husband Steve standing there, almost immediately after starting the run. I'd seen him once before, as I was climbing the helix from the swim to the run. I shouted at him, and he ran a few steps further down and aimed his camera to snap a picture. I thought - how cool that this guy, who without Ironman would be a total insignificant stranger to me - is here giving me a cheer because of the connection Ironman has created between so many of us. If he was out there waiting for Pharmie, then I knew she must be doing okay on the bike, which meant she got out of the water okay. I wondered about my other friends - TriSaraTops, QCMier, Wil, Chris, TriTeacher. How is everybody? Where are they right now? Are they staying warm? I sent them prayers and whatever energy I could, and kept running.
Right away I saw my cousin Erin and Amy's Dad on the side of the street - they were surprised to see me, and I was surprised to see them. They clapped and cheered, and I pumped my fist - I guess the rest of the Team was on the opposite side of the street, across the barricades. I wondered when I'd see the team again, and settled into running. If felt great to be off the bike, and I was warming up - thank God. The rain was unchanged from the rest of the day - constant and cold, but at least the wind chill on the bike was no longer an issue. I assessed: Aside from the cold, my body felt okay. My legs were warming up, and with my gloves on my hands were warming up as well. No GI issues at all, no nutrition or stomach issues. Awesome. I'd been improvising all day from the weather, and knew I'd continue on the run, but came back to my original strategy. I'd planned for a 10:30 pace for as long as I could - I promptly threw that out the window. I was expending a lot of energy now just for body warmth, and knew that any calories I was taking in would first be directed towards generating heat. So be it. I would run - at whatever pace - for as long as I could - that part of the plan, I'd stick to. For now, that's as much as I'd plan for.
At the first mile I took off my empty flasks, purchased this morning (which seemed an epoch ago), and told the volunteers "I need these four flasks filled." You'd think I'd just issued an executive order. Four volunteers shot out of nowhere, each taking a flask and filling it while I twisted on the covers. It took ten seconds. Wow. "You guys are awesome!" I shouted as I got back on the road.
My first few miles were strong, between a 9:30 and 11:00 pace, but I felt good. My legs were solid under me, and my heart and spirit were aligned. Around mile 6 I saw the Team for the first time on the run, lining the right side of the road, spread out into 3 small groups. I high-fived my mother and Jay as the team erupted in cheers, then stopped to hug the others as I approached them. I have twenty people out here, twenty people, who braved the same elements I did all day. Who've stood around in cold and rain for a glimpse of me. Who now wander all over downtown, strategizing where I'll be next, estimating times, coordinating efforts like a military operation. These were amazing people, doing something amazing for me, that meant so much and that carried me through this day in ways I can never explain. Seeing them now, on the run, I felt like stopping to tell each and every one of them how much I loved them, how amazing they were, how grateful I was. I thought of the rest of the team, far away but still there with me, still moving me forward, t-shirts and blue wristbands binding us all, becoming Ironman. Together. I felt like their representative.
But at about mile 9 of the run, I had to stop to walk. It wasn't survival, but it was getting close, so I made the decision to walk now and digest. I was feeling low on energy, the calories I'd been taking in working hard against the cold before they could be deployed for exercise. I took in some fruit and a cookie at the aid station, and when they were gone I reached to wash them down with some Gatorade from my belt. Immediately upon touching my lips I spit it back out. The body goes through complicated and not-always-explainable trauma after this many hours of exercise - nevermind the elements - and at this moment, here and now, Gatorade was no longer welcome. It was wholly rejected, and I knew that if I tried to take in any more, I'd be throwing up - and that could doom my race. Shit. I grabbed a water instead, and sipped it while I walked slowly, allowing my body to digest. Assess: I'll need a new source of sodium. And I'm going to have to find a way to take in more calories - the cold is sapping them away. Problem - my body tends to be pretty finicky about the amount of calories I can take in when running. Solution - walk more. Problem - when I walk, as I'm doing right now - I quickly get cold. I was drenched from the unrelenting rain - not a break from it all day, with periods of harder rain. The situation was creating a feedback loop that I couldn't find a way out of.
I tried running again into mile 10, mostly just to keep warm, but soon felt the entire bottoms of my feet shuffling against the ground. I'd decided to no longer check my pace or race time, and just let it come without any pressure. But I did check my pace now, and saw I was "running" at a 16 minute pace. If you go out right now and walk around the block, you'll be faster than that. Things were shutting down, and it wasn't good. My body was looking for excuses to quit now. I went back to a slow walk. I tried to actually do the math - if I walk at a 20 minute pace, can I still finish in under 17 hours? I went into a port-a-john to pee, and leaned my head against the wall and shivered. I started spinning and feeling hazy, and thought - if I faint right now, they may honestly never find me. I was cold and I felt terrible. And I was looking for reasons to feel cold and terrible. I was succumbing to the challenges of the Ironman, to my inherent mental weaknesses. The cold and rain were unexpected adversaries to a day already so difficult, and I was faltering. Seriously, seriously faltering. I left the port-a-john and kept walking. Just move forward, I thought. I waited for a plan to come. Any kind of a plan.
