Well the IMWI this past weekend was certainly an eye opener. What a phenomenal experience! First of all, I bought the prettiest pink helmet at the IM sports shop - I cannot wait to wear it. (That makes the third helmet I've bought in about a year, I think I will be selling the others on ebay.....)
We began our day at 3AM Sunday when the alarm rang. We showered, dressed and drove to Madtown, got parked right near the Terrace, and headed to our spot just outside of transition to begin the body marking frenzy. What a weird job it is to have someone come up to you strip off their shirt and pull down their pants to have you write on them - just kind of an odd thing to do. There were folks there from ALL OVER. I had a heck of a time trying to communicate with a few of them. One fella was Italian I think and I had to take a couple different runs at trying to get him to tell me his age so I could mark his leg. I finally asked him in French - the first and only time I have been able to put those 5 years of Jr/Sr HS and 16 college French credits to practical use! (Sorry Mom, sad but true....... my mom was a French teacher for those who didn't know that). It was there that I think I really started to get a sense of just how many people there were competing in this - kind of overwhelming!
Before we knew it, we were looking for a good spot to watch the swim start. I have never seen an open water swim event, so I was really curious. It was just amazing to see all the people in the water together, especially when the cannon went off and all 2200 people began to move along the shore together, just a mass of arms and legs and swimcaps. I think I had a little panic attack just watching.
Lesson #1: I need to find a place to practice open water group swimming on a smaller scale. Maybe we need to do some of the Aquathons next summer. For sure we need to spend time in a lake.
We watched as all if these many hundreds of people finished the swim or hitched a ride back to shore in the rescue boats. They were guided out of the water and helped out of their wetsuits, then ran through the chute and up the helix for their swim to bike transition. I broke out the cowbells for them and rang them for everyone I saw. We shouted and jumped around for those we knew- Darin, Kitty, Jay, Bolder, Roman, and the others. As it neared the end, we headed to the car for a quick change to warm weather clothes and to get in line for the shuttle bus to Verona to watch the bikes go by.
Lesson #2: Go to the bathroom before you get in line for the bus. It's a REALLY long line. And don't drink a bottle of water and a diet Coke while you are waiting (refer to the previous sentence).
The bike portion was long but it was really cool. We arrived about 0930 and again the cowbell came out. We watched as everyone sped past us and I rang that bell through the first loop for everyone and then again on the second loop. There was a pregnant lady who sat down near us on the first loop and bitched loudly about how the bells were bothering her. Her bitching was bothering ME, so I figured we were even and kept the bells going. I firmly believe that every single person needs to have encouragement and motivation. I know that there likely people there who had not brought their fan club and needed someone to cheer them along. And probably those folks that are straggling in at the end need it even more than the pros riding like lightning off the front. So we rang and rang and rang until it was time to get back on the last shuttle bus at 4. We had been waiting to see Kitty come by on her second pass , but we hadn't seen her and the buy told us if we wanted a ride back to Madison, we had better get on the bus or walk.
Lesson #3: Ringing the cowbells for 8 solid hours creates a lot of cuts and scrapes on your fingers. By the time we got on the bus, my knuckles were all raw, sore and bleeding. OUCH! And also, your wrists hurt - like a little carpal tunnel going on.
Once back at the Terrace, we headed up to a place where we could look down upon the "BIKE IN" finish and watched the last hour before the bike cutoff. This was one of the most emotional parts of the day for me. We saw people struggle to the finish line. Some could barely get off their bike. Some had to actually have the catchers unclip their shoes from the bike. One guy was leaning so far to the left I thought he was going to crash his bike into the wall, then he actually had to be held up for several minutes by the volunteers once they got him on his feet to keep from falling over. We saw one girl start down the chute and she was SOBBING as she realized she had made the cut by just a few minutes. It seemed especially cruel that after biking 112 miles everyone had to bike UP the helix (3 story corkscrew ramp) to get to the finish.
We waited and waited for Kitty and still we didn't see her. At about 5:20 we saw Tawnya and some of the other SWATs. They had been driving by her on the motorcycle all day and knew that she was going to get pulled from the course and wouldn't make it back. That was just a heartbreaking moment. I can't imagine getting that far and being pulled. I am not sure I would be able to manage that with any grace at all - might just wrestle someone instead of giving up my chip if I had the strength.......
