As I run down the chute, grinning, I slap the hands of all the cheering spectators who are still out there for some reason, and then, wouldn’t you know, YET AGAIN I don’t hear Mike Reilly do his whole “You are an Ironman!” schtick. I swear, that man really has to learn how to not mumble. After getting my pine cone-shaped medal and my $550 hat and t-shirt, I head off to the food/beverage tent, where I find Sean from the Tri Club and a woman who finished just ahead of me (I kept seeing her on the run course) huddled around an electric fire pit. We chat for a bit, hang out, and then limp off to get our stuff – where I find that D! has picked up my bike and transition bags for me. Sweet!! Definite IronSherpa status for that girl.
I get back to the hotel for a race recap with D!, whose other friends finished hours ago, at about noon or so, and I tell her about my various woes, including my POS watch that decided to stop working on me.
Me: Look, see! It just says gobbledyd....oh. That’s weird. It’s working now.
Yep, at some point – likely the moment I finished - it started working normally again. That night, as opposed to post-Madison where I was so amped up that I could barely fall asleep, I sleep like a baby.
Monday, June 22nd
D! has gone to IHOP with Marit and her family for pancakes, but I decide to pack up my stuff, all the while making a mental note to myself to not forget my finisher’s medal, which I had draped over the bedside lamp. I’m a little stiff, but feel pretty good – and, what to me is the key indicator as to whether one did enough training – NO blisters. Ha, so there! After loading up the car, I go to the race site to find my Special Needs Bags, and to marvel at how ugly the IMCDA finishers’ gear is. Too bad, since this race has a nice green/black color scheme, which is really the most important criterion for picking a race.
As I’m walking back to the car, I see someone walking along and wearing their medal, which is odd, but I’m thankful for it. Because it makes me realize –
I forgot my medal in the hotel room.
Thankfully, D! is still there, so I swing back to pick it up, and then hit the road. And here, another word to the wise – just as it’s completely asinine to spend 3 days pre-Ironman driving across the country to the race.....it’s equally asinine to finish said race, and then start the drive back. Not that I was sore, but I was exhausted – so after 4 hours of driving, I stop for the night, go into my hotel room, fall asleep immediately for several hours. At which point it’s all of about 8PM, so I watch some news, where I learn about a study that shows that women who get their stomachs stapled are less likely to get cancer (hmm), and go back to sleep. The next day, major caffeine and sugar are the only things that keep me semi-awake on the road. Still alert as to fun places to check out, I almost stop at the “Southern Cooking Emporium” for lunch, but decide against it when I see that it’s attached to the “Happy Endings Casino.” Scary.
I’ve decided to try I-94 this time rather than I-90, hoping there’s less construction, which there is, so while I miss the Wall Drug donuts, I’m making better time. I drive through W. Fargo (slogan: “A city on the grow!”) and Fargo, but still feel the need to see some kind of classic North Dakota town, so I go off the interstate and wind up in one that has a very nice coffee shop, some cool buildings, and general amazement that I've stumbled across their little town.
In the absence of RAs like the Corn Palace, I have no choice but to stop to see some natural wonders, like North Dakota’s own set of Badlands, which are indeed gorgeous. Soon enough I’m in Minnesota, where I find myself forced to take back the slightly harsh things I said on the way out here about how boring MN is. To clarify, SW MN is boring as hell – the central part is beautiful. Maybe I’ll move here? Except the drivers suck – I thought WI was bad, with the “oh, I’ll just mosey along at 50 mph in the lefthand lane, what’s the rush, the cheese will wait” mentality, but apparently it’s a MN affliction as well. Damn, so much for that.
As I’m driving, I finally have a chance to think about something other than numbers. And to think about why this was important to me, because there were a lot of reasons. One, the most obvious, is so that now when people google the words “dumbass people attempting Ironman shortly after cancer treatment” – well, they’ll actually find something. So there’s that. Then there’s the fact that I decided to do this.......because I can. At least right now I can. Because I look at all the amazing women that I’ve gotten to know through message boards or through friends, who’re now dying a slow, painful death. Because that’s what cancer is – there’s no Terms-of-Endearment-esque gentle expiration on one last sigh, with some words of wisdom, or any of that crap. No, it’s breast cancer metastasizing to your bones, so that they break if you so much as move, or moving to your liver, so that your stomach swells up painfully with fluid and then so do your lungs. It’s horrible. And if you’re a young woman with breast cancer, you pretty much know....it’ll be back. It always comes back. So I can’t take it for granted that there’ll be any more Ironman races in my future. And I know that those women in the hospital stuck fighting this fucking disease would trade places with me any day, crappy weather and all, as would I if the situation were reversed, which it may very well be some day. For now, I just wanted some part of my old life back, which I got. Sure, it was the fat, schlumpy version, but at least it was something. And it was great getting there – okay, so I still believe that wind is Satan’s emissary here on earth, and cycling when it’s 32 degrees out is painful....but other than that? Starting my long ride as the sun is rising, feeling like the daily running is finally starting to pay off, and yes, even the exhilarating-but-crazy feeling of a really cold open water swim (it’s true, Deanna!), that’s all pretty cool. So if you don’t like the long-course, early morning stuff or think it’s a chore, why bother? Life is too short to not enjoy what you’re doing, especially for this.
* * * * * * *
You know, with things like this, people talk about the “journey”, about what they learned along the way, about themselves and others, and it’s all very profound and meaningful and all that. Which is great.
But, umm, yeah – that is so not me. Me, I just got pissed off. “Fuck you, cancer,” I thought. “You’re not taking Spud away from me.” And so it was. If I did learn anything along the way, it was this:
- Cancer takes away a lot; don’t let it take away your right to be a total dumbass.
- When driving through South Dakota, never assume that there has to be another gas station “within the next 40 miles.”
- No man is a failure who has friends.
Okay, so I stole that last one from It’s a Wonderful Life, so sue me. But it’s true. Not only all those friends who showed up at my doorstep to take Kona out when I was recovering from cancer/collarbone surgeries, but all the great people I’ve met along the way, some of whom I haven’t even met yet in person, but who I consider true friends. Whose support and encouragement has been just.........unforgettable. I don’t know what word I can use to encapsulate the concept of “without which I couldn’t have done it, wouldn’t have bothered, wouldn’t have had as much fun along the way” – but there it is.
As for the day itself, sometimes you look back at your races and lament what could have been, how things could have worked out differently, the race you could have had, should have had. For me, I’ve realized that a perfect weather day, well, that would have been kind of....boring. Instead of a ho-hum isn’t-that-pretty day, we got one that was almost epic in its absurdity, the kind where the world dares you to cower from it, and asks you if you can hack it. And tells you to prove it. As far as I’m concerned, I wouldn’t have changed a thing.
In the end, I can only say this: life is good.
And........it was a perfect day to be an Ironman.