I stumbled into the Team at around mile 12 or so, and handed my useless fuel belt to Amy's mom or Dad. It had to be clear that I wasn't doing well - I didn't have the energy for a grin or smile or even much of a high-five. Amy's mom said, "You can do this." It wasn't a shout. It wasn't cheering. It was a point of information, and I stored it away - it might help me make a plan. A little ways down the road I saw Amy and Kaili, and tossed another useless piece of Fuel Belt to her. They asked how I was doing - I told them, "I'm doing the best I can." Amy yelled, "It's all will now babe, it's all will!" I grabbed it and hung onto it. Might be part of a plan. Later they'd tell me how I was at least 20 minutes behind what they'd been expecting, and both Amy and Mike, who are very familiar with watching my triathlons, were getting very concerned. Finally I saw the rest of the Team and threw up my hand wearily for a high-five. I was spent. My cousin Erin jogged along beside me and asked if I was okay - I repeated the truth: I was doing the best I could. I saw Ben behind the camera, Sara cold and huddled within a leopard print blanket, both shouting encouragement. Patric and Todd where clapping for me, trying to help me along. Uncle Mike and aunt Pat clapped, Pat bouncing on her heels, wanting to do the hard work for me. Grandpa swung his fist, stoic and solid, and I wished I'd felt that solid right then. I thought of Grandma, 86 years old and out here until lunchtime, in the cold and misery. Michael snapped pictures while Alicia cheered. Susan and Mike clapped, but with concern.
Finally I approached the 13.1 mile turnaround, and my already dim spirits plummeted. In front of me was the finish chute. Thousands of cheering souls. The thumping music, the bright lights, the jumbotron screen. Mike Reilly, the voice and announcer for Ironman, was cheering finishers home, where they were being met by friends and family. It was heaven. But I was instructed just to the left - back into purgatory. I was only halfway home. And the worst was yet to come.
On the other side of the turnaround, I stopped and picked up some chicken broth. Sweet Jesus was it good. It was lukewarm and salty and different, and I wanted to just stop and take a damn bath in it. As I walked along, sipping my broth, an Ironman volunteer approached out of nowhere with a garbage bag with armholes. "Would you like some rain gear?" He asked. I knew that all day long, other racers had improvised solutions to the unexpected weather. Some had had family run into a drugstore on the actual course and pick up a poncho, or gloves, or anything to help. I'd thought several times of the thermal Under Armour shirt my friend Mike was carrying around with him, that I'd given him to have for me after the race, "in case I felt cold". But the rules were: No outside help. It wasn't enforceable, and had I received that kind of help from my family in the front of the entire Ironman corporate staff, I imagine not a one would have argued. But I'd determined long before the start that those were the rules I was playing with. I felt nothing critical at all of the athletes who got help - one runner had Amy run in and buy him a coffee - and probably they were smarter than I. But, it was what it was, and that was my choice. So when somebody on the inside offered to help me, I gave him whatever slight smile I could and stammered, "That would be great."
I passed the team again on the turnaround in my new wardrobe, gave them a weak smile, and my cousin Erin jogged beside me and told me they'd see me at the turnaround on State Street. Around mile 20. I was honestly unsure I'd get that far.
I continued "running" through mile 14, but it was just an exaggerated walk to try and keep warm. I spent mile 15 - a long and lonely stretch away from spectators - actually trying to sleep. It was a mostly straight road, and I tried to close my eyes for as long as possible while I ran. My mind drifted around, drunk in its exhaustion, as my body shuffled on autopilot. The broth had warmed me for a few minutes, but now it had just left me intensely thirsty. I made it into the mile 15 aid station and grabbed two cups of water. I drank most of one at the station, grabbed an orange, and walked while I sipped the other water. I tried to assess just what the hell was going so wrong. I wasn't in nutritional crisis, so that was okay. I didn't feel dehydrated, and I was still having to urinate every few miles, so I was okay there. My body hurt, sure, but nothing I couldn't overcome. So...what? I was cold. Well, look around. Everybody's cold. The words came unbidden from my lips, out loud, for anybody to hear. I was glad to hear them - they were the first bit of logic I'd encountered in a very long time. So I was cold, and it was my mind...my heart, my spirt - that was in crisis. My body was following their lead, but I had plummeted into some dark, irrational place where my mind was trying to excuse itself from this process. I was justifying why I needed to walk, or sleep on the run, or how I was entitled to feel this miserable. I wondered - was everybody feeling like this? Would they? Am I alone right now, or do they all do this? Is this part of it? I was afraid. This was uncharted territory for me. I'd never asked so much of my body, and didn't know if I was strong enough to do this. I didn't know if my mind, so sick for so long, was well enough repaired to take charge of a weary and battered body. I didn't know if my heart, so scarred from such tremendous breaking, was resilient enough to pull me through.
