Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Becoming Ironman

I remember the thickness, the weight of the climate on my skin. Early, earlier than the rest of the world wakes up. Because we've chosen to remove ourselves from the rest of the world. The earth is dark, and the skies only begin to glow deep blue with cloud cover.

I remember sitting, one of the first few, on a school bus. Transported in those instants back to countless trips across North Dakota for football, or basketball. The feeling of those green vinyl seats. The unique smell of the diesel vapors that is somehow comforting for its familiarity. Here again, an athlete in transit.

I remember the sensation of the carpet as I lay down for a few last moments to meditate. Give thanks. Recall. Begin. I hear the murmers as they travel down the hallway. The energy is electric, like the air in a thunderstorm.

I can feel the water, warmer than the air, as the still brightening skies begin to appear in heavy, dimensional clouds. I am surrounded by heroes. My swim cap, even it has a smell.

My God, how glorious a cannon might thunder and echo forever and ever and ever, the harbinger that nothing will ever be the same.

Pull, glide, pull. I can sense it even here, in my arms. A ready reaction to propel. One among thousands.

I remember - be thoughtful not to trip and fall, or stub a toe on the concrete. Don't try to run too fast up the helix. Try and check the adrenaline. But then I see them, my Army, the Team that has come to guide and push and encourage. I remember erupting helplessly into a grin. This moment could be the polar opposite of sadness.

It's cold out here. And wet. I wonder if the weather will break, I wonder if this shower will let up around mile 20, or 40, or 100. It helps, maybe, to be away from the nucleus that is Madison. Now it's just me and my machine for the rest of the morning. For the rest of the afternoon. For the rest of my life.

The rain, I remember it becoming meaningless. Soaked to where discomfort or prevention are long past ideas. It just is, now. Seven hours is a long time to get acclimated.

It feels surreal to sit down. I'm shaking and the cold is everything, but at least I'm inside, at least I'm warm for a moment. Those dreams, the ones soundtracked with Rocky anthems during July training, they're in the ether now. At present, the spectacle and specter of Ironman is secondary to the biology of an Ironman athlete. Somehow there's a marathon to run. Somehow I have got to stop shaking. The volunteers, they have sandwhiches and warm water. I cup the warm styrofoam between my hands and drink, willing it to warm up my fingers and toes. I so want a sandwhich, but they're slathered in mayo, and I curse. I remember thinking - I can't stay here anymore. I can't get comfortable again. I can't make the rain and cold meaningful once more.

Somewhere time is going by, somewhere the world is revolving, somewhere people are keeping schedules and doing things that require a glance at the clock. I am not. I am just running. As I sit here, I can recall that thickness in my legs, hard and tendril and hot, pounding against cold and concrete. The world fades from gray to purple to black, and the city reflects itself a million times over in the puddles before I crack the image with a solid footfall, sending it into ripples. Still the Team, still the cold, still I run.

Chicken broth. Good and Gracious God, who thought of this? I remember, as I do, requiring restraint - only drinking it in reward for another 2, or 3, or 4th mile.

So tired now. I can recall the mile, 16, when I actually tried to close my eyes and sleep while still running. Thinking if only I had a moment's rest, I could catch my second wind.

"C'mon, let's run up this hill," I can hear her, somebody from Somebody's Team, trying to help, doing what she can to will these athletes into Becoming Ironman. I am not critical of her efforts, but tell her no. I walk up the hill to spend energy sensibly; it's become of rare supply. I have to avoid cramping. But still, I am back in the game now.

Mile 22 is like...mile 90 of a century ride, or mile 8 of a 10 mile run. It's that thing around which the entire universe pivots, before which was uncertainty and strategy, and after which is determination-driven surety. I will finish. It is inevitable. Even if I break a leg now. Even if I have to crawl from here. I will finish.

Even now, here, on this cold Wednesday, tears fall as I write this, just remembering. It was this much to me.

Stupid elation now, just moronic, pure joy. Animal instinct. Under a mile to go, and I will myself to remember. Memorize this. Downtown is emptier now as the crowds are at The Finish Line, but for a few stragglers, one of whom says words I will never, ever forget. Looks like an Ironman to me.

Turn the corner and it's a supernova. The world has exploded in light and color and noise, doubled over by the wet reflections. It is Homecoming. It is being 9 Years Old. It is a thing so pervasive, so amazing, that I feel ill equipped to manage it. So much bigger than me. So much, this thing is.

The miles, the achievement, the stories and even the reflections like this one, none of those are present then. It's just happiness. Happiness to have finished A Race, which took so much more than 14 hours, 53 minutes, and 27 seconds to complete. It's days, maybe weeks before I'll understand. Maybe I still don't. But just then, no understanding is required. Just joy. And I'm not cold anymore, and couldn't tell you if it was still raining or no.

But I blink, and exhale, and it fades away again. It's March now. There are feet of snow on the ground, my tri-bike is shackled to a trainer, and I am just a guy at his computer. But these things, they come back to me like that. Tactile, immersive. In the car. On my lunch break. In a long run. Often unexpected, with a certain song, or the feel of that kind of high tech fabric, or the smell of rain. Sudden and whole and glorious.


TriSaraTops said...


Crying now.

Thanks for taking me back.

Triteacher said...

Man, when you hit a nail on the head, you don't mess around do you?

Lovely, lovely...

TxSkatemom said...

that is *so* cool.

Triteacher said...

I keep on reading this...

Robin said...

Purely beautiful and evocative of that one day that divides a life into "before" and "after".

Anonymous said...

Getting caught up. Glad I didn't miss this one. It's so well written!

I want to know what songs take you back, unexpected. While you're driving.... em