Sunday, November 15, 2009

One week from today I going to suffer more than any other time in my life; I’m so excited.

Ironman means something different to every person who steps up to the challenge. Nov 22nd will my second Ironman triathlon; it’s a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run. All completed in that order and hopefully all in under 13:30:00, you have up to 17 hrs to finish.
Only outside of my triathlon friends do I get the question “why you’d you ever want to do something like that?”. I’m not really sure if I fully know to tell you the truth. It all started in my attempt to be a badass. It sounds funny but I loved the looks people gave me when I told them I had run a half marathon, and then it went to a full marathon, and now Ironman. This got me started in the sport but being a badass isn’t enough to pull you through the tough times during these events. I searched and searched trying to understand why I would put myself through this. The answer I finally found was because “I get to choose to suffer”. I know this sounds funny but there are so many people out there who struggle just to tie their shoes. I’m healthy and damn sure am going to live while I’m here.
As I progress in endurance sports I am learning to enjoy suffering. It’s not that I love the pain; it’s that I know I’m pushing myself farther than most are willing. During my first Ironman, where I was well undertrained, I was ready to quit. I was off my bike walking and a 70 year old lady rode up and told me to get back on my bike and just keep moving forward. Mind you we all race head to head so yes she was 2 seconds from being faster than me. I was too tired to argue and hoped back on. I started talking to her about how the only thing I had been able to do all day was think about why I should quit. I was down and out. I have received two pieces of advice that have really stuck with me in reference to Ironman and one came from her. She said “that’s what makes someone an ironman; ten to seventeen hours of your body telling you to stop but yet you just keep moving forward”. This translated into stop whining and if you truly want to be an ironman just keep moving forward. Just keep on keepn on as Joe Dirt would say.
As for the second piece of advice, it was posted on a local message board in response to a woman who had signed up for Ironman and felt she had not put in enough training. You see ironman sells out a year in advance and is reaching almost six hundred dollars just in your entrance fee. So when you sign up, you’re hoping that in a year you will still have the drive and determination to train and then attempt the race. Some were telling her she had no right being out there if she didn’t put in her time training. Our sport is dominated by type A personalities who can be very elitist at times. You kind of have to be pretty driven to get into this sport. So there it was in two sentences. “I’m going to tell you something that no one in ironman will ever admit. “ANYONE CAN DO AN IRONMAN.” So the question is if anyone can do an Ironman why is it such an accomplishment? The fact is most people will spend their entire lives in their comfort zone. Yes anyone can do it but most wont. Less than 1% of people will ever run a marathon so I can only guess what the numbers are for Ironman.
Yes it is hard, yes it hurts a lot, and yes it very time consuming. It’s expensive, hard on your body, and did I mention it hurts? It is also an accomplishment that will stay with you for the rest of your life. If you really stop and think about it, when was the last time you truly accomplished something difficult? Something that took months of hard work and when you started it, you didn’t know if you could finish. Maybe Ironman isn’t for you but I’m sure if you put a little effort into it you could find something that sparks your interest. This is why I’m excited to spend a day suffering with some of my closest friends.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

