The short version: Eric and I finished The IronMan US Championships in a touch under 14-and-a-half hours. We were exhausted, emotional and surrounded by friends and family.
There is more to the story than that. This event was four years in the making, the last eight months dedicated specifically to training for this race: Over 600 miles of running, 2600 miles of biking and 155,000 yards of swimming; weekends spent alone in the saddle getting the miles under your belt; waking up at 4am for runs; staying up late to fit in a hard interval workout on the trainer; getting to know the lifeguards at the pool by name. Sore muscles, nagging injuries, doubts that you have what it takes.
The race draws near. Did I swim enough? Did I run enough? 140.6 miles… what was I thinking?
Then the race starts, you’re swimming, the water is warm and dark. There aren’t sharks in the Hudson River, right? The swim is over and you’re on the bike where you spend the bulk of your day, over 7 hours. It gets hot—too hot. Things start to unravel. I can’t do this—eighty miles down, still 30 to go—relentless grinding hills, with the hot sun still beating down. Finally the bike is over, “only” a marathon left: a measly 26.2 miles. The run starts well, but deteriorates quickly. “Walk the hills” was the mantra, and there was a lot of walking. The runs got shorter, the walks got longer. Negotiations were made: that ramp up the curb, that’s definitely a hill, we should walk that. Yes, definitely.
Then came the stairs, whose cruel joke will never be forgiven. Forty-three stairs to the top of the George Washington Bridge, then 43 stairs down the other side. (I counted.) But the big hills were done. The stairs were done. A feeling started to creep up: we can do this. The mindset started to change. Instead of counting up miles, we were counting them down: 8 … 7 … “Pfft, I can do a 10k in my sleep.” It was a march now, the combined effect of 133 miles and 12 hours of effort. Feet compressed flat, hips in agony, relentless forward motion, trying to balance the need to walk with the desire to be finished.
Three miles left, grim mouths start to turn upwards. Runs—though still a shuffle—become longer, faster. Nothing can stop us now. The crowd thickens, urging us on. We can hear the announcer, see the glow of the finish in the distance. The last mile is a blur of people and bright lights. We start strategizing our finishing pose, eliminating several awesome combinations because our legs don’t work right. Eventually we settle on our victory pose, it’s gonna be epic. Finally the finishers’ chute, our family cheering us on, flashbulbs go off (too early!) as we cross the finish line.
“You are an IronMan.” Sweat. Tears. Pain. Worth it.