You can do this.
It's all will from here, babe.
I walked into Camp Randall, where the Badger's play, and that Voice returned.
I want you to run around the football field. Don't walk it, run.
"Okay," I said. "How fast?"
Doesn't matter. Just run it.
I picked up my pace and stumbled around the field. My legs felt thick and alien. Still, I was doing something. For the first time in what seemed like hours, I was doing something. When I reached the exit, the Voice said, "Great job. Go ahead and walk it out." Had you been beside me, you'd have heard the Voice same as me, as it came from my lips. And I spoke as plainly to it as I would to you right now. I didn't know what the Voice was, and didn't care. It seemed to have its shit together where I plainly did not.
I continued walking as I left the stadium. Okay, now let's power walk. Pump the arms, pick up the legs, let's go. I did as instructed, and started to do more than just stumble. The "rain gear" was seeming to help - it was keeping my body heat trapped, and while I certainly wasn't dry, it at least provided the illusion of combatting the rain, and maybe that in itself was helpful. "It's all will now," I repeated Amy's words, not sure if I was talking to myself or the Voice, or what the difference was.
This is Ironman. The Voice said. Not all the bright lights and shiny toys. This is what you trained for, right here. This is when you find out what you're made of. Right here, right now. You asked for this. You asked for the privilege of it. This is what it is.
I thought about coach Rich Strauss, who constructed the training plan I'd followed. He says you need a "One Thing." That thing that you pull out of your back pocket when it gets horrible, to keep yourself going. I thought of my One Thing: To be, and not just to appear to be.
The fulcrum between us. The Voice said.
"Ah." I said. "It's you."
If you walk this thing out, the Voice said, "You may finish in time. You may even get a medal. But you and I both know that you'll only be appearing to be Ironman. And that's not how we're going home.
I continued a healthy power walk, starting to feel a shade better. The conversation was giving my mind something constructive to do, and there seemed to be a plan in the making. Some strategy to get out of this thing that had gone to hell in a hand grenade.
Okay, see that sign? I want you to run from that sign all the way down to that light pole down there. See it?
"Sure. Just, jog or whatever?"
No, throw it down. Whatever you've got in there.
I reached the sign and started a run. I focused on technique, which I'd abandoned several miles ago. I flew by the other walkers and shufflers, and my rain jacket rattled in the wind and rain. It felt...great. Strong. Possible. When I reached my stopping point, I slowed to a power walk.
No, just walk easy right now for a minute.
"I think I have it in me to power walk this, though."
Yeah, but we need calories. If we're stupid right now and blow up, we'll be in much worse shape. Just take it slow here while the body recovers.
Good plan. I walked slowly a short while longer, then at the aid station the Voice thought I should have one of everything. Store up, it said. I passed mile 17, and approached a long and lonely stretch of trail that follows the lakeside. It was a horrible trail this night - the trees shook additional rain on us, and the water and wind off the lake were even more cold. Besides, it was extremely dark. Ironman had set up huge portable lights every quarter mile or so, which brightened huge sections, but in between it was black as night as runners now wearing phosphorus glow necklaces bobbed down the trail.
I was starting to feel resurrected. I could feel myself clawing out of this abyss I'd fallen into, slowly but steadily. Okay, the Voice said, let's run from this light to the next one. So I did, then I'd power walk to the next light, and then run again. I'd continue this cycle and interject periods of slow walking to recover. The calories I'd taken in were paying off, and I was feeling its energy course through me now. I was coming back. Mile 18 passed by, and I left the trail now and headed towards State Street. I knew the crew would be around there, waiting for me. They had to have sensed how poorly I was doing last time. They must have been concerned.
