Not your average suburban mom. I’m more your typical, normal, commonplace, everyday, garden-variety suburban mom. With a thesaurus.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

"You - are - an - IRONMAN!"

Louisville Ironman 2013 was the most inspiring day of my life.

Previously, I planned to leave Michigan Saturday night and arrive in Louisville Sunday morning at 4:30, joining Sarah as she waited in line for the start. Plans changed kind of late in the game, and I ended up in Louisville early Saturday evening, joining Sarah, her parents, her aunt, uncle, boss, and coworker Kelly at a fancy restaurant called Eddie Merlot's.

I arrived late to dinner so Sarah ordered me a spinach salad and it was waiting for me when I sat down. I also noshed on some un-freaking-believable sweet potato casserole that may or may not have changed my life as much as watching the Ironman. (Sike. That's just me exaggerating trying to get the point across that this casserole was so good I would travel back to Louisville simply to eat it.)

Also included? Cable television. Which introduced
me to the show Bad Ink, prompting me to add
"Travel to Vegas solely so that Dirk Vermin can fix
my broccoli tattoo" to my Bucket List. 
After dinner we checked out the finish line, then made our way back to the hotel. We stayed at the Marriot Downtown Louisville. Due to circumstances beyond anything I understand yet, I managed to get an entire hotel room all to myself. (If you are an introvert, you know this is about as close to heaven as can be experienced on earth.) I dumped my stuff and headed to the hotel fitness center and ran 3 miles, taking time to thank my lovely training schedule for gifting me a recovery week during Ironman weekend. (Also, for those concerned with how cutting bangs was going to affect my running - and really, who wasn't concerned? - it was much, much hotter. Both physically and aesthetically as my hair was glued to and dripping from my forehead.)(Also? I'm now the proud owner of a smattering of "new bang forehead zits", so that's awesome.) After my run and shower, I hung out in Sarah's room (with her mom and Kelly), watching Sister Act II, and making plans for the morning.

Sarah, her mom Karen, Kelly, and her boss (Dr. S) were going to head down to the start around 4:00 a.m. and get in the massive line of 3,000 competitors. I was going to sleep until 5:00, paint my toenails, and then join them. The actual race started with the pro's heading out around 6:45(ish), then the disabled athletes, then the age groupers around 7:00 a.m.

I left the hotel around 5:30 a.m., forgetting that Louisville is actually a pretty big city, and maybe my plan to walk over a mile all by myself in the dark was not all that well thought out. Thankfully, while waiting for a traffic light on a dark, empty street corner I met a homeless man/travelling Christian musician named Ernie who became my own personal escort to the transition area of the race. He walked with me for almost a mile sharing stories of his travels, and I prayed for him (and his instruments, for which he was most appreciative) when we parted ways. For those that think God doesn't appreciate irony, He sent me the very cliched version of all my imagined fears (that of course some young homeless dude was going to mug/rape/pillage my person) to act as a bodyguard.

The transition area stopped me in my tracks. This is what 3,000 triathlon bikes look like.

Sorry, I know it's dark. But it's the morning of Ironman and I was still waiting for the sunrise.

I called Sarah's mom when I arrived at transition. The start was a mile further down the road, and she told me where to look for them. Again, I was totally unprepared for the line. 3,000 triathletes arranged single file is a loooooooong line. I met up with Sarah, who honestly looked tiny compared to some of these athletes, but nonetheless totally prepared and ready to throw up get on with it, already.


Getting a pre-race pep talk from Dr.S.

We heard the gun go off and the line slowly started moving. We were lined up along the Ohio River, so you could see some of the racers already swimming.

They had to swim around an island and then a mile toward transition. There were kayaks and paddle boards in the water ready to rescue anyone struggling.

The swim start was a rolling start, which meant every two seconds someone jumped off the dock and into the water.

Your swim time started at the water, not when the gun sounded. It took almost 45 minutes for all 3000 athletes to enter the water.

Totally not an alien. Just a bike helmet.
Safety ain't always pretty, yo.
After Sarah jumped in, we walked the mile back to transition. Kelly and I found a deli a few blocks away and got bagels and a frozen coffee milkshake. We got back to transition in time to see last year's winner and my best friend from high school Pat Evoe exit the water and leave on his bike. (He is sponsored by Little Caesars Pizza, something I find hilariously ironic.)

Sarah finished the swim in 1:28:40, averaging 2:17/100 yards. She hopped on her bike and headed out. I was too short to capture any good shots of this, but just trust me when I say she looked every bit the Ironman competitor. And? She was smiling.

We waited for a shuttle to drive us 25 highway minutes to a little town called La Grange where we could watch our athlete loop us twice on the bike portion. They needed to ride 112 miles before that leg could be completed. The weather was beautiful. This was the only part where I actually could have sat in my camping chair, which I brought but elected to leave in the hotel room. Instead I sat on the ground and waited until the Ironman website updated Sarah's position, and when she got closer I stood and cheered as she sped the heck by.

Well played on the pink tri suit. Seriously, I looked for those shorts to identify her from farther away and still barely got this shot. She averaged 16.1 mph for the entire 112 miles. (That's my average pace for a sprint triathlon - all 11 miles of it.)
It was in La Grange, waiting for Sarah to loop around again, that I started to really get a sense for how long this race truly is. I thought I had a decent respect for the Ironman Triathlon. Even just on paper I am humbled by the distances required to be covered to be an Ironman. But trying to figure how long it would take Sarah to cover another 30 miles and then working out how to fill that time waiting you begin to see the enormity of this race. While I was eating pasta salad from a local deli (and scoring some killer garlic breath)(you're welcome, Kelly and Dr. S), window shopping in the cute antique-y stores, reading my book because I'm a buzz kill like that, and watching cyclist after cyclist pass, I realized that Sarah was continuously on her bike. Pedaling an average 16 miles per hour. In 85 degree heat. For 112 miles. The realization was almost bewildering.

