4 am comes early on race day, especially when you’re the one racing. For the spectator, it’s just as early, but comes with a whole different set of nerves.
I know the nerves that come with racing. I’ve been kept awake by them. I’ve known the heart pounding fear that comes with facing a distance you’ve never done before. To wonder what in the world will happen on the course when it’s just you and your training. I can’t fathom the gravity of nerves that comes with a distance like the Ironman. It’ll shake you alive.
Just finish. Those are the words I heard over and over again as I passed by the athletes on race morning. To finish Ironman training is a victory, to complete the race is a dream and the cherry on top of a very long sought after sundae.
I woke up to Rob’s alarm at 4am, knowing he had probably been awake long before the alarm had gone off. They always say to set several alarms on race day, but on a day like this, it really isn’t necessary. No one sleeps anyway. Rob was getting his gear ready and trying to stomach a bagel. He drank some coffee which made him look more relaxed than he was. Praise God for crappy hotel room coffee makers.
I got up and slowly got myself together with shaky hands. Knowing the limit to which he would push his body that day had me a nervous wreck. Coffee didn’t help. But I drank some, finished the last of my packing for what I’d need for my day and tried to measure just how nervous he was. Should I crack a joke? Video him getting ready? I decided to try, it didn’t go well. Should I just shut up and stay quiet, adding to the somber mood? That doesn’t bode well with my personality, as I don’t do serious very well.
So, I tried to encourage him, help him get ready and keep the mood light without getting slapped for being too care free on a day like this. I felt like we were walking to the gallows. It was dark and quiet, like a scene from The Walking Dead. Slow thoughtful steps. Athletes everywhere all looking equally as terrified as they walked down to the river. They desperately needed some pump you up music jamming down there. But it was quiet, nothing but the steps of terrified triathletes and the sound of the guy on the bullhorn shouting where to go to get your markings and put the last of your gear.
Once we got down to T1, we saw a couple of friends and I made them all stop for a pic, to which they were THRILLED to be a part of. I told them they could hate me now but they’d be glad they had it later. Confirmed.
The energy at the swim start is electric once the music starts and the sun begins to rise. As the athletes start putting on their wet suites and swim caps, it get’s real. No turning back now.
It was cold. I was shivering but there was no way I was going to complain. I mean, I was in the presence of a bunch of people doing an IRONMAN, my being cold and desperate for good coffee was just lame by comparison. We rechecked his gear list and he left transition with nothing left to do but step in the water. I LOVE the start of the race with all the energy and anticipation. It’s palpable. The pro’s go in the water first which is a nice distraction, then the age groupers. I gave him one last kiss, prayed a silent prayer that God would protect him, told him to be safe, be smart, and have fun. And that was that. 7 months of sacrifice and hard work came down to this moment. I sent him off with zero control over anything that would happen on the course with the exception of pictures and capturing moments for him. And making sure he had a cheering section along the way. That was my job, the rest was up to him.
The swim was in the Russian River. It was the MOST beautiful spot. The fog was low and the steam coming off the water made for an amazing view. There were beautiful bridges and tall redwoods. I saw the start, watched the swimmer’s for a bit then when I knew there was no way I was going to spot Rob, I took off for some coffee. The river was somewhat shallow, so I wasn’t as nervous about the swim. Rob is 6’4 so at any point I’m pretty confident he could have stood up if his heart went nuts once he hit the water. The open water can be a scary place as adrenaline and heart rate can make it hard to breath and stay calm, even for a strong swimmer.
I made my way back to the transition area but the swim exit wasn’t easy to get to so I stood at the top of a big hill that paved the way for the 112 mile bike ride ahead.
I had pulled my hat up on top of my head so I could snap some pics, and clearly left it there a wee bit too long. Oh well, I wasn’t in it for the fashion. Notice my long sleeves? Yea, it was like heaven landed in Guerneville, California. HEAVEN will be 55 degrees and sunny with NO humidity. Anyway.