A steep incline stretched for a third of a mile or so, and behind me a spectator was trying to rouse some runners to follow him up the hill. They did, and the three of them were running up. As they passed me he encouraged me to jump along, but I told him I needed to stick to my game plan. I want you to walk this entire hill, the Voice had said. Give your main muscle groups in your legs a rest while some other ones work, and there's no sense running up hills at this point. Good plan. On the other side of the hill, then, was a descent. Open it up, the Voice said. Free speed. So I flew downhill, another third of a mile or so. I kept running at the bottom until I reached the next aid station just onto State Street. I grabbed a water and a Gatorade, and mixed just a bit of the Gatorade into the water and sipped. This wasn't the Voice's idea, it was mine. I was retaking control of Ironman. I power walked as I sipped, and approached the Team. They were cheering as usual, but I could sense trepidation as they tried to discern my state of things.
I held out a hand and nodded my head as I walked quickly past them, still sipping. "It's okay," I said. "I'm back in the game." They went wild, and I could hear them buzzing as I continued on, "He says he's back in the game! He's back in the game!" and "He's going to finish this thing, and strong!" I smiled - wow, how long had it been since I'd smiled? - and threw down my cup of water and started running. I'm proud of you. The Voice said, and left.
I ran through the turnaround and passed by the Team again, knowing I wouldn't see them again until the finish. We were having fun again. Mother shouted "IronMAN! as Grandpa held his arm out for a high five.
Time to pick it up and set it down, Grandpa.
I blazed back to life, running through miles 19 and into the Ford Motivational Mile around mile 20. I'd stop to walk for short rests, then power walk for short bursts, then open it up for most of the mile. I wouldn't think about anything but this mile, the here and now. In the days preceding Ironman, people could make signs of support for athletes, and during this mile they were staked into the ground. Thousands and thousands of personal billboards of support for the athletes out here lined the road. Then, as I came back from a turnaround at the end of the road, I stepped on the mat which triggered the message on the jumbotron screen that my aunt and Mike had devised at the kiosk in Ironman Village a few days ago. It read: "You are our hero."
I'd never felt like a hero before.
I laughed out loud, a joyful noise, and picked up my pace. I'd stop less frequently now to walk, and mostly only through aid stations. I thanked every volunteer I could find for being out there as I passed through. Later I'd learn that the president of Ironman had considered closing down the run course halfway for fear of hypothermia, and was especially concerned that the "civilians" - the aid station volunteers and police - would start dropping from the cold, and then they'd have some major issues to contend with. They sent an alert out to all the stations, asking for their honest assessment of their durability to see this through, and, "To a man," he said, "they said, 'We're out here as long as they're out here,' and with that kind of attitude there was no way we were shutting this down."
As I power walked through an incline in mile 23, I met up with another athlete.
"Man," he said to me like he'd been waiting for me all along, "I can't wait for a hot shower."
"I hear that," I replied. "And a pizza."
"I'm going back to my hotel and getting a big bacon cheeseburger, and french fries, and a malt."
"Hell yes," I laughed. "I haven't had french fries since Christ was a child."
We laughed some more, and as we reached the crest I wished him a strong finish as I flew down the other side. Now the energy was different. Now, we all of us on the road knew something awaited us. It felt tangible now. Impending. Inevitable.
At exactly the mile 25 marker I shed my rain gear and ran. No more walking now, no more aid stations. This was my mile. This one would live on longer than I will, and I wanted to do it right. All around me spectators shouted words of congratulations now, rather than encouragement. The crowds were thin because the thousands were now all in the finish chute. I wound my way around downtown, the backside of the Capitol building now into view, now hearing the roar of the crowd, the dull thumping of the speakers getting louder.
"Well done, Ironman!" They'd shout as I floated through downtown towards the finish chute I couldn't yet see, but knew was coming.
"Looks like an Ironman to me!" A man said as I high-fived him.
"A left turn and a right and your life will change forever." Said another as I made my last turn. Before me the crowds thickened behind barricades that separated us. I high-fived anybody and everybody. It was pure euphoria. Stupid adrenaline. This is what it feels like when you die, I thought.
I finally turned right at the huge Gatorade bottle, and went underneath the Ironman gateway and into the finish chute. The bleachers alongside me were lined with thousands and thousands of roaring fans, screaming and jumping and shouting. Music thumped and blared from the huge sound system. My image was broadcast over the huge jumbotron screen as bright lights glared down onto us finishing athletes. My legs took off from under me and I was sprinting, winding my arm around and around in celebration. I caught up to the woman in front of me, on accident, and we both stopped, not wanting to interfere with each other's finishing moment. I stepped back and held my hand out, a gesture of "After you", and laughed at the civility of it in such an insane moment. After she passed they held the tape back up for me. I was smiling as I took the final steps across the finish line and broke the tape in 14 hours, 53 minutes, and 27 seconds.
