Saturday April 28th I had the pleasure of attending and spectating The North American Championship at Ironman Texas. Up at 4 and at swim start by 6am. The energy was electric. My best cheer mate, Susie Lane and I both had the race day jitters even though neither of us were racing. While we had 6 teammates racing, we were only able to locate our coach Chuck Sims and fellow teammate Bradley Odom. The cannon firing off the pros sent butterflies in everyone’s stomachs and we knew it was the final countdown. After a few photos, some well-wishes and hugs, we sent the boys on their way. Once we got them in the water we walked over to swim out in effort to watch the pros come in. It’s ALWAYS exciting to watch the pros. They spend the whole year honing their craft (their bodies) in preparation for the event in effort to earn their slot to Kona, the Ironman World Championship. This being a famously fast course, they are here to make potential records.
Pros were out of the water and on the bike in a flurry. Naturally we hung out to see all our teammates out as well. Once we got them on the bike it was chill time till the run course. This made things interesting. Hauling a 100lbs tent to a place that doesn’t allow tents on the run course was challenging. Fortunately, Texas is part of the south and everyone was so kind. The Woodlands Rangers were nice enough to hint where one might put a tent up if need be. Need be’d! It was HOT by noon and that Texas sun is relentless. By the time we got breakfast, bought our camp out groceries for the day and set up shop, the pros were on the run course. This is where is gets exciting!
The IMTX run course is not only 3 loops, but mostly through blaring sun and completely on concrete (the most unforgiving surface to run on for your joints…as if running wasn’t hard enough on your body). Starky (Andrew Starykowicz) , the leading pro male off the bike, had just thrown down a lightning fast 3:54:59 /112 miles. However, he is known to overbike and suffer on the run, today was no different. Matt Hansen caught him pretty quickly and his marathon was only good enough for 8th place. The women were out shortly thereafter. Adopted team mate Mel Hauschildt (not really, but her pro coach husband is available for hire on our team) was lagging on the run for the lead, but not by much. By the 3rd mile she had passed her competitors and was never caught. I was able to watch her come through past our tent several times and she looked strong and relaxed the whole way through. Having just come off the Aussie summer, she was already heat acclimated and the Texas sun only fueled her fire. It was a pretty exciting thing to watch. As the women worked their 2nd loop the age groupers started out on the course. Now the pros and the amateurs are on the same field. Susie and I were ready to take our positions to cheer.
This is where my story takes a nostalgic turn.
As we are tracking our friends and pros, screaming and jumping and yelling and making crazy noises, we were swallowed up in the cacophony of cheers from all over the field. For hours and hours, complete strangers were cheering for complete strangers. In this arena, everyone is united under a pure desire for the success of others. Where can you go that a group of THOUSANDS scream and cheer and smile and hang out in the heat for HOURS in effort to see those they love for only a few seconds and rally behind other folks they’ve never met and will likely never see again and support them wanting nothing but their success? No one wants to hear someone has crashed or is injured or panicked in the water or overheated or injured on the run. We all want the same thing. To get every participant across the finish line. In any fitness competition, but especially in Ironman, months and sometimes years go into preparation. The training is long and demanding as you prepare your body for a 10-17 hour day of nonstop motion. Some have sacrificed jobs, family time, relationships, vacations, money and countless other things that would normally be a priority in effort to achieve this dream of crossing the finish line after 140.6 miles.
After several hours of cheering with her megaphone, Susie’s wrist had finally given out and I was happy to take a shift. I was asked by strangers around me to yell the name of their loved one coming up the sidewalk and chant for them. Yelling across the canal at runners suffering on their second or third loop. Of course we all erupted in screams every time we saw one of our own, but I was inspired by the coming together of so many strangers. People I know I will never see ever again. I even made some new friends (thank goodness for social media)! Looking forward to seeing them at Augusta 70.3 this year!!
The moment it hit me I couldn’t keep it to myself. I was yelling through my smile “This is why! Whenever anyone asks me why I do this, why I do these crazy distances and train for Ironman, THIS IS WHY! All of us coming together to cheer for strangers. This is exactly why! Triathlon, you complete me! It only took 3 sports to do it, but what can I say? I’m a complicated woman.”
Shortly thereafter when I knew my voice was on its last leg, we saw our last athlete for the last time and ran to the finish line. There is NOTHING like an Ironman finish line. It is ELECTRIC! So much energy and positivity! People coming into the finish shoot, the culmination of so much work, so much determination and such a long, hard day. Tears are hard to fight back. Athletes who may have walked for a majority of their marathon are now finding the strength and courage to push past their pain and fatigue to run the chute. Still yelling into the megaphone, we continue to scream for the strangers and give high fives when they’re close. We get our last athlete in through the finish line and a collective sigh of relief is exhaled.
The day is over. A lot of athletes won’t get to see the finish line in all its glory. The rumors and pictures to follow were filled with images of large peletons and packs of drafters which led to some nasty accidents and injuries. Our hearts go out to the injured and their families and hope they are able to make a speedy recovery. It’s terribly unfortunate when these things happen but we do know that the risk is part of the sport. Even when we race clean and play perfect to the rules, others do not and we may fall victim to poor sportsmanship. All we can do is race our own race and be as prepared as possible.
This weekend solidified in me why I do this crazy thing called endurance sports. Why I love being on my bike for hours on end, why I run crazy distances and why I swim in open (often gross bodies of) water. This in turn also made me hungry for more knowledge about how I can keep this body going in sport as long as possible, leading to research on nutrition, recovery methods and lifestyle habits to support it. The embers that have been sleeping warm under the cloak of winter and the “off season” have been restoked into a flame of excitement and positivity for the 2018 season officially underway.
Cheers to all of you out there going for bigger, badder and more kick ass goals than ever before this year! I hope to have a voice in the crowd loud enough for you to hear me scream for your success!!