My First Sub 12-Hour Ironman - A Day as an Ironman Volunteer

From Nov 2008

In April 2008 I completed my first Ironman and only my second triathlon. Yep, I went straight
from Ironman Volunteer to Ironman registration. I figured it would just be crazy to make an
Ironman my first triathlon so I decided to do the Soma ½
as my very first multi-sport event. I came from a running
background, if you can call it that, and made the transition to triathlon this year. I’ve probably done 20 or so races as a runner and to be honest I’ve never paid any attention to the volunteers. Don’t get me wrong, I was grateful to have them out there, but I would have been just fine grabbing my own water off the aid station table as I ran through.
You always hear this “We couldn’t do it without the volunteers” blah bah blah. Then came my fist Ironman.
In the interest of time I will summarize my first Ironman in April of 2008. Let’s just say that all
13 times I tried to quit ended the same way. A volunteer making some small comment that, for
that few seconds, made me think I could really do it. I did finally finish and I attribute a lot of it
to the people out on the course. It wasn’t anything complicated, just a simple “Hey Eric you can
do it”, or a 65 year old lady on the B-line highway, all by herself, cheering my chubby butt along
as I went by. My defining moment came as I got off my bike midway through the third lap and
was ready to throw in the towel. I was going to grab the next sag wagon and call it a day. It was
so bad I even contemplated just rolling into oncoming traffic. That, you see, would totally work
as an excuse for all the people I had told that I was going to finish an Ironman. So there I am, 20
feet from the sag wagon and my ride home, and this little old lady on the side of the rode told me
I looked “cute” in my spandex shorts. I mean come on…you can’t stop after that. Well, once I
made it to the turnaround I decided that if by some miracle I finished, I would be there in
November to cheer my little heart out. Six months later it was IM AZ and my turn to give back.
I really only remembered a few parts of my own Ironman so I wanted to be out there early. Up at 4am, and out the door; just like I was racing. I was there for the swim start and then ran along the lake to make sure I was able to cheer for “MY” swimmers. Those are the ones who go at least 1:20. I know they must have thought there was some crazy guy screaming on the bridge but I was going to let them know we were here for them. I then made my way over to the Phoenix Triathlon Club aid station on the north side of the lake.
John, Scott’s son Brandon, and a few other PTC members along with two huge trucks were
waiting there for me. John opened the first U-haul truck, which was full of our “props” and I
thought two things. First, what did I get myself into and second. John Lierle has way too much
time on his hands. I mean come on, an entire U-Haul full of “props”? I say, if you need power
tools to put together an aid station you have gone just a little overboard. After receiving our
building permits we got to work and about 20 minutes later I looked around and there were at
least 20 PTC members hard at work. We finished with close to an hour to spare and it was a sight to behold. I even made a comment that if we didn’t win first place I was going to resort to
violence. With about 30 minutes until the first pro came through, I snuck off to get dressed.
We all know that our aid station theme was western and I knew my 15 bucks spent at the
Goodwill would be a hit. I slid on my 46-inch overalls and plaid shirt. Then came the cowboy
hat and finally my pillow. I found someone to help me tie my shoes and I was set. I did not know
it at the time, but it seems the pillow was a little more convincing than planned. I heard a few
comments about how I may have taken the off season a little too seriously. I was ready now.
Bring on the runners! With a few last instructions from John and Mary Knott, I took my place at the #1 aid table. I was the water guy and ready to be a darn good one! I held the cup just so perfect, poised to give it to the first runner who came though. I even cut to the front of the line to make sure I got to give water to the first runner who came through. Then I saw the bike leading the first place male runner. It was game time! I double-checked to ensure my shoes were tied and confirmed my running path was clear so I could run with him and it would be a flawless hand-off. I was finally giving back to my triathlon family. The first place male neared and I took off at the perfect time.
I held his pace so he wouldn’t miss a beat. I extended my arm with pin point accuracy
and...nothing. He didn’t want my water. I’ll tell you one thing, he was lucky to be moving so
fast. By the time I decided if I should trip him or just throw the water at him he was gone.
Whether warranted or not I was offended (not really, OK…some). As many of you will come to
find out, I never claim to be normal. I even pride myself on being a little quirky as my friends put it. It was my day to give back and this guy didn’t even want my water. Well I recovered fast and continued to hand out water for the next few hours. I did get over it but I still wasn’t all that happy when someone passed me by.
Around 5pm I started to get tired, OK, very tired. I had planned to “Go, Go, Go” until the
midnight cutoff but I was running on empty. I sat down in my chair, cheered and did what I
could. The runners were having a hard time with the concept of running between the red
directional tape and the red eight-foot tall cowboy M-Dots, so John moved me to the entrance of
our aid station to direct traffic. So there I was, looking like I weighed 300 pounds, sitting in a
chair on a comforter and telling these super fit athletes they could do it. Then I remembered what a few encouraging words did for me in April. I sprang into action! It was time for me to shine.
A piece of advice for those of you who race Ironman, make sure you wear your bib with your
first name on it during the run in front. When we can personalize your cheer it makes a real
difference. I started with “Good job, you can do it.” Then I found that if you use their name “Hey
John you are looking great!” they would look over and smile. I could see it in their faces, for
those few seconds they were in their happy place. All the pain and thoughts of quitting were
gone. It may have been all in my head, but I really felt that I was personally doing something to
help these racers achieve their goal. This went on for a few hours. “Julie you are smokin!” or
“Jose, man your are looking good!” Even a few offers for a date if they came back and got me
after the race. I ended with a session of letting everyone who went by know that in just a few
hours they would be able to start working on their off season bellies, while rubbing mine own of
course. I left a little after eight both mentally and physically drained. I wanted to stay until it was over but I had nothing left. I was happy and had given back to the people who just six months earlier had helped me get through one of the toughest day’s of my life.
A couple of side notes: Take a second and thank John Lierle and Mary Knott. They put a lot of
time into making sure we took first place as an aid station. I thought Mary was going to be sick
all day, she was so nervous for Dan Beaver who was racing to qualify for Kona. I also bet John
Lierle ran at least a 5k that day. I would also like to thank everybody who was out there. I now
know where the saying “We couldn’t have done it without you” comes from. If you’re not racing
or you have friends or family who want to see what our crazy sport is all about, volunteer
somewhere. It’s your chance to give a little back to our community and some day it might just be
what you need to get you through a tough day. In my very short time on the PTC board I’m
starting to see just how much it takes to put these races on. It was a day I will never forget and I
can only hope that in some small way, with less than 12 hours of my time, I was able to help
someone hear the phrase “YOU ARE IRONMAN!”