I had become Ironman.
A sweet little old woman grabbed me right away, a "catcher", who was assigned to get me through the finish area. "Are you okay?" She asked. I laughed. "I'm outstanding, how are you?" She laughed, and we approached a volunteer who placed a finisher's medal around my neck. I bowed my head to receive the honor, a gesture not just of practicality for her to place the medal, but of respect. Then I reached out and held her head. She didn't know what to do, so she reached out and held mine, and for an instant we stood there, holding each other's heads, until finally I pulled her to me and kissed her cheek.
I caught up with the Team in the family area, and embraced every single one of them. We cried and laughed and hugged, and I felt honored to be among them. They'd had their own experience this day, I knew, while I'd had my own - but together, we'd shared something extraordinary. This was so much more than simply a race, for all of us. Somehow, I think, it brought us all closer. It was one of those situations, rare in life, where it seemed scripted for purpose. If the sun had been shining, if the weather had been perfect, they and we wouldn't have had the same experience. If any one of them hadn't been there, it wouldn't have been the same. Whatever one expects in Ironman, I didn't necessarily expect to be so inspired, so motivated, so carried through by this group of people. My race was measured by when I'd see them again, and my finish line was determined by when we'd all finally be together. I'll say it again: I felt like their representative out there, and we joked how each of them should wear the medal for a day, and we should pass it around like the Stanley Cup. I will never be able to express my love, or thanks, or humble gratitude at the Team for being out there in the wind and cold and rain all day, and I think each of us will remember it for the rest of our lives.
Mother, Jay, Amy, Marlyn, Debbie, Kaili, Mike, Susan, Michael, Alicia, Pat, Mike, Erin, Sara, Ben, Patric, Todd, Grandma, Grandpa, and Dad: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I love you all.
I woke myself up with groaning that night, my legs were in so much pain. Amy rubbed them out a little and I took some Tylenol, and slept a little better the rest of the night. The next few days my legs were devastated, and it was Tuesday before I could walk up stairs without clutching the handrails for life. My feet made it out generally drama free - not even a blister, but my ankles are shot (not sure how that happened), and every fiber of everything else just hurts. But each day they'll get a little better, I know, and by this weekend I'll probably be moving okay.
People are wondering what's next, including me. Presently my plans are only to let the hair grow back on my legs. I've eaten the last few days for the enjoyment of food, rather than for its precise nutritional context. I've slept well for the first time in ages. I have some recovery to do.
I'm looking forward to playing basketball, something I haven't done for these past two years of training because I didn't want to somehow hurt myself. I'll lift some weights this offseason, and run a few short road races, I think.
I don't know what next triathlon season has in store, and I'll starting thinking about that soon and try to get a plan before Christmas.
Regarding another Ironman: Ironman for me was a life decision, not a triathlete's decision. It took me 3 years to do, because that's how I chose to do it. It was, in all honesty, the greatest day of my life. I feel changed by it in ways I can't describe or understand yet. I feel different on the other side of it. I had so, so much fun. Even when I was in the abyss, it was just part of the story for me. I loved every second of it, even when I was a shivering mess. Every single second. It felt transcendental, holy somehow. And, if I'm to consider my Ironman journey, it makes perfect sense that the race itself would be a battle against more than my myself. Of course the Elements made their appearance. Of course I had moments of haunting. It was as it should have been, in every perfect way.
That said, then, as I sit here right now, no part of me feels unfulfilled about Ironman. There are no outstanding issues, no unfinished business. The triathlete in me right now is not considering another Ironman. Maybe one day he will, but not right now. And my life took an extraordinary 32 years for this Ironman to be forged. Another Ironman as a life decision seems right now far away, if not unlikely. There are other adventures to have in life right now. Things to do now that I'm made of Iron. Things I wasn't capable of before, perhaps. So the short answer to "will you do another" - I don't know. Not tomorrow. And that's okay. I'm learning that life is best approached like the Ironman race itself - just let it come to me.
I imagine I'll have a lot of processing to do after Ironman, and I suppose I'll share it here as well as anywhere. I don't know what plans there are for the blog, other than an outlet for my thoughts and experiences now as an Ironman. I'll have probably much to say in the coming weeks, and maybe a little less to say after that. Maybe I'll keep you apprised of my life as a triathlete in general if you're still interested, even as one who's not in active training for Ironman. I'm not sure what's next, but I promise to keep you informed.
Thanks again for everything everybody. All of your support, your well wishes, your notes of congratulations. It has meant the world to me, and I hope we can continue our friendships here in this "virtual" world. Meanwhile, may your wheels run true, your legs turn strong, and the wind be always at your back.