Monday, July 6, 2009

These small hours

I set off for the run in the wind and pouring rain, though at least this first part of the run is along the lake, so it’s somewhat protected. It’s an out-and-back along a section where people are partying it up, and then we go through town, through a seemingly endless gauntlet of spectators. It’s amazing how much 2,100 people can be spread out over a course like this, and so there’s plenty of opportunity for spectators to read my name on my bib and shout encouragement – “Great job, Tasha!” “Tasha, looking good!” I can’t stand it. For some reason, it sounds odd to have total strangers saying my name CONSTANTLY…….so as soon as I turn a corner to a quieter section, I turn my bib around.

After town, we wind our way through the CDA neighborhoods, and then, lo and behold, a turn and suddenly we’re back on TFR! Imagine! And since I’m not quite sure how many miles we do on this road, it seems endless. It IS endless. (Note to self: study the course maps a little better next time.) The one bright spot is an older woman standing at the end of her driveway, right before a hill – though it’s redundant to say this, since this section is either uphill or downhill, nothing as silly as a flat section – and shortly before the turnaround, in spite of the fact that she’s standing in the cold and rain, she has a big smile on her face and is applauding all of us. She reminds me of my grandmother, though my grandmother is too practical to do anything like what this lady is doing. So I stop to thank her for her support.

Me: I just have to tell you, you’re a total rockstar, being out here like this, in this weather. Thank you so much.
Her: No, YOU’RE all my heroes, I’m just in awe, you’re so inspiring.
Me: No really, you have no idea how much we appreciate your support. YOU’RE so awesome.
Her: Oh no, I’m happy to be out here, you all just amaze me!

This could get a bit ridiculous. All this time we’ve been shaking hands, so with one last heartfelt shake, I bid her so long, and get moving again.

After I’ve passed the turnaround and am heading back up TFR, I hear someone from behind me – “Way to go, Tasha, good job! But your bib is on backwards.” Now that I have my bib on backwards, I get words of encouragement from other racers, which is fine, as I do the same, and somehow this doesn’t bother me. My response though, to the cute guy in the red shirt who’s just made that comment and is passing me? “Oh, I turned it around because I couldn’t stand anymore to hear people calling my name.” Him, with a laugh: “Well, just don’t forget to turn it back around when you finish for the picture!”

It’s only after he passes me that I realize – shit, that came out kind of rude, and totally not how I intended. So I break into my fastest run yet that day so that I can catch up with him.

Me: Hey, I just realized how rude that sounded – I meant the spectators were driving me crazy, not the racers. Umm, even though I know the spectators mean well.

(Note: could I sound like any more of a dumbass? A churlish, sniveling, ungrateful one at that.)

CGiRS: No worries! I didn’t take it the wrong way at all. Have a great race!

Whew. It’s the little things like that that stick in my head, and it would have bugged me to no end if I hadn’t caught up with him. Now I can rest easy. As I slog through the rest of this 20 or so miles of rain, that is. With nothing to amuse me except....grunting? What the hell is that SOUND? I look back, and coming up is Gastric Bypass Woman – one of the ones on the news, and who was honored at the Athlete’s Dinner for being among those who lost the most weight.

(As an aside, what is it about these gastric bypass people that renders them unable to understand English? The point of the question at the dinner is to see who’s lost the most weight in the LAST YEAR while training for Ironman. Last YEAR, folks, not SINCE THE SURGERY. Which in her case, she implied was last year, so we all wondered how she could train for this. Turns out that the surgery was 6 years ago, as I found out when I looked up her name afterwards, to see how she did and found the articles about her.)

Anyway, she’s grunting like a champ as she runs near me, telling me about her surgery and weight loss and how hard it’s all been – and she’s very nice, so I tell her she’ll be fine, at this pace she’ll definitely finish, etc. But the grunting is going to drive me mad. What is this, tennis??

The second loop brings us back to where transition is, and so those of us out here on the path are dodging those who’ve already finished. Normally this might be a little disheartening, when you still have hours to go and there are people who’re already done, had their pizza, made some origami pine cones just for yucks, picked up their transition bags and are heading home. Today it doesn’t bother me though – they’ve had their race, and I have mine. Besides, they’re still cheering on the people who’re still on the course, offering yet another data point to show that most triathletes, the vast majority, are nice, genuine people –the few assholes definitely do NOT define us as a group, and we shouldn’t let them.

