Sunday, August 2, 2015
DEJA TWO: THE CRAZY ROAD TO ANOTHER IRONMAN FINISH
"What the hell am I doing?"
I muttered that to myself at just past 4 a.m. as I was waiting for my ham, egg, and cheese
sandwich at a convenient store just outside of Lake Placid, N.Y. In two and-a-half hours
I'd be starting a 140.6 mile journey through the breathtaking Adirondack region.
I'm sure the clerk muttered to herself, "What the hell is this guy doing?" as I stood there
in spandex shorts, fire-engine red tank-top, and a pack of gummy bears in my hand.
Yes, at the age of 51, I was fueling up for the iconic Ironman, an event I successfully
completed nearly a year ago to the day. I was back to test myself for more than 12
hours in ways that only Ironman know. The race is more a battle of the will and the
mind than physical talent.
And it's amazing what can go through the mind during such a long and arduous journey.
It all begins with a 2.4 mile swim that is kind of like Black Friday at Best Buy. Competitors
are all lined-up 10 deep and as soon as the green flag drops, it's absolutely mayhem.
Mirror Lake is a mile long and a half-mile wide and everybody wants to swim in a 10-yard
lane but there are no iPads, iPhones, or big screen television to buy. Just a 2-plus mile
swim in a blender of feet, hands, arms, and legs.
Some of these people try to make like it's water polo where a lot of sinister things take
place below the surface. "Oh, thanks for that foot to the mouth, buddy. And that elbow
to the cranium really felt great!" It can be quite insane, really.
After completing the swim, the sprint to the transition area nearly 600 yards away begins.
The heart is pounding and you're almost a bit dizzy as if someone spun you around five
times and told to run a straight line. Not happening.
I'm amazed at the effort of some people make to get to the bike for the 112-mile portion
of the event. What the hell is the rush? Are those 35 seconds you saved really going
to make a difference?
I just kind of chill, relax, and get mentally ready for the mind-numbing ride through
the challenging, but absolutely breathtaking ride through the Adirondacks. You can get
a high off the scenery, but it's still an absolute bear, bitch, or whatever nasty adjective
you care to use to describe a ride that burns your legs and sucks almost all the
oxygen out of your lungs.
But it's also a great time to people watch and figure out their story is. You see riders
with these $1,000 helmets and wonder if it's really worth it to pay so much to shave
a few minutes off your time. With their Oakley glasses, arm sleeves, and tear-drop
helmets, they kind of look like aliens in search of a new planet.
Everyone has their age marked on their right calf before the race, but seriously, what
I'm trying to figure out is why the organizers do it. I mean, it's not like the spectators
have a program to match the number with the competitor. If a competitor drops dead,
will it be easier for the EMT's to blurt out, "Man, this dude was 72. At least he had a full
Perhaps, it's because they want everyone to know the age of the person you just
dusted or got dusted by. I love it simply because when I say to myself, "Aren't I too
old for this crap?", somebody who is 17 years older than me passes me and I get my
Near the 100-mile mark when I started seeing double, I heard feet behind me pedaling
furiously, followed by a soft but experienced voice that barked out, "Keep it up, Paul."
My bib number with my name affixed to it, was on my back so I was not surprised my
name was blurted out. This little old lady with the number "61" on her right calf staring
back at me, was passing me by.
She might've said, "Keep it up, Paul", but what she really meant was, "I'm
61-years-old and I'm kicking your ass, bitch" Yeah, I even got a chuckle out of
it especially when I battled back to pass her. I didn't get any satisfaction out of
it, though, just a sense of relief.
I got relief when I finished the 112-mile without popping a tire. That's what
every biker dreads. Heart pounding through chest, sweat coming out of every
pore in the body, mind lost in space--yes, changing a tire under those conditions
is only slightly less than water-boarding torture.
Going from the bike to the run was torture as well. Your legs burn and
feel like 100-pound bags of concrete---and now you have to run 26.2 miles?
What the hell am I doing?
I was determined to run a good marathon, but that went out the window at mile 3.
After 112-miles on the bike and baking under the hot sun, I was cooked.Totally cooked.
Every competitor goes through trials, tribulations, aches, and crazy-type of pains, but
nobody wants to hear any excuses. I realize that, but I knew was cooked---but I kept on
The Ironman is just a microcosm of life, really. It's an ultra-marathon, not a sprint. You
face immense obstacles, great challenges, and things don't always seem fair, but you just
keep plugging away and moving forward. If you stop, life, not to mention, other competitors
just pass you by.
And as Hall of Fame football coach Lou Holtz famously said, "20 percent of the
people don't care about your problems, the other 80 percent are glad you have them."
The only thing you can do is fight on and tell the mind you are going to finish
no matter what. There was no way I was going to see a "DNF" posted after my
name. DID NOT FINISH. That was not an option.
I really didn't get my legs under me until mile 13 and it was already a long day by then.
I just kept picturing in my mind what it was going to be like when I could stop and not feel
bad about it.
My mother, sister, brother-in-law, and all their beautiful kids were there cheering
me on and they inspired me. And just like the year before, they were at the finish
line when I completed the 140.6 miles required to be called an Ironman last Sunday.
When I came down the finishing chute looking like death warmed over, I got a final burst
of energy and a big smile washed over my face. Through all the miles, aches, and pains,
there is nothing better than sharing the moment with the family.
My time was 14:16 which was two hours off my time from last year.
It did not matter. It was all about finishing this time around.
The finish, the family, well, it was jut spectacular.
Less than 12 hours finishing the race, I signed up to do it all over again next year.
What the hell am I doing?