The bike made me nervous as we had driven the course the day before. I knew the sharp turns, hills and pot holes, all of which can catch even the most experienced of cyclists. It was a tough course. I wanted nothing more than to see Rob after his first loop. I found a great spot after logging a few jogging miles for myself, grabbing a Starbucks and taking in the sights of Windsor High School(enter sarcasm) and hoofed it to the turn of the first loop. I had the BEST spot so I sat down on the curb since I knew I had a while and got my camera ready. It’s always fun watching them come in on the bike to take a final turn to the finish, or in this case, to the second loop. They were still somewhat fresh and happy, the weather still cool and enjoyable. I knew the second loop would look different.
Two dumb girls stood up RIGHT in front of my line of sight…..like, just to be annoying. I had a horrible attitude about it because for reals MY HUSBAND IS DOING AN IRONMAN TODAY. You could tell they were just goofing off in the middle of the road and blocking my perfect spot. They left about 20 minutes later having never uttered a cheer for ANYONE. Seriously?! 5 more minutes and it would have been on, because Rob really needed to come around that corner to me getting in a fist fight as he came off his first loop, that would have been a stellar memory of the day.
Once my “friends” took off I had my perfect view. I snapped some pics and had several friends catch a few of him out on the course. Thanks Mary Jo and Jill!!!
He did great and came in right on time. I screamed and yelled and snapped some pics and took off for some lunch…..and a little shopping.
Burgers and gatorade were my fuel of choice for the day. I found myself a tree with some shade, busted out A BOOK and sat IN THE ABSOLUTE HEAVENLY SILENCE and ate in peace. No one talked to me. No kid needed water, or ice, or a kleenex, or a towel, or ketchup or for me to wipe them. I mean, every mom should convince her husband to do an Ironman so you get 15ish hours of freedom. You guys. I can’t even. My brother in law texted to make sure I was “doing ok” at this very moment, to which I replied….”I’m eating a burger…under a tree..and it’s 72 degrees….and no one is talking to me…I’m in HEAVEN.” Not that I don’t love my kids, but for real, it’s August and I miss thinking. My brain misses real thoughts. I’ll miss them when they go back to school, but I also miss peeing alone. So there’s that. Oh yea, I had an Ironman to catch.
While Rob was on the course I enjoyed the atmosphere and logged 11.5 miles by the end of the day. I bought myself an Ironman hat, which I had SWORN I’d never do……unless I did an Ironman. Then I decided that 7 months of support and sacrifice(and I’d do it all over again, it’s been challenging at times but so fun and so worth it….more on that later) called for a hat.
It made me feel more energized to keep moving as the day was long and it had gotten hot. I made my way back to my bike spot so I could see Rob come off the final bike loop. I thought I’d be able to see him here then hoof it to the transition LIKE A BOSS to see him start the run. I tried but missed him by just a few minutes. Crap. I was carrying a heavy backpack and had to bend over to dry heave after running a couple of miles with that thing in the heat of the day. Then, as I was bent over, I remembered there were Ironmen zipping past my lame self on their bikes so I stood up tall and acted like I owned this back pack and that sprinting with it was no bigs. But I really just wanted to throw up.
The run was 3 loops so I found a great spot in the shade to watch. The scene once you get to the run is different. It’s the home stretch, and yet it’s not. There was music. Loud music. People cheering and ringing their cowbells. Still so much ground to cover for most of the athletes. Some were completely spent. Other’s smiling. Some hugging their family as they passed and already in tears over the greatness they would accomplish that day. I cried….a lot. It was a teary day. One man ran past, completely disoriented and hardly still on his feet. He almost fell on me. It scared me as I knew the heat would be a factor for everyone, but my husband was out there. Shortly after that I saw Rob come around the corner from his first loop and I exhaled. He’s a strong runner but again, this is an Ironman.
