Wednesday 23 May 2012

Live from Texas (Part 2)

The day before Race Day:

Today I heard about a woman who had made the long journey to Texas to compete in this Ironman. Timing being everything, she decided to take a “quick” nap and ended-up sleeping through the sign-in. Months of training went down the drain, as did her “A” race, and all the money and time she had invested.

As the day before the Race winds to an end, it has become clear to me that the hardest part of the Ironman may have more to do with mental preparedness than physical. I have heard more than a few people talk about the “IM Stupids” that affect  athletes in the days before the Race.

The time is 8:30pm, the lights are out, and my friend is almost asleep. Our tomorrow – Race Day – begins before dawn.

Race Day:

It’s RACE DAY and the alarm has just gone off.  We are set to leave for the race at 4:30am. The gun goes off at 7:00am and there is still a lot to do. I am doing my best to keep the mood light. It is going to be a long day.

4:00am – multiple gear bag check and double check

4:15am - breakfast 

4:30am – leave for race

5:30am – gear bag drop off

6:00am - body marking

6:30am – Julie begins to waffle on whether or not to wear her wetsuit, finally deciding to go with the original plan of wearing it, even though the water temperature is 83F

7:00am – Athletes with wetsuits enter the water (10 minutes behind the several thousand non-wetsuit wearers)

The crowd of spectators is 3 to 4 people deep, and I can’t get a decent view. I have to move at least 500 meters back from the start.  As the gun goes off, there is a roar of excitement from the gallery. I wait. I am too far from the start to see anything. I can hear the water splashing and the sound is getting closer. The sun is still rising on the horizon and the rays are glistening off the swimmer-less, dead calm water. Moments later, like schooling fish, the swimmers begin to pass by me. It’s thrilling: the sights, the sounds. The moment I am in is surreal, and I am sucking up every moment of it.

Texas 2012 Ironman Swim start

The swimmers are now only a glint in the distance, and I begin my mile and a half walk to the next stage (the “bike out” section). It is a beautiful, scenic walk and with no one to talk to, I talk to myself. The voice in side my head is reprimanding me for doggin’ it on my swim workouts over the last couple of weeks. I vow to work harder on speed.

I am in a good position to see the athletes leave for the bike portion of the race. Many are already on the move. Sadly, I have arrived after the pro’s have left. One by one, each cyclist runs to the mounting line. Many with smiling faces, and all with focused determination.  By all accounts, this should be the longest leg of the race.

Julie comes out of the transition area and hops on her bike. I yell to her, but the cheers and her concentration thwart my efforts. She is off.

Julie is off on her first 180k ride in her life.

I decide to leave the event altogether and go back to the hotel for a nap. It will be around 6 hours before I see Julie again.

A nap and a shower later, I jockey for a postion at the end of the bike leg of the race. As each rider returns, I see that the smiles are gone. It is very hot, and the heat, coupled with the distance, is obviously humbling to the athletes. I watch a rider dismount and, as his feet touch the ground, his right leg seizes. Motionless, he winces. The crowd is transfixed on the drama that is unfolding. Time ticks by, and the only muscles that move are in his face. More riders dismount and move around him, but still he doesn’t move – as though he were made of marble. As a group, we are no longer cheering for the arriving riders. We are now praying for this rider and the unbearable pain he must be in.  “Move, move,” I quietly whisper. Then it happens… first his foot and then his knee. Slowly he regains control over his leg. He turns and begins to limp towards the end of the bike shoot. The crowd erupts in thunderous cheers that hit deafening levels. Tears fills my eyes, and the drama is over for now. Unfortunately, as I stand waiting patiently for Julie, this same scene is repeated serveral more times with other athletes.

I see her. An impressive 6 hour 40 min bike time. An amazing time, especially since this is the first 180K ride. I am hot, I have been in the sun for hours, and am getting hungry. I rush down to the run transition area to see if I can catch her run start. Most runners leaving the transition tent begin their run with a slow trot. Julie emerges and she is off for her marathon run. I yell out my congrats. I leave for the closest store to buy some food, water and sunscreen.

Off on her marathon run...go Julie!!!

My phone vibrates, I have an incoming text. It is my coach. “How are you doing?” Does he know that I am getting freaked out? Is he reading my mind? How does he do that? “Ya, I’m fine,” I reply, but I tell him how I am feeling. His reassuring texts do little to settle my fears. This race is hard, and seeing the pain in everyone’s eyes is really difficult for me.

I find a shady spot next to the canal, and watch for Julie on this looped marathon. Many athletes are walking. Very few look to be strong and in control. Most are near the ½ marathon mark and just want it to be done.

This race has turned into a head game. It is no longer about who is fitter, or who has trained better. It has become more than that. For several hours now I watched people run, walk, cry, puke, and quit. I watch as my friend crosses the finish line. In truth, I am a tad bit envious and unbelievably proud to have witnessed the amazing end of her courageous journey.

Not a great shot but it was the only one taken of us at the end of the race.  

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