This seems ridiculous, but once I saw the finish line, I have very little memories of what happened in the next few seconds. I remember seeing my family and friends in the stands along the finish line. I remember hearing my name called. Vic claims that I was pumping up the crowd and waving my hands. I have no such recollection. I feel like I might have waved at Dan and Lisa, but they don’t have a clear memory either. I don’t think I posed for crossing the finish line, but just strode across. Mostly I tried to hold it together and it felt like one small emotion would release the floodgates.
Across the Line
Once I was across the finish line, a volunteer glued themselves to me, and got me through the process of retrieving my timing chip, getting me a t-shirt and hat, getting me a finishers medal, and making sure I was okay. I think I looked dazed because she asked me if I was okay about three to four times.
I skipped the Ironman finisher’s photo (just not my thing), and then realized I was about to throw up. Because my immune system is suppressed by the drugs I take to prevent my kidney from rejection, there are a few annoying things I have to deal with, including the fact that when my vocal chords get cold, or weak, they can spasm, causing a gagging effect that “pulls the trigger.” I dreaded projectile vomiting on finishers and their friends, and managed to breathe deeply enough to hold back the reflex, and control my stomach and throat which were convulsing. I walked towards the medical tent, and several people asked me if I was okay, and I just nodded and walked past them, worried that they would receive an unwanted present if I tried to talk. I managed to communicate that I needed something hot, and was rewarded with chicken broth.
Sitting next to another finisher, we talked about the athletes who inspired us on the course: Jordan Rapp, the two athletes with prosthetics, one wheelchair athlete, and a cyclist pedaling with only one leg.
Teammates, Family, Friends
What I wanted most of all was to find my family and friends. I ran into Charles and Elizabeth who congratulated me on the finish, and laughed when they realized I had no idea what my time was.
I walked back the other direction and found Lisa, Dan, Vic, Nate, Uncly Cy, my cousin Diane, and Mikala. After a big hug for every single one of them, I was incredibly choked up.
I had imagined seeing Diane after the finish line over and over again. I often got choked up just telling people that she was going to be there. Her gift in 2004 has given me the best six years of my life, and let Lisa and me chase our dreams. I realized then and there that along with the gift of health and happiness, Diane gave me a way to get to know her better, which has taught me a lot about how to give to others. The transplant is not an anomaly in her life: Diane’s nature and reason for living is to help other people – whether professionally as a nurse, whether as a friend, or reaching out to help family members who are stuck in bad situations with more generosity than I think I’m capable of. It’s a humbling experience to get to know her.
I had three main goals:
- Finish in under 13 hours
- Run the entire marathon (i.e. no walking)
- “Don’t poop your pants”
I managed to achieve all three, but what shocked me is how little I cared about the time while I was swimming, biking, or running, or even after I finished. Not walking in the marathon is probably what gives me the most pride. And dry pants is always a bonus.
I just uploaded my Garmin run and bike data. Ignore the last three hours of the run (anything after 4:40) because I forgot to stop my watch as I crossed the finish line so it includes our drive back to the condo. Also ignore the heart rate spikes on the bike, those never really happened either.
Of course I’m happy and have no regrets that I decided to spend the last year training for this. The last year gave me so much: The people I met, what my training taught me about myself, the skills I acquired, and the re-kindling of my passion for swimming. While I do not think there is a second Ironman in me, I will continue to race sprints, olympics, and even half-Iron races next year and beyond. I love this sport.
I am amazed that the human body can do this. Even during the last miles of the run, there was a dream like quality of how it wasn’t as hard as I had imagined. I kept waiting for mind numbing pain. I prepared for complete exhaustion. I braced for a level of suffering that I had never experienced before. None of it ever came. There were training rides and runs that were harder than the Ironman.
All through the run, I learned my biggest lesson of the Ironman. The simple story is that the training works. There was not a single make or break event of the day. There was not a moment where I would do something heroic. There were no walls that I ran through. It struck me that he race had really started on my first day of training in January, and had been going on every minute since then. Every morning, the battle to get out of bed. Every weekend, the battle to sacrifice my personal life for training. Every day, to force feed myself enough calories to fuel my training. Every Sunday, to run by myself when my legs hurt. Knowing that my spinal deformity was going to punish me on every step of a run, and yet finishing every one of the training runs. That’s when the real race occurred. The finish was just the superficial evidence, the smoking gun, the residue of a year dedicated to seeing what kind of athlete, and what kind of person, I could become.
The deeper story is that every single one of us makes small decisions every day that impact our lives. We are taught to look for the dramatic; to focus on exciting single “make or break” moments in time. But as friends, professionals, parents, children, spouses, partners, or just people, we are training every day, we are becoming who we are. Those small decisions define our character more than anything single day every could.
Chrissie told me the following in my last few weeks of training: The funny thing is, no matter how much you reflect on it now and in the coming weeks, it will probably mean the most in the years to come, as you continue to pull strength from this experience and this process. Ironman training transcends just ‘sport’ — it becomes an accomplishment you achieved that will bleed into so many other things you do
Unexpectedly, Ironman Arizona had very little to do with race day, and had everything to do with the last year of my life, and the rest of my life.