Here is also where Run Special Needs is, so I get the warmer rain jacket that I put in there just in case – which’ll help prevent me from looking like a foil-wrapped baked potato, like most other people still on the course at this point (and I leave GBW behind, with a few words of encouragement) – and I contemplate grabbing the Timbits, but....okay, that’s a lie. I don’t even think seriously about taking them with me – it’s too much to lug along, the weight of my little bag of donuts. The Timbits are there with me in spirit, however – and I’ll note that the one real regret that I have about IronSpud is that the crappy weather prevented me from showing off my special race shirt:

As I’ve been running, I’ve been calculating over and over in my head how much time I have to finish, how fast each mile has to be, how many times I can stop to go to the bathroom, etc. As I’m about to start the second loop, I look at my watch to confirm that it’s about 9PM, and lo, what’s this? “Battery low” is what it says. O…kay. I push a random button to get rid of that display and get back to the time, and now it tells me to push the button to unlock the keys. Which I do. And now my watch reads “Battun lottonss tlock.” In other words, total gibberish. I keep pushing buttons, and pushing buttons – I can NOT have my watch flake on me now – and the damn thing won’t do a damn thing other than show me this garbage. AARGH!! I move on, but now in addition to doing calculations in my head, I keep asking people what time it is, and panic when I hear that it’s later than I thought, rejoice when it’s the opposite, eventually realize that few people understand the need to give me that EXACT time. Some do – “It’s 10:06 on the dot” – and I love those people. The others, well, they tried, and it’s not their fault I now want to take my stupid traitor Polar watch and smash it against a tree.

In spite of the later hour, or perhaps because of it, there’s still a good bit of camaraderie out here. I see a guy puking, offer him some of my medicine (Tums, people, just Tums), ask if he’s okay, and we’re all kind of looking out for each other, which is nice. And necessary, because as we’re on TFR for the second time (4th time overall), it’s pitch black - I seriously can’t see a damn thing, not even the path, so I try to step carefully so that I don’t go tumbling into Lake Coeur D’Alene. At times this seems like a distinct possibility. There’s hoopla and light at each aid station, where I’m unable to pick up anything like pretzels because my hands are frozen (Note to self: next time, even if the triathlon is in late June, BRING GLOVES!), and then we’re plunged into darkness again. However, there *is* just enough light for me to see that the elderly lady is *still* in her driveway, cheering people on. Really, could she possibly be any more awesome?

And while I’m trying to pick up my pace so that I can actually finish this thing – and I have no idea what time it really is, since I keep getting conflicting answers, I’m looking at my compatriots, also bumbling along in the dark. And I think – you know, it’s easy in the abstract to scoff at people who sign up for an Ironman as their first race, or who seem to have no idea what they’re doing, or who we think haven’t trained enough, blah blah blah…..but when you’re out there and you actually see the determination on those faces, it’s a different story. I obviously don’t know the stories of most of the people out there, what their motivations were, how much they did or didn’t train, etc., and it doesn’t really matter. For whatever reason, there they were, trudging along or in some cases limping along, some very iffy in terms of making the cutoff, but obviously determined to try. And how can you not admire and respect that? Even if they never do another triathlon, maybe at some time in their life they’ll be facing some tough times and will think hell, I did a fricking Ironman, I can deal with this, dammit. And that’s never a bad thing.

As I’m within a few miles of the end, I become aware of the 2 guys behind me, or at least one of them, the one doing all the talking. And as I listen to him, I realize that he’s just been walking with his friend, encouraging him, keeping him upbeat, getting on the cell phone to other friends and family members to let them know where they are: “Okay, we’re 1 ½ miles out, he’s gonna make it, get everyone together to watch for him!” For some reason I find this very touching, this group effort to get someone through the tough times in the darkest hours.

As for me, I feel okay, just tired. Like, needing a nap, yawning tired. If I stop, my feet start to hurt, so I try to avoid stopping. Duh. The sensation of the bones in the bottom of my left foot crunching as I’m running, that at least has stopped. Yes, I know, it’s weird – it started happening during my last few runs before the IM, and I of course ignored it, because what else is there to do? So it started up again, the painful bone-crunching, at the beginning of the run, but then either stopped or I just ignored it.

Finally (!), I’m rounding the corner, going down the main street, and before the long finisher’s chute, there’s a cluster of people standing around cheering on the last finishers. One of the people standing there is one of the male pros, who finished HOURS earlier yet is out here at the end, congratulating all of us. That, I think to myself, is true class. And then I’m squinting ahead, looking for the finish - and quite frankly, I’m not even quite sure where the finish is – it’s all just a blur, and it’s hard to see the light after you’ve been running in the darkness for so long. And while I wasn’t at all emotional when I finished my first IM – I thought I would be, but I was just happy – now I am, thinking about just what a long fucking year it’s been, and how hard it was to get to this point, not just to the point of finishing an Ironman, but to the point of saying “Fuck you, cancer, I’m STILL AROUND, and I’m DOING FINE, so FUCK OFF.” Or something almost exactly like that.

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