Thursday, February 12, 2009

I am an Ironman

I AM an Ironman
(part 1: see video at end of post) It’s about time I updated this story but what can I say but that I’ve been enjoying the afterglow of a successful finish of 140.6 miles around Tempe.

All the things you can imagine about undertaking such an event are true. When you think about how challenging it must be; or even how some people say I just don’t understand how the body can get through something so grueling… well I can tell you know from my own experiencing and knowledge that we (the athletes) all go through the same thoughts… over and over again! There were not any times where my confidence was overflowing for the event as a whole.

As the days neared to the main event you MUST exude and convince yourself that the challenge is a do-able task and not only that it’s feasible but that you yourself WILL be crossing that banner that gives you the right to say you’re an Ironman (for all those people who say you’re not an Ironman until you do Kona.. well I say “pshaw! With that”. Kona may be a more challenging full iron distance and requires qualification but you cannot take away the fact that when someone completes the 140.6 miles whether it is in some other non NA Sports sanctioned event or even training, in my eyes that person is an Ironman and I would never think of taking that away).

Ok, so I’m only days away and still sitting at home in Oceanside. I’ve gone through my race essentials to the point that I would make Monk proud. The relentless checking, double checking and combination of nerves have everyone around me a little anxiety ridden, but I must say that there patience is unrelenting and it is also to them which I owe my success in being able to make the sacrifices and preparation. For nine months I was in actual training. Though I had been registered for 12 months, and the first 3 of those were disbelief of what I did. Take this into consideration of what one of my beliefs are, if you make the financial commitment you’re rate of showing up at the start line are increased 10 fold, and for me, I know that when I make that commitment you can absolutely count on me toe-ing the line before the cannon goes off. This race was no exception, and with a $500 entry fee, not to mention the other miscellaneous thousands that were spent on a new bike, accommodations, random clothing and support people and items this was quickly becoming a race that I knew I not only must do but give it everything I had to finish. I did not want to let anyone down, let alone myself!

I’ll fast forward to arriving in Tempe: As we are driving to our hotel I was not able to get mush of a vantage point of the race course, but once we registered at the front desk and went up to the room on the 3rd floor I had a “oh shit!” that consumed my nerves and really scared me. Our room was facing Tempe Town Lake which is where the swim was. I situated my bike and threw all my gear down to go open the shades on the window… only to see a very very long channel looking lake. I immediately knew this was the swim location and had read how it goes from bridge to bridge, and when I swung my head from left to right I realized these bridges were very far apart. Realizing at that very moment I must somehow part those waters all the way from one side, only to have to swim back to the originating bridge freaked me out. I think Leslie immediately could sense my concern, and of course heard the wavering worry in my voice. However, in true Rock Lobster form (she is my rock lobster after all) she had no wavering doubt what so ever of my ability to complete this thing. Whether or not she actually was concerned she never let on and I am eternally grateful for her spirited supported and constant “you WILL do this” attitude. It made all the difference to me. In addition to my beautiful wife and her compassions and extra chores while I was always out training. I think for those nine months she made more sacrifices than me at times, but it did not go un-noticed. So anyways here I was staring out my hotel room in Tempe Arizona, pondering the task I’m about to take on single handedly.
We quickly put our things away and I worked to assemble myself mentally and try to calm the queasiness in my stomach, and we headed down to the registration are. “Ironman Village” as it’s known. The check-in process was both really great because it keeps you busy and somewhat entertained. It was interesting because they actually sit you down and talk to you about the day’s events and where to put this bag and that bag. Coming from the marathon and ultra scene I was only used to having one drop bag, and many times that did not even get used, but now for this event you have a bag for everything. All the bags were color coordinated and go into certain places at certain times. Literally I had to write it all down and do my best to make sure I did not screw up… there is a lot of planning even the day before the event, so don’t think you can totally relax. At least not yet.
Everything went fine eventually and after several hours and lots of bag prep and clothing prep and last minute bike checks I was ready for bed. Of course I didn’t sleep! What were you thinking… it’s the night before my biggest endurance event yet and sleep was not about to come easy so I decided to not fight it and just watched movies into the wee hours while trying to keep my arms and legs relaxed.

Morning (3:30am actually) came quite early. I had no real problems getting up and alert seeing as I never really hit REM sleep but I did continue to encounter problems in the morning with trying to get some coffee and breakfast which was not helping to calm me. I ended up scrounging my running bag for cliff bars and a quick bagel and banana, and resorted to drinking the coffee like substance that hotels usually leave near the sink now. After a long hot shower I was feeling much better. I put on my warm running gear (which by the way always makes me feel calm and comfortable. Some people have comfort foods but I have my warm weather running gear, works the same for me) and started to gather my belongings to load the car and head down to race headquarters. I also need to mention at this point what awesome and inspiring friends I have because my running friend April had no hesitation in joining us at this momentous event when I asked for extra cheerleaders… thank goodness for incredibly understanding wives and caring high spirited friends. So April was staying next to our room and came over in the morning and gave me the coolest motivational boost I’ve seen so far. She came in wearing a bright yellow shirt with a big logo on front that simply read “I <3 Joey” and even had one made for Leslie. With these two beautiful ladies donning their “I <3 Joey” shirts I knew today was my day and I was ready.

“Let’s GO!” I retorted immediately as I could not wait to show off my fan club, and was ready to get this thing started and stop thinking but doing.

The start area was a bustle of people and activity. When the tine got near we all started getting perfectly situated into our wetsuits to join the “Moo” like corral or athletes lining to jump in the water. It was a mass water start which means that everyone must be in the lake and treading water before the cannon goes off. I stood at the waters edge for a moment and allowed a moment for the last ‘scared-as-hell-nerves’ to leave my body as I gave one last “PKAH!” (In true fashion of Winslow Hall) and leaped forward into the lake before I could convince myself otherwise. The really interesting part is that that moment my head surfaced back above the water line I felt immensely confident and calm, it was really strange. All I can think is that with all that training many things became automatic once I was in the position. Though I was just another bobbing head amongst 2,000 others I calmly and coolly made my way to the middle of the pack, what was I thinking putting myself in the middle of a festival of swinging arms and kicking legs.. Oh well, I was just caught up in enjoying the craziness of the crowds of spectators now. I’ve never been so overwhelmed by the support and cheering of so many “fans”. It truly makes you feel like they are there for you, in which case they kind of are. I’ve seen it on TV but to see an Ironman start in person is totally something of which you should witness at least once. In a matter of seconds you see the calm lake waters just being lit by the rising sun turn into a whitewash of a washing machine tide pool. Arms and legs are everywhere and you cannot escape it. You are forced to swim on and stay focused on that around you.

...TBC in Part 2, but for now enjoy the above video!

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