After Sarah's second loop we took the bus back to the transition site in downtown Louisville and waited for Sarah to come in. I cried a lot waiting at that point. Some of this is because I'm on my period, but mostly it was because I was so inspired by the athletes. We were positioned right at the line where the riders had to get off their bikes. Some of these people had been riding a bike for over seven hours. I saw quad muscles actually quivering. I saw people have trouble walking. I saw people fall trying to get their feet unhooked from their pedals because their legs were no longer listening to them. I saw a blind woman (riding tandem) return to cheers and applause of encouragement. And then I saw Sarah, and I cried a little more. She finished the bike in 6:57:17.

Do you have any idea the amount of training this girl put in to be able to bike 112 miles? A ridiculous amount.
At transition, Ironman provides "catchers" who take your bike and rack it, leaving you to go and get ready for the run. Sarah was in and out in under 8 minutes, having changed into her running gear. She headed out still smiling.

Purple shirt, natch.
I'm not going to lie; at this point I headed back to the hotel to soak my feet and lie down in the air conditioning while watching Brother vs Brother on HGTV. Because honestly? Watching the Ironman is exhausting. I rested for about an hour and then headed down to the finish line. Sarah was around the 8 mile point of her 26.2 mile run, so I knew I would be waiting awhile.

I got a great spot; I was front and center (totally important when you are 5'3" tall) about 30 feet from the finish line. I watched so many people become Ironmen. This is when I lost my stuff so much the lady next to me asked how I knew so many competitors. I didn't know any of them, but how can you help but cry happy tears for people who are so physically depleted but still manage to see the finish line and react with determination, euphoria, and a bit of disbelieving pride? "Ohmylanta, I'm really gonna do this." - this is what I imagined every athlete to be saying in their heads (because I project all my own emotions on others)(like a toddler).

Most triathletes really take advantage of their arms
for the swim portion, choosing to save their legs
for the bike and run. I can't.even.fathom. what his
arms must feel like after 12+ hours of moving.
I stood at that finish line for over three hours watching people come in. My favorite finishers included a 53 year old woman (who was about my height and easily had about 40 pounds on me) who entered the finishers chute and just started sobbing. Of course I answered in like fashion, and the crowd screamed her in as she became "... AN IRONMAN!" Another man had his left hamstring seize up and hopped the last 100 yards. He became an Ironman on one leg. I watched some of the disabled athletes cross the finish line, having propelled their bodies 140.6 miles solely by the power of their arms.

The finish line also hosted six or seven ambulances ready to take people straight to the hospital. I'm not saying every single athlete needed medical attention, but the sound of sirens was a prevalent backdrop to the man announcing the finishers.

As we got closer to Sarah's projected finish time, the others in our party joined me at my spot along the wall, although they were behind me in the crush of spectators that lined the finishers chute three to four people deep. I switched positions with Sarah's mom so that she could see Sarah finish, and I went down the course about a quarter of a mile to see if I could call her family and give them the heads up she was almost there.

That totally didn't happen. Mainly because when I saw Sarah she was flying. Here's proof:

She ran by me so quickly I could only shout her name and take this shot as she passed. I ran as fast as I could to the finish line, and while I didn't get to see it with my own eyes, I did hear over the din of the crowd and music, "SARAH ____, from ____ MICHIGAN, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!"

Sarah ran the marathon in 4:26:55, with an average pace of 10:11 per mile, and that's after swimming and biking 114.4 miles. She finished the entire race in 13:07:29. While her goal was 15 hours, I knew she would do it in 13. (This is my way of taking a bit of ownership for her Ironman accomplishment. Because then I'm successful by osmosis. "KELLY, YOU have a friend who's AN IRONMAN!".)

LOUISVILLE IRONMAN 2013 - right here, folks.
This is Sarah with her parents. I lost it again when her dad cried. 

I am proud to know Sarah, and honored to have witnessed the realization of a dream that required months of preparation and sacrifice. I am now even more in awe of the Ironman triathlon, and am inspired to be a better athlete because of it. (More than one person has asked me if this makes me want to do Ironman. Answer: standing at the finish line, heck yes I wanted to do an Ironman. Two days later running five miles in 85 degree temperatures with the humidity hovering around 80 percent? I'll settle for just finishing my five miles, thankyouverymuch.)(However, if being a Professional Ironman Spectator was an actual job, I'd apply in a heartbeat.)

Congratulations, Sarah! I'm in anytime you want to do this thing again :)


  1. Eddie Merlot's is soooooooo good. Before the gluten allergy, their lobster mac n cheese was on the list of my 10 ten favorite foods in the world.

    Sorry we didn't get to meet up while you were in town! Glad your friend did so well! Mine did as well!

    1. Yay for Ironman and lobster mac-n-cheese :)

  2. Thank you so much for sharing yours and Sarah's journey, it made mw feel as if I was right there with you as I wanted to be! I am one proud sister of such an amazing woman! So thank you so veryverymuch foe this wonderful opportunity to "BE" at the race with you watching and cheering for her.
    Melissa Bone-Goings
    #1 fan of one amazing sister and aunt who is a IRON(wo) MAN!!

    1. No problem Melissa! I know you were missed. GO SARAH!!!


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