I saw him twice on the run and I was able to walk with him a bit and get a feel for how he was holding up. The marathon in an Ironman isn’t a normal marathon. I’ve run marathon’s. This is survival. The pace in general for the age grouper’s is slow, just one foot in front of the other. Hydrate. Eat. Fuel. Walk. Jog. Repeat. That’s the pattern. And make it to the finish line before midnight.
After Rob’s second loop I ran to the car(about a mile), grabbed all the gear he’d need once he finished and ran back to grab yet another burger. I mean, running with this back pack all day can make a girl starved. Rob made me promise to eat(he knew I may get busy and nervous waiting and just wait to eat) before he finished so I didn’t have a headache or ya know, pass out as he was crossing the finish line. So, I sat under my tree right near the finish line and soaked up listening to finisher’s coming in and hearing the words “YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!” I cried more tears as I ate. It’s impossible to describe the feeling of an Ironman finish line. It’s in every sense of the word an epic scene.
I found myself a spot on the bleachers to hold my phone up and record him coming in. I knew I had a good 30-45 minutes and yet my arm stayed up, thumb ready to hit record, all feeling gone in my hand. I could NOT miss this moment. I had friends tracking him and texting me, to which I was ignoring mostly because I was afraid to look down even for a second.
I cried more ugly tears watching these athletes, especially the men, come around this corner and come completely unglued as they were cheered for and heard their names called. All the work. All the sacrifice. All the time. Because everyone out on that course has a story. A reason they are pushing themselves to the absolute limit, beyond what the human body should be asked to do. They know. They know their reasons and it all comes to the surface rounding that corner to that final stretch. You are an Ironman. I cried almost every time. And I’m crying now. For the love.
Finally, I saw him. I lurched off the bleachers knocking over several people to jump next to the fence and reach my phone over. I hit record.
I yelled for him….a lot, but he didn’t hear me. Poor lady next to me. I probably busted her ear drum. I was crying and cheering and then dashing to the finish so I could see him.
He did it. He WAS an Ironman. He was still standing and didn’t need medical. My prayers were answered and he did it. It was done.
We hugged for what felt like an eternity. I helped him hobble over to sit down for a minute and collect his thoughts. His finish time was 13 hours and 22 minutes, which is fantastic. Well within his goal time. We made a plan for getting his bike and gear, I’d do it while he ate. Done. I grabbed all his stuff as fast as my legs could carry me, walked him to a curb to sit and wait for me to get the car. I set records sprinting to the car. I mean, I was back pack free. I should have been in the Olympics. Really. I felt the cool air in my lungs as I ran fueled by a desire to get him back to the hotel so he could rest and riding the high of the finish line. I could only imagine how he must be feeling, plus it had gotten cold.
He showered, slept. I did the same. It was a day we’ll never forget, each of us for our own reasons. For him it was an accomplishment and a moment he’ll carry with him forever. I mean, he did what very few ever will. His body allowed him this freedom, and he may not be able to say the same again. I got to watch my husband accomplish something great.
Not everyone understands the Ironman. How big it is. And if they do, they just think it’s crazy or selfish or INSANE. But I get it. I get the desire and the need to just live. Our lives are but a vapor, here today, gone tomorrow. Our bodies are not invincible. They fail and change and grow old. So, for now, why not do something epic? Why not chase big seemingly impossible dreams, set goals and accomplish them for the sake of living? And because you simply can? There’s a song that goes….”life is short, I wanna live it well.” God has given us one body and one life. I wouldn’t want to do it any other way.
Rob did it. And I was more proud of him in that moment than I ever have been. And that goes so much deeper than just a race or experience. I know how much work went into this, as does every athlete, friend and family member who makes sacrifices for this event. And I’d do it a thousand times over again to see him come around that corner and run down that shoot and under that giant Ironman sign, to hear the words “Robert Anderson, YOU ARE…….AN IRONMAN!!!!”