We then headed up to the Capital Square to watch the run. There were people lined everywhere cheering people on. The bells had to stay put away - my hands couldn't take it anymore - but we clapped and cheered for everyone we saw. It was kind of nice that everyone's first name was on their bib number so you could shout something personal. Some of the folks were looking a little dazed, so it may have just served to confuse them for strangers to call out their name though. We hung out, ate supper and spectated for many more hours and finally headed up towards the finish line to watch our friends finish. One by one they went by, then the group dispersed to do their own thing. After standing around so long, mike and I decided to walk along the course backwards and watch for those we may have missed. Before long we saw Jay heading towards us. We shouted and waved, then took off running across the capital lawn to get back to the finish to see him cross. We found him after the finish to congratulate him, then headed home shortly afterwards. Erin crossed the line too about that same time. Shortly after that, we headed home, exhausted. It was the quickest 20 hours of my life.
Other lessons/thoughts on the day:
- After watching all day and blogging with many of these people, I feel like my family grew Sunday by about 2200 people. I was genuinely happy for everyone, worried about them finishing, getting hurt, or not making the cutoffs. I feel like I took every step, every pedal stroke, every meter of swimming right along with these folks.
Man, Christmas is going to be REALLY expensive this year......
-Spectating made me more sore than any brick or race EVER. I never get muscle aches and pains, just an occasional ache in the night after a big run that goes away with NSAIDs. For really the first time in a long, long time I spent Monday and then Tuesday with thighs and hamstrings so sore and tight i could hardly walk. My feet hurt, I had several blisters, I was sunburned beyond belief. Who would have thought standing around WATCHING stuff would be so exhausting? (I know no one is really feeling all that sorry for me, it's not like I did an Ironman for pet's sake!)
-if Frank can do it so can I: We watched this guy Frank Farrar all day. He is 78 and did his 50th IM. He made it in 3 minutes before the cutoff for the run, totally hobbled up and stumbling. If he can do it, I can do it.
- I really could care less about seeing the pros race. I want to see Joe Everyguy struggle and get to the finish in the last few hours. I want to see the folks that just barely make the cutoffs, the folks that entered knowing they would be in the back of the pack or maybe not at all. Let's face it - they are me. And they work hard and deserve as much or more recognition than the pros and elites as far as I'm concerned.
- The experience the first to the finish line have is far different than the experience of the last to the finish. The faster folks race through crowds of spectators, streets and sidelines packed with spectators calling out and cheering rock star style. The last 1/3 to 1/4 of the iron candidates go through sparse (if any) spectators clumped around the finish. I felt a little bad that more people didn't stay to cheer everyone on or that more finishers didn't come out and cheer on those behind them. Everyone deserves the Rock Star Treatment. Next year, I am taking Monday afterwards off so I can cheer to the very end. (Plus, I will need to be off Monday so I can Register for 2009!!!)
- The whole day was an emotional roller coaster. Excitement, anticipation, nervousness, disappointment, fear, anxiety, pride. I felt them all and then some. I jumped up and down. I cried a little along with the athletes and families. The moods of the day were palpable everywhere we went.
- It was amazing to see those that were racing after overcoming adversity - absolutely inspirational. There was a woman we saw on the news that had overcome stage 4 Ovarian cancer and was doing her first Ironman. There was an amputee. We saw many with there stories written on the back of their jerseys, including a man who had completed his last chemo treatment just one month ago. I can't put into words how moving that was - I am tearing up just writing about it now. I hope that if I am ever in a situation where I am put to the test like that, that I would embrace life that way instead of wallowing in a pity party.
Most of all, I learned I still have a long way to go. Mike and I have had a lot of "what if" conversations and watching everyone throughout the day helped to put in to perspective what it is we need to work towards and work on. The conversations pre and post IMWI are very, very different.
At the end of the weekend, I think I have more questions than answers-
* could I do it in the rain, heat, or weather issues? Had the race been on Monday instead of Sunday it would have been cold and rainy, not sunny and gorgeous. Could I do it like that? Doubtful.
* Could I really do that swim? the swim is long, and brutal. I would really need to toughen up and quit being a marshmallow.
* The bike scares me - could I do it well? Bitch Hill - Nuff said.
* What if I can't make the run cut?