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
|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.
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,
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
|"GOOD MORNING SARAH! HAPPY IRONMAN DAY!!!!"|
|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.
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.
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.|
|Purple shirt, natch.|
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.
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:
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
|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 :)