Even though some of the kids at school call me "Mr. Serious", I am anything but. I've learned through time that life is too serious to take seriously and that a sense of humor is what is often needed to get through the day. With an eye to Ironman Lake Placid this year I wondered what I could do to take the "Land of the wrapped too tight" (Ironman) and spin it, just a bit, on it's ear. (Some of you may remember I wore a kilt at IMLP 2007.)
It hit me in a bike shop a few weeks ago. A bell! Better yet...a squeaky toy.
Here it is mounted on the handle bar of my bike fresh off of my fourth Ironman.
Race day comes, as it always does, way too early. This time at 3am. No rushing for me or our friend Janet or May Lou for that matter. When you're staring at a long day you want to ease into it. Mary Lou is volunteering and Janet, the Iron Virgin, will find out what she's made of.
Breakfast, a shuttle ride, body marking, a last check of the bike then waiting for Godot at the swim start. Scott and John, Trifuelers, show up to breathe in some of the big grip. They'll spend the day volunteering at the Boat House aid station (Best aid station EVER!) then stand in line on Monday to sign up for next years bru-ha-ha.
Janet and I and our new friend Sylvie, wetsuits high and tight, stroll into the water and wait for the gun. In short order the cannon fires and we don't move. I've learned to wait about 40 seconds after the gun...keeps me out of the "rugby match in a washing machine." Then we're off...and swim through many of those folks who were cudgeled at the start. while some folks look like a windmill I remember that slow is smooth and smooth is fast. I glide through the water and finish the first lap of the the two lap swim. I take a second to accost the crowd ("Hey Everybody!) pee in my wet suit and slide back into the water for another lap...it goes well and I have NO idea how slow or fast my swim time is...It simply isn't important. Stripped of my wet suit I see my sweety at the rail and get a smooch...the run on carpet to the transition area and I know how the day is going to go. It's going to get ugly, but that's Ironman.
I've been dealing with Metatarsalgia in my right foot and it seemed to have gone away only to resurface two weeks ago. It's an inflammation of the distal head of the third metatarsal. It feels like a hot poker being rammed into your foot by gremlins. By the time I hit T1, the Gremlins are shoving away...hopefully it will calm down on the bike.
On the bike and facing the first lump of the day (see the bike course elevation in a previous post) I feel great...light and steady. I scream down the drop into Keene at 58mph. Bike handling skills or hospital bills. No room for error here. Through Keene and on to Jay on the flattest section of the course...with a tail wind I'm humming at 24 mph. Passing folks I squeak the whale on my handle bars and get laughs from other racers, volunteers and spectators. A few folks look at me without smiling and shake their heads. They must be taking this seriously. Upper Jay, Black Brook, Wilmington all slide by. I pass Janet on an out and back section (she's a wicked swimmer!) spin the eleven miles uphill into Lake Placid to start lap two of the bike.
I squeak the whale going through town and the crowd erupts and cheers..."Go Orca Go!" someone yells.
By mile 70 I'm feeling the foot. Nothing to do but smile, squeak the whale and keep moving forward. On the 10 kilometer "Drop" into Keene a lad screams by me low in his aero bars. A mile later he is laying on the surface of the road, contorted, helmet smashed blood running from his nose others cyclists already lending a hand...an ambulance wails in the distance.
I pass Matty Long on the climb towards Wilmington. He looks rough. I squeak the whale and he laughs. As I pull away I tell him "Hang in there Matty, there have been worse days than this." Matt was dead a few years ago. Now he's alive. He will finish the race with two minutes to spare. I can't complain about my foot, it's just what it is. It's Ironman.
Around mile 90 my foot is done. Can't put much pressure on it and so the last 20 miles into town are mostly on the left foot and leg. The gremlins have moved on to filling my foot with lava. Despite that, my energy is good thanks to Gu Roctane and just plain old water.
Into Placid now and off the bike...Volunteers cheering as one takes my bike I ask him if he wants to squeak my whale...he does then a whole pack of Vols jumps on to squeak it...howls of laughter, a few pats on the back and a "Man, that whale is AWESOME!"
I manage to run a good portion of the first six miles...but it doesn't last. The pain in my foot smacks me down to a walk with running breaks...but I keep moving forward. I miss the whale.
Frustrating because my stomach is good, I've got tons of energy, it's just my paddles won't work right...I'm walking on the outside of my right foot, which changes my gait and causes a huge blister on the bottom of my left foot.... That's Ironman.
Passing Janet going in the opposite direction and we high five and giggle...even though we're going slow, I'll finish number four and she'll become an Ironman. Ironman is about finishing, even when things get bad.
The dark quiet of the River Road is replaced with the yells and cheers of all the folks on Mirror Lake Drive...Scott walks with me toward the finish and then changes direction to walk with Janet. Harangued by the crowd I run the last half mile down the street and onto the oval..I am alone. I've never finished this late before. I've never had the oval to myself. Eric had this finish line to himself when he won all those gold medals and now I have it that way. In the past there have always been other athletes around me... a pace or two behind or just in front. Looking back, no one there. I come to that last fifty yards and the music is pumping and the crowd is cheering, yelling. They are yelling and cheering...for me. That's Ironman.