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.
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.
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.
Monday, September 11, 2006
Saturday, September 09, 2006
The Team has arrived. The place is buzzing with Ironman. The energy is...pervasive. Awesome.
Ol' Blue is checked into Transition: I won't see him again until tomorrow morning's check in. My transition packs await my return tomorrow. It's all over now but the doing. Finally.
I'm headed to run a few last minute errands, and then maybe take a nap before dinner tonight. Last night I finally met the Blog Alliance. It was so great to finally meet everybody, put a face to a personality, learn what's behind the super-hero blog monikers. I'll give you details next week. For now, it's time to rest.
I do see that we're having some technical difficulties on the blog - none of the photos, archives, etc. are showing up over there on the right. Oh well. I'll fix it next week. You can still read the posts, and that's the important thing.
But this, which is too huge to even call a "shout out": Yesterday my friends/sometimes contributors/frequent lurkers/constant Team-mates Chad and Krista had, to all of our surprise (we were expecting more next weekend...or at least I was...) had a baby girl, Addison. Amazing, holy, inspired, brilliant. Miles 9 on the bike and 8 on the run are dedicated to her, and Chad and Krista, in honor of her birthday on 9/8. Welcome to the world, Addison -
So hey - that's it. After all, it comes to this. Thanks everybody, for everything. I'll see you on the other side of Ironman -
Thursday, September 07, 2006
Well. After thinking about it for years, talking about it for months, and preparing for it forever, it feels great to finally be here! Today Ironman Village officially opened, and I officially went and became official.
Parking was a hassle, as the Monona Terrace was full and so was all of the other public parking ramps downtown. I finally found a spot and filled the meter (note to any athletes - bring quarters!) and headed down to the Terrace from the downtown side of things. As soon as I came onto Martin Luther King Blvd, where on Sunday the finish chute will somewhere reside, I had entered, at long last, The Kingdom of Ironman.
I walked towards the Terrace to pick up my registration stuff, and doing so took me through pretty much the whole village. Many sponsors were setting up their tents, or getting organized, or whatever, but it was still full of vendors, information, and athletes. More than just a carnival, though, this is the brain center of Ironman, and the M-Dot logo pervades everything, and I meandered around for 15 minutes with solid goosebumps on my arms. This is it! It's finally here! I strolled around a few minutes, checking out Ironman TV, where analysts and guests cover myriad of Ironman topics all day (and which is also broadcast via jumboscreens), and a few of the other tents. I wasn't really doing anything - just taking it all in. Enjoying the experience. The feeling, the sensation. It was awesome. Finally, I headed in to get registered.
Registration is kind of a...Complete Fiasco, which is code for another, less publicly presentable phrase that also begins with the letters C and F that means "crazy mess of things". They don't, of course, mean for it to be, and in its way the logic makes whatever sense it can, but because of the way the Monona Terrace is organized, registration requires several stops, 3 floors, and one really long line. Not as bad as I thought it would be - I was in and out in just over an hour.
Anyway, first I stood at the end of a line that went downstairs - so I had no idea what this line was doing or how long it really was or what. All around me athletes are discussing their strategies and the weather and the water and whatever, and the logic in avoiding being around that kind of talk immediately presents itself. So I tried to tune them out and just be patient. In just a few minutes a voice downstairs called "Anybody with a number under 600 to the front of the line!" Sweet! So I went down, where now I could see that there were several lines set up, according to number, but that's impossible to know from the one big line that ends an entire floor up. Anyway, at this station I just picked up a sheet with some vital stats on it - make sure my info is correct, provide some info, sign a waiver. Then I take that signed form through a hallway and another expo room where I again find myself at the end of the line. This one winds over the scales - they weigh us for race day (fully clothed - 185, officially) - so that they can compare weights on race day in case of emergency - and so once I was checked out of the scales I again headed down another flight of stairs to finally pick up my race packet. There are 2 stations, one for number under 1200 and one for numbers over - and at each station are several Iron Crew (that's what their shirts say) members who actually sit down with each athlete and walk you through the race day packet, what number goes on what, what do to here and there, etc. The line that had seemed really daunting actually went pretty quickly, but I'm here on the first day, early on...I imagine Friday, when most athletes show up, might be crazier (I'd suggest getting there before 10:00am, so you're ready and first in line). My very friendly Crew member gave me all the details, we joked and laughed, and then she placed around my wrist the coveted Ironman bracelet - my ticket into the Kingdom for the week. I don't mind telling you I actually choked up at this point (I am right now recalling it...), and am glad she didn't want to talk just then so I could recover without seeming like a complete tool. All parcels in hand, then, I was officially registered for Ironman Wisconsin. Friggin' awesome, baby.
I took the escalator back up the two floors I'd come down, and (credit the World Triathlon Corporation's marketing savvy) landed smack in the middle of the Ironman marketplace. Are you kidding me? I want everything! One of each, please! Ironman stuff as far as you can see. Fleece, t-shirts, hats, uniforms, gear, magnets, shot glasses, whatever. It's like Disneyland for triathletes, and I'm a total sucker for it all. So I walked around the store for awhile, coveting everything. I picked up a t-shirt for me and one for Amy, a baseball hat for my Grandpa, some arm warmers for the bike on Saturday (I'll use the other set I brought for the run), and some goggles (mine apparently broke a seal on my last swim, so I brought a backup pair but hoped they'd have my brand - and they did). I also picked up a little Triathlon beaded keychain thing to put on Jackie's collar, which he looks very handsome in, thanks very much. Anyway. I have lots more to buy, I think, mostly for my family, so I'll plan to head over again tomorrow after my swim.
Otherwise, a relaxing time so far. Jackson and I took a boat ride with my aunt, I sat and chatted in the yard with my grandparents, and now the house is quiet while I consider a nap. I have a day off from workouts today, but tomorrow I'll be on the bike course for a bit after a morning swim on-course.
I feel like a college kid who's finally moving into his dorm or something - it feels so cool to be here, the energy downtown is so cool. This is it guys. This really is it.